Purebred dog breeds are unfortunately often prone to certain health conditions. Understanding which conditions a particular breed is susceptible to helps vets and owners take preventative steps. For example, IVDD in Dachshunds is a commonly reported health issue. IVDD stands for intervertebral disc disease.
If you’re a mama or papa to a Dachshund, imagine the strife you could save your Dasher (and your wallet) just by knowing what to look for and the early steps to take… And IVDD doesn’t just affect Dachshunds, so if you’re a dog owner in general this one’s for you.
We spoke to veterinarian Dr. Joanne Lonergan, who works for well-known NZ animal shelter HUHA, to understand what precautions to take when it comes to IVDD and Dachshunds.
What is IVDD?
IVDD is a degenerative disorder that affects dogs’ spinal cords. The natural shock absorbers or discs that sit between a dog’s vertebrae can sometimes harden. This can happen gradually, and as they harden the discs lose their shock absorbency.
As you can imagine, this can put stress on your pooch’s ability to move about easily. The hardened discs can begin to slip and bulge, putting added pressure on the spinal cord. Just as scary, if not more so, is that a hardened disc can also rupture from a random movement like jumping.
Either scenario leads to increased pressure on pup’s spinal cord and nerves. This in turn causes IVDD symptoms… But IVDD can be at play for months or even years at a time before symptoms present. Usually, some sort of trigger will be the catalyst that brings them to light. Like, for argument’s sake, running up and down stairs.
Dachshunds are affectionately known as the sausage dog due to their elongated proportions. Sadly, it’s these proportions that put dogs like the Dachshund, Spaniel, Basset Hound and Beagle at higher risk than other breeds.
IVDD can affect the neck or back area of the spine. Due to their physical conformation, Dachshunds and Basset Hounds are more likely to develop IVDD in their backs. Beagles are more prone to developing IVDD in the neck region of their spines.
Types of IVDD in Dachshunds and other dogs
There are two types of IVDD:
- Hansen type-I intervertebral disc disease
Type 1 Hansen is most common in small dog breed dogs and its onset is often acute and sudden. This type of IVDD is described as causing an ‘extrusion’ or ‘herniation’ of the inner contents of the intervertebral disc.
This disc can normally be compressed, but hardening from progressive degeneration eventually makes compression impossible, causing it to herniate.
- Hansen type-II disc disease
Type 2 Hansen is similar to spinal disease in humans. This form of IVDD occurs in dogs (and cats) that aren’t chondrodystrophic. Chondrodystrophic is a term used to describe abnormal cartilage and bone development that results in shorter than normal legs. Chondrodystrophic breeds include the Basset Hound, Corgi, and Dachshund among others.
Type 2 IVDD is responsible for a bulging in the outer part of the disc. This is often slower and more progressive than type one. However, it can also be acute.
Dr. Lonergan says that when it comes to Type 1 IVDD, “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.” Whereas, similarly to chronic injuries in humans, Dr. Lonergan says, “Type two often doesn’t have a clear time of onset or injury.”
Why is IVDD in Dachshunds common?
Purebred dogs tend to be prone to breed specific health issues as a result of their limited gene pool. Breeding programs may rely on inbreeding to achieve repeated breed traits in generation after generation. Or in the absence of direct inbreeding, breeding may be achieved through a smaller gene pool, lacking in genetic diversity.
As a result, several of the breed traits we know and love can actually be the result of breeding a particular genetic mutation or recessive gene. For example, Chondrodystrophic breeds are achieved by breeding limb deformities for the desired short-legged look. This in turn is a leading cause for IVDD in Dachshunds.
When it comes to Dachshunds, Dr. Lonergan says there’s a 1 in 4 chance of them developing IVDD at some point in their life. In addition, their short legs increase the risk of IVDD. Dr. Lonergan explains,
“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.”
Other common hereditary health issues in dog breeds include hip dysplasia in German Shepherds and breathing difficulties in Pugs. And a recessive gene that helps give Dalmatians their unique look also commonly results in urinary infections and deafness.
Symptoms of IVDD in Dachshunds and other breeds
Ideally, you want to be able to prevent IVDD in your dog. But at the very least, if you recognise symptoms early on your dog can still get some relief via proper medical care. Symptoms vary greatly from discomfort to paralysis, so it’s important that you know what to look to recognise them early on.
Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Breathing difficulties
- Pain when moving or jumping
- Limping on one or both front limbs
- Holding the neck low
- Not being able to lift the neck
- Neck or back pain on touching
- Wobbly, uncoordinated, or weak movement
- Urinary incontinence
- Inability to urinate
- Panting, shivering, or trembling
- Hunched posture
- Uncomfortable stiff posture
- Paralysis of one or more legs
The first and last points are considered medical emergencies. If you notice either you should get your dog to the vet as soon as possible to give them the best chance of recovery. And if you’re unsure, then the best way forward is generally to consult a vet.
In some cases, IVDD can progress rapidly, and the difference between medical treatment can be the difference between complete recovery or paralysis.
Preventing IVDD in Dachshunds (prevention is better than cure!)
As with many serious illnesses, prevention is better than cure and can often be achieved through lifestyle changes. Diet for one, can play a significant role. As with diabetes in dogs, preventing obesity can limit their risk of IVDD. And as Dr. Lonergan says, “if your dog is overweight, their risk of developing IVDD is higher.”
Of course, avoiding obesity is not about starving your pup but about a balance of great nutrition and proper portioning. Another key factor is exercise. Read our exercising your dog without walking article for workouts that don’t put stress on the musculoskeletal system.
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 have too much pressure placed on their spines. A dog ramp could be a useful investment for both of you. Dr. Lonergan says:
“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.”
Ideally, Dachshund parents should factor their pup’s proportions into all their daily activities and look for ways to reduce tension on the spine. Rather than letting them jump from the car or your bed, lift them out and put them on the ground. Other essentials can include using a harness rather than a leash and collar to reduce pressure on the neck.
And a dog ramp in your home over stairs can also help reduce pressure on your pup’s spine. Watch this video to see an example of how a dog ramp works:
Treatment options for an IVDD depend on the level of severity. Vets will do an examination to test reflexes, kinesthesia, and pain response. The examination will usually include x-rays and MRIs to diagnose the location, probable cause and severity. A veterinary prognosis can then inform the best treatment plan.
Severe cases may call for surgery to reduce spinal pressure and associated neurological symptoms. Or, treatment may simply involve painkillers, physiotherapy, or other therapies and some crate rest.
Regardless of the severity and treatment route taken, when a pup has been diagnosed with IVDD, lengthy periods of rest and immobilisation are be par for the course. With or without surgery, you can usually bank on six to eight weeks of this. This can feel like a lifetime for a pooch who’s used to regular activity.
If you’ve already crate trained your puppy, now is when this can be very helpful. Your dog’s crate is their den and their domain, a place where they feel comfortable. Read ‘should you crate train a puppy?’ to find out how, and the benefits and drawbacks.
Is IVDD covered by pet insurance?
Treatment for tests, surgery, medication and hospitalisation can be pricey. In no time at all, bills can add up and end up costing anywhere from $2,000 – $20,000 depending on treatment plans and duration. This is just one reason it’s good to get pet insurance early on before issues like IVDD become pre-existing conditions.
It’s important to know that insurance providers won’t cover known pre-existing conditions when you take out a new plan.
Find out about our dog insurance plans and cat insurance plans. They’re easy to use, affordable and our claims process is simple, fast and reliable. When you submit a claim, you’re not sending your document to a random robot – we have a caring claims person ready and waiting to respond.
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