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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dachshund Back Problems

Anyone who has or intends to have a dachshund needs to pay attention to this entry. Many dachshund owners are already aware of this issue, but those who aren't need to learn about it.

As a breed, dachshunds are extremely prone to injuring their backs. Specifically this involves a herniation of one of the discs between the vertebrae in their back. Between each bone is a cushioning disc that helps to soften movement of the spine and prevent pain and injuries. Imagine the disc like a seeded grape. If you squeeze the grape firmly, you'll compress it without breaking it, and the grape will return to its shape. If you squeeze too hard, the grape ruptures and the seed inside shoots out. An intervertebral disc is like that grape, with a hard center. When the center of the disc comes out, the only direction it can go is against the spinal cord. This causes a sudden pressure against the spinal cord and damages it. This can lead to temporary or permanent nerve damage. The nerve damage can affect anything behind the injury, causing paralysis, inability to defecate, and inability to urinate.

Depending on how severe the injury is, it can look like anything from difficulty standing, instability in the back legs, or full paralysis. This should be considered an emergency, as time is of the essence. The longer the pressure continues against the spinal cord and the more severe it is, the greater the likelihood of having long-term or permanent problems. The chances of improvement can drop dramatically within hours, so you shouldn't wait a day or two to see if this improves.

In mild cases, first therapy is usually high doses of steroids or similar potent anti-inflammatories. Studies have shown that this treatment has limited effectiveness, and there isn't much evidence to prove that it is worthwhile. However, most vets (myself included) have seen dogs improve on steroids, and therefore will usually try it. When cases or severe or if there is no improvement on steroids in 24-48 hours, surgery is indicated. This kind of surgery is done by a specialist and involves cutting away part of the vertebrae and removing the damaged disc material from the spinal cord. This is very expensive and delicate surgery, but can make a huge difference. Again, the faster the surgery is done, the better the outcome. If you wait days or weeks, chances are low that it will work.

Healing of nerve damage is very hard to predict, as it is difficult to tell if there is too much damage for the nerves to regenerate. That's why it can be hard for your vet to tell you if any kind of treatment will work, and it's why you can get some cases that start to heal after many weeks even beyond the expectation.

There are some things you can do to lower the risks. Keep your dachshund's weight normal, as any extra weight will put additional stress on the spine. Keep him or her from jumping on or off furniture, especially high things like beds. Sudden twists of trauma to the spine can cause a disc to slip out of place. However, there are some cases that you simply cannot help.

Even though dachshunds are a high risk breed for this kind of injury, it can happen to any dog. If yours ever shows any problems like this, get them to your vet immediately. It could be the difference between walking or using a wheeled cart.