Intervertebral Disc Disease or IVDD causes the discs between the vertebrae of the spine to deteriorate and fail and is the most common health problem in dachshunds: around 1 in 4 may be affected at some stage in their lives. Sausage dogs are genetically prone to this terrible condition because of their short legs compared to their body size.
While many dogs recover well after weeks of being rested in a cage, others will need a costly operation followed by a long period of rehabilitation as they learn how to walk again. Tragically, some dogs never regain the use of their back legs and will be permanently paralysed; their only chance for a normal life will be to walk with a set of wheels. Fortunately these are such wonderful and determined little dogs that having wheels to help them get around doesn't seem to bother them at all!
Here is picture of Ernie, the inspiration for Herby.
This is a terribly distressing condition, for the dog and for their owners. Symptoms are difficult to spot and your dog may fall prey to the disease without warning. If your dog is unlucky enough to have inherited IVDD, as they grow into young adult dogs, the discs between their vertebrae in their spine will start to deteriorate. From the outside you will be completely unaware there is a problem until the pain causes your dog to react in an unusual way. These small changes in behaviour can be extremely hard to spot, which makes IVDD so challenging to diagnose for owners and even for vets. Alternatively one of the discs in your dog's spine may catastrophically fail, meaning they are suddenly paralysed and unable to walk. Often there is no warning at all - in Bonnie's case when we put her to bed she was completely fine, the next morning we found her in her bed trembling with pain and unable to stand or walk. Dachshunds are most likely to suffer from IVDD when they are young adults – around 4 years old.
Depending on the examination, and the severity of IVDD, your vet may recommend conservative treatment which involves medication for the pain and strict crate rest for usually 6 - 8 weeks. If your dog is more severely affected, surgery will be necessary to prevent the damaged disc(s) putting pressure on the spinal cord. If surgery is required often your dog will be referred to a specialist vet where an MRI scan can be used to investigate the damage before operating on the spine.
Whatever your vet recommends, your dachshund will need a careful programme of cage rest, pain relief and rehabilitaion to recover. Not only is the treatment lengthy and potentially expensive, but learning to live with IVDD requires patience from the dog and dedication from their family.
How can I protect my dog from IVDD?
The Dachshund Breed Council supports research into IVDD. An annual survey of thousands of dachshund owners identifies lifestyle factors that may predispose dachshunds to IVDD. According to Ian Seath, Chairman of the Dachshund Breed Council, one of the main lifestyle factors for preventing the onset of IVDD, is to keep your dog ‘fit, not fat. ‘Maintaining a healthy weight for your dog avoids putting extra pressure on their spine.
An alarming conclusion from the survey was the number of dachshunds which had been neutered early, who later developed IVDD. It is recommended that you allow your dog to mature fully before considering neutering them.
An important consideration in reducing the risk of IVDD is to choose your dachshund puppy carefully and only buy from a reputable breeder. Since there is a genetic component to IVDD you need to avoid buying a dachshund puppy from parents who have had IVDD as the risk to that puppy is increased. Since IVDD doesn't manifest itself until dogs are around 4 years old, the cute puppy you bought without researching the family breed lines could have inherited this condition. Identifying dachshunds with these genetic mutations is important. If you take an x-ray of a dog's spine you can see signs of premature deterioration. In order to limit the impact of IVDD, the Dachshund Breed Council offers a subsidised back screening service for adult dogs of breeding age. You can help limit the risk of this disease by ensuring your dachshund puppy comes from a reputable breeder who is familiar with this back-screening process.
Get good lifetime insurance cover for your dog. Should your dog need to be referred, this can be extremely costly; an MRI scan alone can cost up to £3,000 and if they need surgery, the total bill could be between £6,000 - £10,000. Having a good insurance policy that will pay out sufficient cover is highly recommended. You need to check the policy wording to make sure your dog has lifetime cover, since IVDD can strike more than once and some insurance policies will not pay out twice for the same condition.