Gretel has led a very active life hiking, paddleboarding, and traveling. Last Tuesday she experienced pain after jumping off of the couch. I could tell because she was trembling, was walking hunched over, and had zero interest in the squeakier toy she is obsessed with. She was showing classic signs of Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) – a genetic disease that Dachshunds, and some other breeds, are prone to.
Things seemed to get better after about 20 minutes so I told myself that she just pulled something, even though I “knew” deep down that wasn’t it. I finally admitted that I wasn’t imagining things so I called the clinic that had seen her for the skipping leg last month. I described her symptoms and they said to bring her in right away. That Thursday, my constant hiking companion, and super athlete, was diagnosed with IVDD. The veterinarian prescribed tramadol for pain, prednisone for inflammation, and instructed me to put her on 6 weeks of strict crate rest immediately.
We’re super lucky that I caught Gretel’s IVDD before it progressed too far. There is a significant chance that she will recover nicely. It was still a crushing blow though. You can read more about what led up to the diagnosis, and how our huge summer plans came to a screeching halt, in my previous post about her IVDD diagnosis. The cold, hard truth though is that she may never hike again like we used to.
The support from our blog fans, and people in the Dachshund club I organize, has been generous, overwhelming supportive, and hope-inspiring. Still, there is part of me that wants to scream, “BUT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.” It’s not because they don’t understand what it’s like to deal with a dog with IVDD. Unfortunately, many of them do all too well from experience. It’s because I am still not quite sure they know how difficult of hikes we went on and just how important getting out in nature, and bonding, with Gretel is to me. I feel like if someone says. “don’t worry, you’ll get back to hiking” they are picturing a gentle stroll along a river. Have you seen our hiking reports? Our style is heading right up the side of a mountain. Maybe it’s just my sadness and frustration that makes me think they can’t REALLY understand but I cry a little inside each time I think about how drastically different our life may be.
After the vet confirmed Gretel has IVDD, did what I always do in crisis situations. Usually I go through a brief freak-out period and then move onto the second stage. Since I already “knew” she had IVDD for two days (I would have taken her in sooner but I had a human family emergency to deal with), there was no shock when the vet told me that is what she had. The second stage is where I pull myself together, get totally clear, and come up with a plan to move forward and toward our desired goal. It was happening right there in the hospital waiting room. I wanted to know how to fix this. Now.
Unfortunately, I had to wait 4 excruciating, anxiety-filled days for a plan. I made an appointment at the clinic to see the rehab specialist but I had to wait until Monday afternoon to talk with her. By then, I literally had two pages of notes and questions. My brain was scattered and numb for 4 days. I wanted so badly to be doing SOMETHING because being told to do NOTHING and waiting in limbo was killing me.
Anyway, I made it. I consulted with the Canine Rehabilitation Specialist at the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle, Dr. Leslie Eide, yesterday. Dr. Eide owns two award-winning agility dogs, and is an athlete herself, so she is very familiar with an athletic lifestyle and sports injuries. One of her favorite things to do is work with canine athletes, either helping them return to sport after injury or developing a conditioning plan to help prevent injuries. I had high hopes that she would be a good match for us and I was not disappointed.
So what are our next steps in the IVDD journey?
We discussed a lot of options. We agreed that a MRI or CT scan was not necessary at this point. Those diagnostic test are most appropriate when it’s clear a dog is going to need surgery or there are a lot of ups and downs in condition without them getting progressively better. Stem cell therapy, although a potential option, would be complicated, expensive, and there is no reasonable guarantee that it would help more than some of the other treatment options. I asked about treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to speed recovery but Dr. Eide said it was a) not available in Seattle that she knew of and b) better for severe neurological cases. The last two options might be worth exploring if Gretel doesn’t respond to less invasive treatments but not something you typically do right out of the gate.
This is the treatment regimen we settled on to help get Gretel healed and out on the trails again:
- Very strict crate rest for another 10 days (2 weeks total) to allow her disk to develop the hard covering over it
- Continuation of the predisone and tramadol, tapering off for another 15 days, to manage pain and inflammation
- Walks in the doggy stroller as often as I can (I’m shooting for daily)
- Cold laser therapy to start immediately and then 2 times a week for 4 weeks to reduce pain and inflammation and speed healing
- Acupuncture if I choose to help with the body’s healing process. The frequency would have to be determined by the practitioner – it’s not something they do at the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle – but could potentially be once a week for 4 weeks then as needed.
- Crate confinement for another 4 weeks if she is not receiving treatments or getting exercise in a very controlled environment like the clinic or home excercises.
- Walking on an underwater treadmill to start at 2 weeks, if Gretel’s condition starts to improve, to help maintain muscle mass and strength.
- A home program of exercises – exact program TBD – starting at the two-week mark if Gretel improves to help her improve things like her core strength and stability on her feet.
There are a few other things we are exploring but I don’t have enough information on them yet to share the details.
What challenges are we facing?
Having a plan feels wonderful. The thing is, a plan doesn’t always go the way you want.
Gretel may not progress in the way that they expect, leading to setbacks for us and further tests. One of my challenges will be to remain patient if I’m not seeing her progress as quickly as I would like.
Another challenge is the crate confinement and keeping Gretel mentally stimulated. Gretel is starting to feel better and it shows in her restlessness. Usually, you can quell and dog’s boredom with walks and games like tug or fetch. Gretel is confined to a crate though, and can’t tug on toys, so those options are out for us. There are puzzle games but Gretel likes to dig at, and contort her body, to get into them. That’s a no-go for her right now. The challenge for me will be to learn what kind of games you CAN play with a dog in a crate that will mentally stimulate them without the potential for physical injury. I have some ideas though.
Another challenge for us is what to do about her nails. Gretel’s nails have always grown fast. I need to clip them about ever 10 days to keep them from getting out of hand. Even with that, her quicks don’t move back so I can’t trim much off each time I do it. It’s more important now than ever to keep her nails as short as I can so they don’t interfere with her natural gait.
Well, she hates getting her nails done. By hate I mean turns into something from the Exorcist. It’s a physical struggle with her and it doesn’t matter whether I use clippers or a dremel. I can’t struggle with her when she is injured, and I certainly wouldn’t trust a groomer to do it (sometimes it’s easier if “not their owner” does it). The plan is for Dr. Eide to do it when we go in for hydrotherapy appointments but she can’t risk struggling with her either. If someone can’t get it done without a struggle, then I am not sure what we will do.
I’ll keep you posted on her progress, our challenges, and any other things that come up for us during this process. Hopefully Gretel will recover well and she WILL be out on the trails again later this summer.