Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is by far the most common health problem in Dachshunds: around 1 in 4 may be affected at some stage in their lives. Whilst many recover well in time, there is a significant risk of permanent damage so severe it is life-changing or threatening. Most of the following information is taken from 2 fantastic sites. The UK IVdd webpage, which is the leading world-recognized expert on IVDD and the Australian IVDD support page, also a wonderful resource. Thankfully none of our adult breeding dachshunds or our puppies have ever developed IVDD but as it is so prevalent in the breed it will be only a matter of time. Please understand the condition as best as you can.
What is IVDD
Dachshunds are more likely to suffer from IVDD than many other breeds. It is possible to reduce the risk of IVDD (but not prevent it altogether) by taking responsible breeding and ownership decisions:
Breeders: avoid breeding where there is a history of IVDD in the pedigree or high levels of early calcification
Owners: keep your dog in tip-top condition and avoid over-protection by adopting a sensible lifestyle
Did you know the Dachshund is a short-legged breed, not a long-backed one? It’s the genetics of short legs that predispose Dachshunds to back disease.
All dogs’ discs degenerate with age; they lose water, become more fibrous and sometimes mineralised. Degeneration of a Dachshund’s discs happens at a much younger age than in dogs with normal length legs. R
The two main types of disc disease are known as Hansen Type 1 and Type 2. Dachshunds suffer from Type 1.
Testing for IVDD
X-ray screening and back scoring has been used in Scandinavia for several years and is currently the best available tool to help us reduce the genetic risk of IVDD. All varieties of Dachshund in the are encouraged to participate. It has been known for many years that herniated discs in Dachshunds have a significant hereditary component. Research in Scandinavia has shown that there is a good correlation between calcification of the discs and clinical herniations, when dogs are screened between the ages of 2 and 4. The aim of X-ray screening for IVDD is to reduce the occurrence of herniations in future generations by encouraging breeding with dogs that have low numbers of calcifications.
Symptoms and Treatment
Would you recognise the signs that your dog might have a back problem? When you see any of the signs that your Dachshund might have a back problem, you need to visit your vet immediately. While waiting to see the vet, ensure your dog is confined to a small area (crate or pen) and not allowed to run, jump or able to climb on or off furniture. Your vet will carry out an initial diagnosis and may refer your dog to a specialist.
There are two main courses of action that your vet might recommend; conservative (rest and medication) or surgical (an operation).
Whatever your vet recommends, your Dachshund will need a careful programme of rehabilitation to help get back to normal. Download our crate rest guide from the rehab page.
Remember, IVDD is not a death sentence for your Dachshund; there is hope, but you need to understand the outlook (prognosis) based on the symptoms and treatment options. You also need to act quickly. Make sure you remember VITAL:
Research links and articles of interest:
2018 in a peer-reviewed paper: Neuter status as a risk factor for canine intervertebral disc herniation in Dachshunds. 2018 Peer Reviewed Paper
Dachslife 2015 Lifestyle Survey conducted by UK Dachshund Breed Council Dachlife 2015 Survey
Zoological Letters 2016
Unaltered sequence of dental, skeletal, and sexual maturity in domestic dogs compared to the wolf
Laura J. Sanborn, M.S. Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs
Margaret Root-Kustritz, DVM, PhD University of Minnesota Determining the best age at which to spay or neuter: An evidence-based analysis
Dogs Naturally Magazine
By Dana Scott
Early Spay Neuter: 3 Reasons To Reconsider
Jan Rasmusen national award-winning author of Scared Poopless: The Correlation of neuter status and expression of heritable disorderse Straight Scoop on Dog Care and consumer advocate for dog lovers
Spaying and Neutering: New Warnings About Health Problems
Canine Genetics and Epidemiology
Diet and Supplements
Feed your dog a well-balanced diet that contains all the right nutrients required for its life-stage
Growing puppies, pregnant and lactating bitches, and elderly dogs need different diets from a mature, fully-grown, dog
Feed the right amount of food, combined with regular exercise, to keep your Dachshund at an ideal Body Condition Score
There are many fantastic supplements on the market that may assist in maintaining your dog’s health. Rose Hip Vital Canine is one such supplement worth considering.
In our survey, 4 in 10 Dachshunds over the age of 3 were fed a Complete Diet and a further 1 in 4 were fed a combination of Complete/ Wet. There was no statistically significant difference in IVDD rates between any of the diets (complete, wet, raw, or any combination).
Many owners give supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin in the hope that they will be “good for backs” and “prevent joint problems”. Overall, for dogs over the age of 3, the risk of IVDD was no different between dogs receiving supplements and those not. In fact, dogs whose diets were supplemented with Glucosamine and Chondroitin were nearly twice as likely to have had an IVDD incident. This is possibly a reflection of the fact that owners give supplements to dogs after they have had an IVDD incident.
Interestingly, dogs whose diets were supplemented with Cod Liver Oil were half as likely to have had an IVDD incident. Rose Hip Vital Canine is also recommended by DISA Dachshund IVDD Support Australia
Feed a good quality, well-balanced diet that helps maintain your dog at an ideal body condition (not fat, or thin); remember, it’s very easy not to notice your dog becoming too fat.
Your dachshund’s weight can be easily maintained with a fresh and varied diet. Excess weight can cause unnecessary strain and pressure on a daxie’s back. There are also supplements on the market that can provide dietary assistance to back maintenance and health.
4. Collar vs. Harness
Whether you prefer to walk your Dachshund in a collar or a harness, make sure it gets plenty of exercise to build good muscle tone
If your Dachshund has had a neck injury (Cervical IVDD), your vet may recommend using a harness rather than a collar to exercise your dog
If you can, teach your dog not to pull on its lead when out walking
There has always been a debate about whether it’s better to walk your dachshund on a collar and lead, versus harness and lead. If you have a fit and healthy dachshund, then it really doesn’t matter whether they have a collar or harness, but the important thing to do is to teach them to walk to heel without pulling ahead of you.
The pulling and jerking is what actually puts added strain on their whole spines. It is worth investing in some good training sessions to learn to walk your dog on a loose lead so that you can avoid this problem; it also teaches you control and enhances your bond with your dachshund. The art of training your dachshund to walk loosely on a lead next to you can be challenging at times but can be done with consistency and patience.
If you feel the harness is what you prefer, then it’s important to recognise that a harness actually allows relatively more freedom of movement and can actually lead to chronic pulling. If owners prefer to use a harness, they need to ensure that it is a soft material one that sits comfortably on your dog’s bone structure, rather than digging into the soft tissue on the throat and upper back. An ill fitted harness can cause problems with their gait and problems for their shoulders and elbows.
In our survey, dogs over the age of 3 that were exercised wearing harnesses were 2.3 times more likely to have suffered an IVDD incident than those exercised in collars. This does not imply causation; it may simply be a reflection of the fact that dogs that have previously suffered an IVDD incident may be exercised in harnesses rather than in collars.
Dogs that pulled on the lead rather than walking to heel were no more likely to have suffered IVDD, irrespective of whether or not they wore a collar or a harness.
90-95% of all Dachshund disc herniations occur in the middle to lower back, not in the neck. It, therefore, seems unlikely that walking a Dachshund in a collar increases its risk of back problems.
If your Dachshund has had an IVDD incident with one of the cervical (neck) discs, ask your vet whether it would be more appropriate to use a harness than a collar, for walking your dog.
5. Jumping and Stairs
Dachshunds are active dogs and you won’t be able to “wrap yours in cotton wool”, but you need to be sensible and recognise the risks of IVDD
A mature Dachshund that is well-muscled with an ideal body condition should be capable of tolerating the normal activities of day-to-day living
Sudden shocks caused by jumping down, in particular, will put extra stress on a dog’s spine
Young puppies (up to 12 months) and elderly dogs (over 7 years) will be at more risk of hurting themselves
Well we all know how much our dachshunds love to run around and jump on and off furnishings. Some of them, we are pretty sure, think they are actually mountain goats. But what this actually demonstrates to us, is that dachshunds are active dogs who should be fit for function.
If you have a mature dachshund who has an ideal body condition and is well-muscled and toned, then they should be able to tolerate activities of normal day to day living. Think about what they were originally bred to do; go to ground as earth dogs and hunt. Instinctively they love being active dogs and you won’t be able to wrap them up in cotton wool. Common sense prevails.
However, it is important to emphasise that the sudden shock of jumping off furnishings and flying up and down stairs in particular, does put added strain on their spines. This added stress is where you can make some lifestyle changes to help avoid this from happening. Clearly, if you allow your dachshund to jump on and off furnishings, or allow them to continually run up and down stairs, then the added stress on their spine can in fact put them at greater risk of injury.
Many of the dachshund stories we read about on DISA are after such an episode, where the owner reports “my dog just jumped off the furnishings and since then has not been the same or is now unable to walk”. Whilst we can’t say that these activities are directly attributable to IVDD, we believe that a dog in good body condition should be fit for function and be able to do daily activities of living. It really is down to individual owners to decide what they feel comfortable with in allowing, or disallowing, their dachshunds to do in their own home setting. The best advice is to keep your dachshund fit and healthy, of good body condition and wherever possible, avoid activities that have direct compressive forces to the spine.
In our survey, Dachshunds over the age of 3 that were allowed to jump on and off furniture every day had lower odds of IVDD than those not allowed to do this.
Dachshunds over the age of 3 that were allowed to go up/down a flight of stairs every day also had lower odds of IVDD than those not allowed to use stairs. This finding is interesting in light of a previous Scandinavian study (*) that showed moderate use of stairs reduced the risk of disc calcification, whereas exercise accompanying a cyclist increased the risk.
Clearly, there is a risk of injury due to putting sudden stresses through the dog’s spine, but the majority of reported cases of dogs going down with back problems are not directly attributable to an event such as running down stairs or jumping off furniture. There is, however, always the risk of your dog falling off furniture or down stairs and this could cause a serious injury.
A dog in good body condition, that is well-muscled, should be capable of tolerating the normal activities of day-to-day living. Individual owners must make up their own minds as to what regimes they will allow at home.
Dogs that have been diagnosed with disc degeneration and/or suffered an IVDD incident will be at higher risk of further injury if they are allowed to jump off furniture.
* Occurrence of Intervertebral Disc Calcification in the Dachshund [Journal of Veterinary Medicine, Series A, 47 (5): 283-296]
Keep your Dachshund active and well-exercised
Don’t over-exercise a puppy; gradually build its amount of exercise until it is 12 months old and its bones and muscles are fully developed
Dachshunds over 12 months need a daily exercise regime that combines “on-lead” walking and free-running/playing
Elderly Dachshunds will need less exercise than when they were younger
Adapt the amount of exercise your Dachshund gets to keep it at an ideal Body Condition Score
In our survey, we asked owners to describe their Dachshund’s activity level as:
Not at all active
Dogs over the age of 3 that were highly or moderately active were half as likely to have suffered an IVDD incident as dogs described as mildly or not at all active.
This could either be a genuine effect of fitter dogs being less prone to IVDD, or affected dogs are now leading less active lives.
Dachshunds over the age of 3 that were only exercised by being given daily free running/playing in the garden were 1.8 times more likely to suffer IVDD than dogs that were taken for walks on and off the lead as well. Presumably, “proper walks” on and off the lead build more muscle-tone and better body condition than free-play in the garden.
Don’t over-exercise a young puppy; allow it to mature fully and for its bones and muscles to develop before expecting it to be able to go on long walks (a rough guide is 5 minutes of “formal, on-lead exercise” daily, per month of age, in addition to allowing free playing/exercise)
Once fully grown (over the age of 12 months), keep your dog well-exercised and in good body condition (well-muscled and not overweight)
A mixed exercise regime on-lead and off-lead will help build good muscle tone; they need to live their lives as “proper dogs” – remember their working origins, so they should be able to run and jump.
We all know that owning Dachshunds is habit-forming and one is never enough. The good news, from our survey, is that living with more than one also reduces the risk of your dog having back problems!
Dachshunds living with more than 1 other Dachshund, or living with other (non-Dachshund) dogs, had lower odds of IVDD than Dachshunds living on their own. Living with 2 or more other Dachshunds halved the odds compared with those living on their own. Those living with other breeds of dog also had a lower risk. Owning several Dachshunds possibly means they spend more time playing together and self-exercising than those who live alone.
7. Other helping tips
Limit Crawl Spaces
Stop or limit your dog from walking or crawling underneath lowline furniture and into small and lowline crawl spaces – i.e. under beds, couches, etc. The pressure against an arching back can cause a back injury.
A lot of injuries occur thanks to slipping and twisting. If you have slippery floors then invest in rugs, floor mats, dog boots and/or toe grips etc. to provide your dog with some added traction and protection against injury. Ensuring your dog’s nails are cut short can also assist against slipping.
Take it Easy
Dachshunds are quite an active breed and it’s a good idea to ensure your dog is fit to maintain his back’s health. The best way to exercise your dog is to take him for a brisk 20 minute walk regularly. Remember, your dachshund has very short legs and a long back and is not capable of the same activities as a human body – if you take your dachshund for a long walk/outing, allow time for periods of rest.
Buy a Life Jacket
If you take your dachshund swimming, invest in a doggy life jacket. As dachshunds have very short legs and long backs, they have to work so much harder to stay a float! A life jacket ensures they don’t have to work as hard and will assist in ensuring they don’t end up with a back strain.
No Soft Sand
Daxies love the beach as much as their owners, however soft sand can cause strain on knees and long backs. Limit your dog to only walking on firm/ hard sand and carry them across the soft stuff.
Crate Train Your Dachshund
Crate training your dog is not hard to achieve as the majority of dogs love having their own dedicated space! Crates make for great doggy dens and provide a safe and comfortable sleeping environment. Crate training your dachshund will ensure he is used to a crate in the event of any future circumstances that would require a prolonged confinement and rest.
Pick up and Carry your Dachshund correctly
Support your dog’s back – always pick up and carry your dachshund in the correct manner. Ensure all adults handling your dog are aware of how to correctly hold and carry your dog and never allow young children to carry or pick up your dog.
Find a Great Vet
Find a vet who knows the breed and understands the ins and outs of IVDD. Don’t be scared to ask about the varied options available when it comes to ensuring your dog’s back and health is in top condition. Like us, dogs can benefit from massage and physiotherapy – maintaining and keeping an eye on your dog’s back health is always a good idea – great veterinary care is the key!
Use Common Sense
Avoid circumstances that could cause injuries to a long bodied dog. A lot of injuries occur thanks to slipping, jumping/falling from heights, twisting/sharp turns and rough games with both humans and other dogs.
We strongly recommend you keep an up to date pet insurance policy with yout dachshund. The things to look for include
Always read the exclusions. If it’s not excluded it’s covered
Check with the insurer if a claim is made on a particular injury or illness. Will the issue be excluded upon renewal or will the policy be declined
Once a policy has been declined it is very difficult to get insurance with other insures.
Always read the PDS (PRODUCT DISCLOSURE STATEMENT).This is often boring, but incredibly important.
If you are insuring an older dog, you will be required by the insurance company to provide a veterinary history. Furthermore if you have had a recorded consultation regarding a prior back injury chances are it will be excluded.
If you decide to change insurers you will be required to provide a veterinary history to the new provider
Alternative therapies such as physio and acupuncture are extremely important in the recovery process. Some insurance companies now cover these, however if you your company does not, you should make allowances for these costs.