There is something about a dachshund that endears him to family and strangers alike. His intelligent face speaks volumes, and he never allows his small stature to stop him from being in the thick of things. His elongated body, however, puts him at risk of spinal injury and disc disease.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
The dachshund breed has a genetic condition called chondrodystrophy. The condition is bred into dwarf breeds like the dachshund. Chondystrophy means disorder of the cartilage and causes abnormal bone development during growth from puppy to adult. The long bones in the body are most affected, and this creates a dog with short limbs. A healthy dog's spinal discs are surrounded by a fibrous capsule and have gel inside. However, with age the discs become more fibrous, lose water and calcify. This degeneration is intervertebral disc disease, or IVDD, which can lead to paralysis. In dog breeds that don't have chondrodystrophy, disc damage typically appears around ages six to eight years. In the dachshund it appears as early as 12 to 18 months.
Signs and Symptoms
Disc damage usually occurs in the cervical spine in the neck area, or in the lower back. If your dachshund has cervical disc damage he is likely to show signs of lameness in the front legs, a reluctance to move and muscle spasms. He may also cry for no apparent reason; this is because he is in pain. He is likely to show more severe and debilitating symptoms if he has IVDD in his back. The pain may make him lose his appetite and he may be reluctant to go up and down stairs. You might feel tension around his abdomen. His back legs may become paralyzed and he is likely to lose control of his bladder and bowels. If you notice any of these symptoms, get him to your vet immediately, as time is of the essence. Your vet is more likely to be able to prevent paralysis if he treats your pet as early as possible.
Your vet might suggest an MRI scan to discover the extent of the damage. Dogs with less severe symptoms are usually given anti-inflammatory drugs and cage rest. However, a paralyzed dachshund needs surgery. The Dachshund Breed Council reports that paralyzed dogs who have corrective surgery for IVDD within 24 hours of the symptom appearing are more likely to make a full recovery. Your vet will probably refer your pet to a specialist for the operation. Your dachshund needs a period of rehabilitation after his surgery. This might combine canine physiotherapy with cage rest for at least six to eight weeks. If your dachshund doesn't recover from paralysis, or has residual lameness, you can help him get about by buying him a doggy wheelchair or cart that supports his back legs.
If possible, discourage your lively little chap from jumping off furniture or out of the car. If he manages to climb up somewhere high, lift him down. What other dogs can do with ease, your dachshund does at his peril. Indeed, all dogs with elongated bodies should be discouraged from activities that could suddenly jolt the spine, such as jumping down and jumping over. Keeping him at his ideal weight also helps prevent disc damage. A miniature dachshund weighs about 11 pounds, and a standard dachshund is about 16 pounds.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.