Many purebred dog breeds are prone to certain health conditions as a result of selective breeding because it reduces genetic variation. IVDD in Dachshunds is a good example, as one that’s more commonly reported. IVDD – or intervertebral disc disease – is a degenerative spinal condition in dogs.
Certain breeds like the Dachshund are more susceptible to it than others. It’s also common in Beagles, Basset Hounds, and Spaniels. That said, it can appear in any breed. We recently spoke to HUHA Veterinarian Dr Joanne Lonergan about everything IVDD and Dachshunds.
If you’re a Dachshund owner, you should be keeping an eye out for it. So, here’s what it is, what symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to minimise the risk of your dog developing IVDD.
What is IVDD?
IVDD is a degenerative disorder of the spinal cord. Between your dog’s vertebrae are discs which act as shock absorbers. In some dogs, these discs gradually harden and their shock absorbing properties lessen. These hardened discs can then bulge and put pressure on the spinal cord.
Or, a jump or twist can lead a hardened disc to burst. Both situations lead to increased pressure on the spinal cord and its nerves, which is what causes the symptoms of IVDD. IVDD can be present for months or years without symptoms until there’s a trigger or catalyst.
IVDD in Dachshunds is complex. Firstly, it can occur in either the back or the neck. Typically, Dachshunds and Basset Hounds develop it in the back due to their physical conformation, whereas dogs like Beagles tend to develop it in the neck.
Types of IVDD
On top of that, there are actually two different types of IVDD. Type 1 Hansen is the most common in small breed dogs and its onset is generally acute and sudden onset. Type 1 is commonly described as an extrusion or herniation of the inner contents of the intervertebral disc.
Normally this disc is able to be compressed. However, when it undergoes progressive degeneration then it hardens, is no longer compressible, and it herniates.
Type 2 Hansen is most similar to what we see with human back disease and it occurs in dogs that are not chondrodystrophic (and cats). Chondrodystrophic refers to abnormal cartilage growth and bone development that results in shorter than normal limbs.
Instead of a herniation there is a bulging of the outer part of the disc. This can be a slower, progressive presentation – but it can also be acute.
When it comes to Type 1 IVDD, Dr Lonergan says, “Usually owners will have a clear idea of what happened and when, so there’s a more definite time or incident attached to its onset.” And similarly to how humans can develop chronic injuries, Dr Lonergan says “Type two often doesn’t have a clear time of onset or injury.”
Why is IVDD in Dachshunds so common?
Like many other purebred dogs, Dachshunds have certain characteristics which make them more prone to specific health problems – in part due to their genetic makeup. German Shepherds are prone to hip dysplasia, for instance, while Pugs are more likely to have breathing problems than other dogs.
Dachshunds have approximately a 1 in 4 chance of developing intervertebral disc disorder at some point in their lives, according to Dr Lonergan. “If you imagine how long they are in comparison to their size, their spine is placed under more pressure than other breeds. And if you compare their musculature to other dogs, they tend to have weaker supporting muscles around the spine to protect the vertebrae.” They also have shorter legs, which increases their risk of developing IVDD.
However, she says that there are also some lifestyle factors at play. “Often, people expect a lot from Dachshunds. Owners want them to do “normal dog” things like jumping down from cars or running up a flight of stairs. And with that long spine and short legs, motions like this put even more pressure on them.”
Symptoms of IVDD in Dachshunds and other dogs
What are the most common symptoms of IVDD in Dachshunds and other breeds? The symptoms can vary depending on the severity, with everything from showing slight discomfort to total paralysis in very severe cases.
Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Holding the neck low
- Inability to lift the neck
- Pain when moving or jumping
- Neck or back pain on touching or palpation
- Uncoordinated, wobbly, or weak movement
- Limping on the front legs (one or both)
- Urinary incontinence or inability to urinate
- Trembling, shivering, or panting
- Hunched back
- Stiff, uncomfortable posture
- Paralysis of one or more limbs
- Difficulty breathing
The last two points are considered medical emergencies and if you notice either of these you should get to a vet as soon as possible to give your dog the best chance of recovery.
If you’re not sure but have noticed some symptoms, however minor, it’s always best to consult a vet. IVDD can progress quickly in some cases, and getting your dog checked over early can be the difference between full recovery with rest, or surgery and possible paralysis.
Prevention of IVDD in Dachshunds
One of the major preventative actions you can take to limit the chances of IVDD in Dachshunds and other similarly structured dogs is keeping an eye on their weight. Dr Lonergan explains that “if your dog is overweight, their risk of developing IVDD is higher.” On top of that, obesity can lead to problems like diabetes in dogs.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight through diet and exercise is key. Swimming is a great way for dogs to exercise without loading their musculoskeletal system, so if you have access to a beach or pool you could let your dog join you for a swim. Safely, of course! Here’s how to keep your dog safe at the beach.
There are other lifestyle steps you can take to limit the chance of developing IVDD in your Dachshund. For instance, lifting your dog in and out of the car or bed so that they don’t place too much pressure on their spines. A dog ramp could be a useful investment for both of you.
You can also help prevent IVDD in Dachshunds by walking them on a harness instead of a leash and collar, as you won’t be pulling on the lead and putting pressure on their necks.
Essentially, you should do everything possible to keep pressure off the spine through proactive management. Your vet can help you with this.
Treatment of IVDD
If your dog is diagnosed with IVDD, the treatment options available will depend on the severity of the case. Your vet will examine your dog to test reflexes, proprioception, and pain response. They’ll normally also use x-rays and MRIs to diagnose the exact cause, location, and severity. This will then inform the treatment options.
In severe cases, surgery might be necessary. This is to help relieve pressure on the spine and lessen neurological symptoms. In less severe cases, your dog may be treated with crate rest, painkillers, and possibly physiotherapy or similar.
Regardless of the treatment route taken, your dog will almost certainly require a lengthy period of rest and immobilisation. You can normally bank on 6-8 weeks either following surgery or without surgery. This can feel like a life sentence for a dog who’s used to being active and cuddling on the couch with their family every night.
In fact, it’s one of the best reasons to crate train a puppy from early on. This way, unexpected crate rest isn’t too traumatic. For the dog or the humans.
The prognosis depends on the severity of IVDD. Dogs who are unable to walk or who don’t have deep pain responses are less likely to make a full recovery than dogs who have a milder case. However, with prompt treatment, many dogs will recover well and can go on to lead normal, full lives.
Pet insurance for IVDD (and everything else)
There’s no denying that treating a condition like IVDD in Dachshunds can be pricey. Surgery, medicine, crate rest, and diagnostics can all add up quickly.
Seriously consider taking out pet insurance before IVDD or anything else become a pre-existing condition. It means you have peace of mind that should your dog need important or lifesaving medical treatment, you can likely make a care-based decision, not a financial one.