Dachshunds make cherished pets and people are often attracted to their particular conformation, but their conformation is their mixed blessing considering that back problems in dachshunds are particularly troublesome. And we are not talking about back pain in the sense of just feeling a bit sore and achy, we're talking about serious back problems that can cause lameness ,and sometimes, even paralysis with the back legs giving out. Understanding back problems in dachshunds is important for owners of this breed and those folks who are planning to open their hearts and homes to this attractive breed.
A Pain in the Back
As mentioned, dachshunds are prone to back problems, in particular they are prone to a medical condition that is known as " intervertebral disc disease," also known as IVDD.
What happens exactly with this condition? The discs placed between one vertebrae and another suffer damage to the extent of pressing on the spinal cord causing pain and potential neurological issues. In severe cases, the condition can be costly to treat and in the long term disabling too, enough to have owners elect euthanasia.
To have an idea of the extent of the problem, let's take a look into statistics. According to The International Animal Welfare Science Society, it is estimated that about 25 percent of dachshunds will develop this condition at some point in their lives, to the extent of needing veterinary treatment.
If you are planning to adopt a dachshund, you should therefore keep in mind this possibility, as the chances for developing this condition are quite high, considering that one every four dachshunds will get some degree of it in their lifetime.
A Matter of Conformation
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Why is the dachshund breed particularly predisposed to this condition? Turns out, it's a matter of conformation. Dachshund were selectively bred to have long backs and short legs so they could excel in the task they were bred for: hunting badgers and other critters that live underground.
Their unique anatomical shape, that breeders deliberately bred for, made them perfect for the task, allowing them to fit in small holes that led into the quarry’s den.
At a closer look, the anatomy of dachshunds is the result of what is known as "dwarfism." These dogs have long backs on stunted legs. The genes that are associated with dwarfism are the same that inevitably lead to weakened backs with spines that can start degenerating as early as in 6 months of age, explains Dr. Patricia J. Luttgen, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in internal medicine.
Signs and Treatment
Back problems in a dachshund are something that can't go unnoticed: affected dogs develop severe, acute pain and other evident symptoms such as lameness and a wobbly gait. Even worse, there may be more severe signs denoting neurological problems such as back leg dragging, loss of sensation, falling over, paralysis and urinary and/or fecal incontinence.
Treatment varies depending on the severity of the problem. Some dachshunds with IVDD get better with conservative management which often consists of cage rest for up to 8 weeks along with prescription medications meant to manage pain, allow muscle relaxation and reduce inflammation.
Severe cases require surgical intervention which can be costly (between 2,500 to even 7,000 dollars). Also, something to consider is that, while the surgery can successfully fix one disc, there are chances another disc ends up bulging later in a year or two, and then you are then back to square one, explains veterinarian Dr. Ann M.
As troublesome as back problems in dachshunds sound, the good thing is that there are several things owners can do to prevent up to a certain extent potential problems. For instance, using a harness instead of a collar helps prevent putting strain on the vertebra of the dachshund's neck. Also, keeping dachshund lean and at an ideal weight helps too considering that there is less weight to carry on the the vertebrae, points out veterinarian Dr. Fiona.