Ask the NorthStar VETS Vet: Avoiding back problems in Dachshunds

Q: What are some things or devises I could use on a Dachshund in order to avoid back problems?

A:“Back problems” in Dachshunds can be more accurately described as “spinal problems.” While the most common site for a Dachshund to develop a spinal problem is in the back or thoracolumbar spine, they can also suffer from problems in the neck, or cervical spine. To clarify further, when we talk about spinal problems in Dachshunds, we are almost always talking about issues associated with Intervertebral Disc Disease. This is a condition in which an intervertebral disc is protruding to some degree, or completely prolapsing, causing some level of compression of the spinal cord, and resulting in pain and/or neurologic dysfunction. Dachshunds are frequently associated with this disease and are likely more susceptible to it than any other breed.

The single best thing that you, as a Dachshund owner, can do to prevent problems associated with this disease is to control your dog’s activity. Ideally, every Dachshund should avoid high-impact activities, especially jumping, high-speed running, and any activity that will put excessive force on the spine. Some of the common activities that many Dachshunds take part in every day and ideally should avoid include:

  1. Jumping up onto or down off the bed, couch, chair, car seat, etc.;
  2. Going up and down steps, even at slow speeds! Standard stair cases are not well-suited proportionally to Dachshunds. Going up and down steps for them would be like a person climbing steps that are as tall as they are!;
  3. Running at top speed to chase a squirrel, ball, dog, car, etc.;
  4. Rough-housing with other pets or humans;
  5. Tug-of-war (BIG NO-NO!)

The following are a number of “devices” that can help them avoid these type of activities. While they may seem overly simple or obvious, and you may already be using them, our doctors are certain that there are countless Dachshunds in the world today that are routinely not using these items:

  1. Leash – Ideally coupled with device #2;
  2. Harness collar – This is a device that in our opinion, no Dachshund should live without. This is a collar that fits around the dog’s whole upper body and helps distribute the force of the leash over a larger surface area rather than having all the pressure applied to the neck, as would happen with a traditional neck collar. This will certainly protect the dog’s neck and, if they are an aggressive leash puller, may also help prevent some of the twisting and turning motions that can happen along the rest of the spine when pulling hard at the end of a leash attached to a traditional neck collar. The leash and harness collar should actually be considered as a single device that should always be used together, and which every self-respecting, health-conscious Dachshund should demand from their caretaker.;
  3. Dog crate – This is the single most effective way to prevent all the aforementioned high-risk activities that can happen when you are not home. Many dog owners are very resistant to this idea because they feel they are essentially punishing their pet by keeping them cooped up in a crate. When implemented properly, however, it can actually be a comforting sanctuary for them. Make it big, make it comfortable, feed them and give them treats in it; and you may find that they are quite happy to spend the day relaxing in it while you are out. Alternatively, keep your Dachshund confined to a room with no furniture on which they could jump.;
  4. Ramp(s) – These can be bought or constructed and strategically placed throughout your home. Dogs can be trained to use the ramp instead of jumping up and down off furniture or using some stairs.;
  5. Your own two hands – If a ramp is too impractical, pick your dog up to place them up and put them down from any place that they would otherwise have to jump. Carry them up and down steps rather than have them do it themselves. Ideally, Dachshunds should be trained to stay off furniture.
  6. Measuring cup – This should to be used to measure the amount of food you are feeding your dog. Obesity is one of the most common health issues facing our domestic pets today and, good news, it’s avoidable! It has also been identified as an increased risk factor for Interverterbal Disc Disease. Every Dachshund owner (and every dog and cat owner for that matter) should ask their family veterinarian to give them guidelines on how much to feed their pet to maintain a healthy body weight. As the pet parent, you are empowered to enforce the recommended diet.

Some of these suggestions may seem either overly simplistic (i.e. leash), or even a little extreme (i.e. crating your dog every minute your are not home), but they are the same practical suggestions our doctors have made to the caretakers of dozens of Dachshunds suffering from Intervertebral Disc Disease treated on an emergency basis. Lucky for some Dachshunds, their disease was mild and they were able to benefit from these suggestions before facing the prospect of surgery. Others, after expensive surgery and sometimes a paralyzed pet, wish someone had told them sooner.

George Motley, VMD
George Motley, VMD
Emergency Department Supervisor

Melissa Logan, PhD, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology)

The information presented on this web site is not intended to take the place of your family veterinarian’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your own veterinarian to determine what is right for your pet. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. We can not and do not give you medical advice via this blog. The information contained in this online site and emails is presented in summary form only and intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge. The information should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation or advice of your veterinarian. We do not recommend the self-management of your pet’s health problems.

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