In early January 2022, we (Steph and Mike) experienced what most dachshund owners dread happening. Our long-haired "tweenie" dachshund, Django, underwent spinal surgery for Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD).
About one week before surgery, Django had what seemed like a minor back injury. One afternoon we noticed he was suddenly shaking, slightly wobbly on his back legs, and clearly in discomfort. Django simply wasn’t his happy and energetic self. When we sat on the floor with Django, he would tuck his head between our legs or hide his head in our arms—signs of pain and discomfort in dogs.
Mike and I took Django to an emergency vet and canine neurologist who immediately diagnosed Django with minor IVDD and put him on medication and strict crate rest. Django seemed to improve really nicely throughout the next few days, but he took an unexpected turn for the worse one week later; his pain had clearly returned and his back legs stopped functioning properly. Within minutes, it became clear that Django had lost almost all function in his back legs and was now partially paralyzed. Recognizing the sudden severity of Django's IVDD, Mike and I took action immediately.
Django had IVDD surgery on January 10th, approximately 48 hours after he lost function in his back legs, to remove all of the disc material in his spinal canal which was causing him pain and partial paralysis. As of writing (March 2022), Django is thankfully recovering nicely, albeit slowly. He finally started getting more feeling and function in his back legs about 3-4 weeks after surgery and is now starting to use them again! His back legs remain wobbly and weak, but we and Django's neurologist continue to expect Django to see a full recovery over time.
In this DJANGO Dog Blog article, we address what to do if you suspect your dog is suffering from IVDD. We cover what steps you should immediately take if your dog has symptoms of IVDD, explain what IVDD is, and also address additional frequently asked questions about Intervertebral Disc Disease in dogs.
To be clear, we (Steph and Mike) are not certified veterinarians. We are loving dog owners who have recently experienced IVDD with our dachshund Django. Please consult your regular vet or a canine neurologist immediately if you think your sausage dog is suffering from IVDD.
If your dachshund’s front legs are not working and/or he cannot move his neck, he probably has a neck or cervical injury. If your dog cannot move his back legs, he most likely has an issue with one of the 20 vertebrae in his chest or lower back. Both of these instance are signs of severe Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) and must be taken very seriously. In some cases, dogs become weak or paralyzed in all four limbs (also known as tetraparesis).
If your wiener dog is yelping in pain, shaking, walking like he is drunk, or scuffing his toes, he may have a mild case of IVDD. As mentioned above, our dachshund Django initially showed mild symptoms of IVDD. He was clearly in pain and was wobbly on his legs, but he was still able to move freely and still had function in his legs. Based on these symptoms and a neurological exam, Django's canine neurologist diagnosed him with mild IVDD and put him on strict crate rest. When Django later lost function in back legs, we realized his IVDD case was very severe.
Whether your dog's IVDD is mild or severe, you need to act as quickly as possible. It can be difficult to discern how serious your dog's case is—mostly because our four-legged family cannot tell us with words how bad they feel. Regardless, if you suspect your dog has IVDD, take action immediately. Not addressing IVDD can result in worsening symptoms (pain, weakness, immobility), further damage to the spinal cord, and permanent paralysis.
To prevent your dachshund's symptoms and injury from getting worse, immediately limit his movement via strict crate rest. Don't let your dog continue to walk or run around the house as he can further injury himself and do irreparable damage to his spinal cord.
Use caution: your sausage dog may keep trying to get up, "escape" his crate, or even bite you because he’s in a lot of pain. The best thing you can do for him right now is completely limit his movement by putting him in a crate.
If you suspect your dog has a cervical/neck injury, try to keep his head as still as possible.
If you don't have a crate, consider wrapping your dog in a blanket or towel and holding him closely to your body so he cannot wriggle, squirm, and injure himself further. When holding your dachshund, the body should be horizontal and parallel to the floor, and you should always make sure to fully support the butt and back legs with your arms.
Call your veterinarian immediately and ask them what you should do. If it is a holiday, the weekend, or after business hours, take your dachshund to an emergency veterinary clinic. Ask your vet and/or the emergency veterinary clinic to recommend a canine neurologist, if one is not on staff already, and make an appointment with this new specialist.
Most out-of-hours services are more expensive than routine annual veterinary care. If you cannot afford emergency care or there isn’t a clinic near you, arrange an appointment with your regular veterinarian as soon as possible. Next, put your dachshund on strict crate rest. This means he is only allowed out of his crate for potty breaks and veterinary appointments.
When you see your regular/emergency veterinarian or canine neurologist, you will want to tell them:
Because many veterinarians are generalists, they may not know a lot about IVDD. Sitting in the waiting room? Or waiting to schedule an appointment with your regular vet? Learn more about intervertebral disc disease in dogs here.
Additionally, seek a second opinion if you are not happy with what your veterinarian knows about canine IVDD and/or if you disagree with their diagnosis. The best thing you can do right now is find a reputable veterinarian or canine neurologist who has experience diagnosing and treating dogs with IVDD.
IVDD is a genetic disease that affects the shock-absorbing cushions (intervertebral discs) between the bones (vertebrae) in your dog’s spine.
The spine is made up of individual vertebrae bones. Dogs have 30 vertebrae running from the neck to the tailbone. All canines have 7 cervical vertebrae (neck), 13 thoracic vertebrae (chest), 7 lumbar vertebrae (lower back), and 3 sacral vertebrae (pelvic). Click here for an illustration of a dog's 30 vertebrae.
The vertebrae between the neck (cervical) and the lower back (lumbar) have soft cushions between them called intervertebral discs. Intervertebral discs have soft gel-like centers and thick outer layers. They’re like soft and squishy jelly donuts. When their fluid leaks into your pup’s spinal cord space, it puts pressure on his nerves. This can cause pain, weakness, and even front or back leg paralysis.
Intervertebral disc disease has 5 different stages.
All dog breeds can have a bulging, herniated, ruptured, or slipped disk. But the condition is most common in chondrodystrophic breeds like dachshunds, English bulldogs, and Pembroke Welsh corgis. Chondrodystrophic breeds have short legs and long backs.
If you have a sausage dog, it is extremely important to be aware of IVDD. Approximately 1 in every 4 wiener dogs will develop this genetic disease in their lifetime. Dachshunds are 10-12 times more likely to suffer from IVDD than other chondrodystrophic dog breeds. Smooth-haired sausage dogs are 4.2 times more likely to get IVDD than wire-haired or long-haired dachshunds. Spayed female and overweight doxies are also much more at risk of IVDD.
With these scary statistics in mind, it is important to understand that IVDD is often caused by sudden trauma (i.e., climbing stairs or jumping off furniture and landing incorrectly). Unfortunately, IVDD can also be genetic.
With our sausage dog Django, no event or trauma that we’re aware of caused his injury. One Saturday morning Django was completely fine, and later that afternoon he was visibly in pain. He didn’t fall off of a bed, jump off of a sofa "wrong", or even climb a flight of stairs (we have pet gates that prevent him from doing stairs in our home). When we asked Django’s neurologist how he could have gotten hurt, her answer was clear and simple: genetics.
Dachshunds are most at risk for IVDD between ages 3 and 6. They are particularly prone to IVDD because they're 50 times more likely to have a dwarfism gene mutation called FGF4-12.
If your dachshund's IVDD is mild, your vet will likely recommend anti-inflammatories, pain medications, and strict crate rest. This happened to Django in October 2020. He had a mild back injury, and we put him on crate rest for 4-6 weeks after taking him to a neurologist. We only let Django out of his crate for potty breaks and to cuddle, and Django fortunately had a full recovery from that particular injury.
Your vet or neurologist will first perform a physical and neurological exam to determine if IVDD is the most likely diagnosis.
When we brought Django to the emergency animal hospital after he lost function in his back legs, Django's neurologist tested the reflexes in each of his paws to see if there was a delay in response due to spinal cord compression and/or damage. The neurologist also pinched Django's toes to see if he still felt pain. With a relatively quick but precise physical exam, Django's neurologist was able to clearly identify his symptoms as IVDD related and diagnosis the severity of his IVDD as stage 4.
This exam happened on a Sunday afternoon. Given Django's severe condition, he was admitted to the hospital immediately after his physical exam on Sunday, and he had an MRI (more on this below) scheduled for first thing Monday morning. Surgery ultimately followed Django's MRI on Monday.
Your veterinarian may perform a test called a myelogram. Once your dog is put under anesthesia, a special dye is injected by his spinal cord to help it show up on an x-ray.
Myelograms can range in price from $600 and $1,750, depending on where you are located geographically and what type of facility performs the test. A small percentage of sausage dogs are at risk of “seizure-like” activity after they are injected with dye, but they recover after they’re given Valium (diazepam).
Because 45% of dachshunds are diagnosed with IVDD using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), your vet will probably order one immediately, especially if the IVDD case is severe (stages 3, 4, or 5).
Django lost function in his back legs on a Saturday afternoon, and he had an MRI first thing Monday morning. The MRI helped Django's neurologist locate the exact intervertebral disc in question and confirm that he urgently needed surgery that same day.
Approximately 65% of “slipped discs” are in the mid-back (Django's diagnosis) while 18% happen in the neck.
Canine MRIs can cost as much as USD 1,500 to 3,000 in the United States. Prices will vary based on several factors including your geographic area. As a reference, we presently live in New Jersey, and Django's MRI cost $2,200.
The cost of IVDD surgery is based on several factors, including the area you live in, what part of your dog’s spinal cord is injured, and the complexity of surgery. The cost of your dog's IVDD operation can range anywhere from USD 3,000 to 9,000.
As a reference, we live in New Jersey (just outside of Philadelphia), and Django's IVDD surgery alone was USD 4,700. Django's surgery was somewhat standard and lasted approximately 90 minutes from start to finish. He had a hemilaminectomy procedure to remove herniated disc material from his spinal canal at the T12-13 location. Django's neurologist said the surgical cost would have been higher if Django had 2 impacted locations that needed operation.
Keep in mind that your total IVDD bill will include both surgical and non-surgical items related to your dog's care and hospital stay. The cost of neurological exams, imaging scans, anesthesia, pain killers and post-op medications, the length of your dog's hospital stay—all of these items will likely be put on one invoice and billed simultaneously. In fact, most animal hospitals that perform IVDD surgery will require that you pay a significant deposit upfront, i.e. 30% of your dog's total expected or maximum bill.
When all IVDD surgical and non-surgical costs are accounted for, the total bill can range anywhere from USD 6,000 to 12,000 for small or medium dogs and as much as USD 8,000 to 14,000 for large dogs. Our final hospital bill was USD 8,600.
Most sausage dogs with mild IVDD fully recover after 4-6 weeks of strict crate rest.
Dachshunds that have very serious IVDD (i.e., where they’re partially paralyzed like Django) need an immediate diagnosis, emergency surgery, and proper post-surgery care. Sadly, some dogs never fully regain control of their limbs, but this outcome is very rare. Our neurologist specifically said 90-95% of dogs like Django are able to walk again within 4-6 weeks and see a full recovery in 3-6 months. This means that with proper treatment and care, your dachshund will very likely live a happy, normal, and active life after the IVDD diagnosis.
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