Dachshund Backs - The Parts You Can Control
Monday, 04 February 2013 00:00

This is an article I originally published in May 2010.  I've expanded and made some significant clarifications and additions to my back protocol, so I wanted those back up to the top, so to speak.

So, I try to keep my blog posts mostly fun.  And silly.  Because I think we can all use more fun and silly in our lives.  However, today, I am going to again attempt to cover a topic that is not really 'fun'.  Definitely not silly.  But knowing this information can help us keep more fun and silly in our lives in the form of our beloved Dachshunds.  I don't know about you, but mine keep me in stitches, the little squirts!  So, in the spirit of more fun, we begged asked Miss Doxie to contribute one of her famous 'drawrings' to this post...you know, to lighten the mood!


I hope that isn't Bo in this drawring. Hee!  Okay, back to Seriousness.

One of the most frustrating parts of Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) in Dachshunds, next to not having a way to definitively identify young dogs who may produce IVDD or who will be affected, is that we do not have a way to diagnose common symptoms (outside actual ataxia or paralysis) we are seeing without a myelogram or an MRI.  Neither of these methods are very cost effective simply as diagnostic tools.  A myleogram, which is a procedure in which an anesthetized dog has contrast dye injected into his subarachnoid space with a thin needle and xrays taken so that the veterinarian can see what is happening with the soft disc tissue, costs around $800.  It's also fairly invasive.  A MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is not invasive, but it also requires anesthesia and costs around $1500.  As a result, both of these tools are used primarily for the information of neurosurgeons prior to heading into surgery.  If you have a dog who is exhibiting signs that are similar to IVDD symptoms such as muscle tenderness, limping, screaming when you touch him or pick him up, but is still mobile and not showing signs of ataxia or just the beginnings of ataxia, your dog is not generally a candidate for a myelogram or a MRI.  Unless you are independently wealthy.  So, instead of knowing, we have to guess at what's going on with our dogs.  Is it just simply a strained muscle?  Is the disc swelling into the cord space?  Has the disc actually extruded?  Will conservative methods work?

Now, I should clarify that it's my opinion that IVDD in Dachshunds is genetic.  That has not been proven, but it's my opinion.  Dachshunds, by their very nature, are dwarves.  They are affected with a condition called, in it's simplest form, achondroplasia. The obvious result of this condition are shortened limbs and regular sized bodies.  The not-so-obvious part of this condition is that this condition causes premature aging of cartilage, joints and discs.  Issues more normally seen in older dogs of other breeds are often seen in Dachshunds ages 4-7.  Here are some in depth articles written by Fred Lanting* that help explain the various forms of achondroplasia:

If it is genetic, all the massages & supplements in the world won't keep some form of IVDD from happening to a dog who is destined to be affected. However, I also think that IVDD is partially environmental and there are ways that you, as a Dachshund owner, can help to limit the effect of IVDD in your Dachshund.

So, what can you do?  Much of it is common sense, but let's review the basics things you, as a Dachshund owner, can do and then we will flesh out each point:

  1. Keep your Dachshund in good weight
  2. Keep your Dachshund's nails as short as possible
  3. Feed your Dachshund the best diet you can afford
  4. Keep your Dachshund strong and well-muscled
  5. Limit the "Downs"
  6. Supplements for your Dachshund
  7. Massage Therapy
  8. Acupuncture/Chiropractic

Good Weight: Dachshunds should not be portly.  Excess weight doesn't cause IVDD, but it doesn't help dogs affected with IVDD and just may make their case worse and recovery more difficult.  You should be able to touch your Dachshund lightly on the sides and feel ribs.  If you have to dig, even just a little, to feel ribs, your Dachshund is TOO FAT! (sorry, Charlie, but now is not the time for subtlety; Tongue out)  Cut back the calories!  In 99% of overweight Dachshund cases, the problem is completely within the control of you, the owner.  If I have a training session with one of my Dachshunds that includes lots of treats, that's their next meal and they don't eat with the rest of my dogs or they just get a taste in their bowls.  I know it's tough to resist treating your Dachshund, but remember, dogs aren't exactly like we are...they are excited to get the treat and portion size of the treat makes no difference to them.  I use semi-moist treats, like string cheese, cooked chicken breast, cooked beef heart, Natural Balance dog food rolls, etc., cut into tiny pieces.  Think of a green pea size or smaller as an appropriately-sized treat for your Dachshund.  You can cut these up and freeze them in plastic bags and take them out as you need them.

Short Nails: Dachshunds get away with long nails because they are smart.  They fool their owners into thinking that any kind of nail clipping or dremeling is clearly devil torture and that they are in great pain before it even starts.  Don't let the little darlings fool you.  If you hear nails clicking, they are too long.  Long toenails contribute to Dachshunds gaiting incorrectly and that can lead to backs that go wonky.  Imagine what your back would feel like if you had toenails so long they curled around and clicked when you walked!  Okay, it's not the same thing, but it's close!

If you are in Colorado and having trouble keeping those little toenails trimmed, come by and I will give you a personal lesson.  Or two.  Maybe more?  If you are elsewhere or don't know me, check out my Nail Tutorial.

Feed the Best You Can:  This is pretty self-explanatory.  With commercially-prepared pet food, you generally get what you pay for.  Personally, I prefer a raw diet.  In her book, Dogs, Diet and Disease, Caroline D. Levin, RN, eloquently discusses the relationship between elevated cortisol (the fight or flight stress hormone) levels and disease.  There is a school of thought that theorizes constantly elevated cortisol levels 'turn on' bad DNA and is responsible for disease.  What elevates cortisol levels for dogs?  It has not been proven that grains elevate levels of cortisol, but it is accurate that grain protiens are very large.  Viruses also have similarly large protiens.  It is theorized that canine systems see constant levels of large grain protiens as virus proteins, thus keeping their bodies' levels of cortisol constantly elevated.  Elevated cortisol also leaches calcium from bones and deposits it into soft tissue, such as vertibral discs.  Not to mention that dogs are built to eat raw meat and bones - they have hinged jaws that don't allow for side to side movement, no flattened teeth for grinding and no digestive enzymes in their saliva.  They do not produce the type of amylase that breaks down the cell walls of plants, their stomach pH is between 1-2 (hydrochloric acid levels), and their proportionally shortened length of intestine, while it doesn't allow any bugs that make it through the stomach acid bath the time to build to dangerous levels, also doesn't allow digesting grains to be in the system long enough to be properly digested.  Compare the stools of raw-fed dogs to kibble-fed dogs and it's completely obvious which diet is utilized more completely by the canine system.

Strong & Well-Muscled:  Please don't swaddle your Dachshund in cotton and put him in a bubble because you are afraid for his back.  These dogs should be athletic.  Additionally, strong, well-muscled dogs ideally have muscles along the spine and in the abdomen that help to protect the spine.  Think of a strong core, if you will.  I train my dogs to do doggy-situps.  Ask your massage therapist about this.  It really needs to be done in a controlled way, so don't just make it up in your head, okay?

Additionally, I walk all the dogs on a regular basis.  All of them walk at least a mile every other day.  I walk them on harnesses so if they pull, they aren't going to crank their necks.  There are other Dachshund breeders who do this on a regular basis and who have had excellent results with this type and consistency of exercise.

Limiting the "Downs":  Non-achondroplastic breeds have long legs that absorb the shock of jumping down and of lots of of going down stairs.  Dachshunds, with less length of leg, absorb the shock of a down mainly through their bodies and spines.  I am not against healthy Dachshunds jumping down or going down stairs, but both should be limited, especially prior to the closure of growth plates.  Limiting the "downs" prior to the age of 2 is simply a good idea.  Flying off the back of the couch, at any age, is probably not a great idea.

Supplements:  Because achondroplastic dogs have joints and discs that age at an accelerrated rate, I supplement my dogs from 8 weeks of age on.  I like glucosamine and hyaluronic acid, so I give all of my healthy, young dogs 1.5 mL of Acti-flex K9 and 375mg of additional glucosamine per day.  Dogs 5 and over get double that; 3 mL of Acti-flex K9 and 750mg of additional glucosamine per day at equal amounts with each meal.  I use the Kirkland brand of glucosamine from Costco.

Massage Therapy:  Those folks in my little dog family know that I espouse canine thereaputic massage as one of the best ways to keep a Dachshund back supple and pain free.  Lots of people laugh about massage for dogs (I know I did), especially if they, like me, don't get massages for themselves as often as they would like.  However, if we were as physical on a daily basis as most of our dogs are, we would be world-class athletes.  In which case, we would have massage therapists and physical trainers on call!  Keeping those muscles supple certainly seems to help Dachshund backs from being torqued, possibly putting extra pressure on discs that can't handle it.  Look for someone who specializes in dogs and is very good at gait analysis.  My massage therapist of choice, here on the Front Range, is Debbie Towndrow, owner of Woof & Hoof Thereaputic Massage.  Debbie has massage sessions at her house in Broomfield, at various training centers up and down the Front Range and at most conformation and agility shows in the area.  Debbie occasionally has weekend-long seminars that teach you how to massage your own pet.  See her website for details.

Acupuncture/Chiropractic: I have used acupuncture for my dogs with great success since 1997.  I've used it for many issues other than back pain, but it works great for Dachshunds who are "owie" or worse and I think it's a great preventative, as well.  It's a good alternative for people who, for whatever reason, don't choose surgery and instead go a more conservative route.  I don't know if anyone can definitively explain why acupuncture works, but it does.  I might have psychosomatic reactions, but I know the dogs don't.  I do think it's important that your veterinary acupuncturist believe spiritually in what they are doing.  That's one of the reasons I prefer acupuncturists who practice acupuncture full time and not in addition to a regular allopathic veterinary practice.  Many veterinary acupuncturists are also trained in chiropractic.  My favorite acupuncturists are Dr. David B.Y. Fong, DVM, L.Ac., Dipl Oriental Medicine, who is now in San Francisco full time, and Dr. Rhea Dodd, DVM, MA, who currently practices in the Denver Metro area.  They are both IVAS Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists.  I have been recently using Dr. Diana Roberts at Harmony Animal Wellness in Kittredge, CO.  Find an IVAS acupuncturist in your area here.

Are Dachshunds more pre-disposed to IVDD than most other breeds of dogs?  Sure.  But every breed and mixed breed has some kind of major issue and some have way more than one.  In my opinion, the whole idea of "hybrid vigor" makes me roll on the floor with laughter...think about humans, most of whom are total outcrosses (hybrids).  Are we without genetic disease?? ---------- Exactly! Other than the risk of IVDD, Dachshunds are, overall, pretty healthy little critters.  If you, as a Dachshund owner, are educated about the ways you can possibly limit IVDD and about what to do if you think your Dachshund might be heading towards an IVDD episode, then you are forearmed.  Isn't that the best place to be when it comes to anything?

Of course, all of this is simply my opinion based on my experience and research.  I am not a veterinarian and I don't play one on TV.  Do your own research.  Talk to your own veterinarian.  If your veterinarian does or says things that don't jive with your research, question, question, question.  You are your dogs' best advocate.  No one knows your dogs better than you do.  If your veterinarian bristles at your questions or belittles you for asking questions, find another veterinarian immediately!  Don't be lazy about this.  My regular veterinarian is wonderful; she listens to my concerns and never lets her ego get in the way of my research or opinions.  That is what I wish for all of you.

*About Fred Lanting:  A well-respected AKC and Schaferhund Verein judge, Mr. Lanting has judged in more than a dozen countries, including the prestigious FCI Asian Show hosted by Japan Kennel Club, the Scottish Kennel Club, a Greyhound specialty in England, and more.  National Specialties: 1994 GSD Club of America National; 1991 Tibetan Mastiff National; 1990 Shiba National; Fila Brasileiro Nationals (several times), Dogo Argentino National, Pyrenean Shepherd National.  Numerous Chinese Shar Pei and Australian Shepherd specialties; regional Anatolian Shepherd specialty. Numerous GSD, Rottweiler, & Boxer specialties worldwide.  He is also the author of several ‘must read’ books, including THE TOTAL GERMAN SHEPHERD DOG, CANINE HIP DYSPLASIA, CANINE ORTHOPEDIC PROBLEMS.  A former professional all-breed handler in the US and Canada, he has lectured in over fifteen countries on Gait-and-Structure (Analytical Approach), Canine Orthopedic Disorders, and other topics, as well as being a  Sr. Conf. Judges Ass’n (SCJA) Institute instructor. WV Canine College instructor & member, advisory board. 
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 February 2013 08:00