By Reyna Gobel
Dachshunds are adorable with their long backs, short legs, and floppy ears. Unfortunately, their long backs make them more prone to disc herniation, which can lead to problems ranging from minor back pain to paralysis. But it’s more than their body structure: 1 in 5 Dachshunds have a gene that creates mineral deposits within the discs in their spine that increases their risk of herniation and rupture, says Dr. Todd Skeen, a veterinarian with North Star Vets in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
While you can’t completely eliminate the possibility of back problems in your Dachshund, you can help prevent or treat them with doggie ergonomics and swift medical care when needed. Here’s what you need to know.
Jumping on to and off of furniture puts a tremendous strain on a dachshund’s back. Rather than banning your dog from your bed or the couch, “get a pet ramp,” suggests Dr. Gaemia Tracy, who is also a veterinarian with North Star Vets. Pet steps are still steps that may require awkward movement. “Dachshunds get frustrated with them and often jump off in the middle of their trip up or down,” he says.
Ramps are much easier for Dachshunds. They’ll generally go all the way up or down the ramp without jumping, Tracy says.
Climbing steps can be hard on your Dachshund’s back because of the twisting, stretching, and turning required to negotiate stairs when one stair may be taller than his shoulders. Going downstairs may require quite a bit of jumping. Since stairs are the hardest item in a Dachshund’s life to navigate, carry him upstairs when possible. If not, minimize the number of trips upstairs he has to take, says Skeen, a specialist in neurology. “Dogs will be dogs,” he says. “You can’t control every stair they climb, but you can limit how often jumping and climbing occur.”
"Putting baby gates on your staircases can reduce how often your Dachshund tries to navigate your staircase,” Skeen says. It doesn’t mean he’ll never use the stairs, but this does put you in control of limiting stair usage.
It’s hard to deny a treat when those puppy eyes are looking straight at you with both love for you and their favorite morsels. Really emphasize food as love by limiting treats and upping activity that doesn’t require jumping and stair climbing, Tracy says. It only takes being overweight by 10 percent of their ideal body weight to cause extra strain on their bodies. For a 14-pound Dachshund, that’s only 1.4 pounds.
Dachshund back problems are graded on a scale from 1 to 5. According to Tracy, this starts with level one being back pain. Level two is where there is a movement issue. At level three, Dachshunds are unable to move their legs. At level four, dogs can still feel their toes, but by level five they’ve experienced paralysis without being able to feel their toes. “Whenever your dog is experiencing more than a level one problem, consult a veterinary neurologist to determine the best course of action to improve your Dachshund’s pain level and mobility,” he says.
In some cases with mild back pain, painkillers and other medications given to help a dog rest may be all that’s needed to resolve a back issue, Tracy says. The key is to only expect painkillers to cure mild pain. Severe pain may require laser procedures or surgery, he says. A procedure some veterinary neurologists offer involves inserting laser fiber into herniated discs. Laser procedures are generally half the price of full surgery and only take 35 minutes.
While humans may be told to hold off on surgery as long as possible, mobility results can be better in Dachshunds who have surgery as soon as it’s known to be needed. The reason is if pets can still feel their toes, they have a 90 percent chance of being able to walk again, Skeen says. There is only a 50 percent chance for recovery once a dog has a level five back problem.