This page is dedicated to the Crusoe fans and fellow dachshund owners, or dog owners of any breed that might be affected by IVDD (intervertebral disc disease), which is a very common and complex issue for dachshunds (affecting about 25% of them), so it's good to be educated - especially before it happens!
Crusoe battled episodes of IVDD for a number of years leading up to August 4, 2016, where he underwent spinal surgery to have it fixed.
So here we will cover more about what IVDD is, prevention, treatment options, and rehabilitation.
Keep in mind you should always consult your vet.
IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) is a condition that affects about 25% of dachshunds as well as some other breeds as well, especially those with longer backs. Our bodies have little discs between our vertebrate - sort of like jelly-filled donuts, that act as cushions between the vertebrae. IVDD is when these discs deteriorate (calcify/harden), wherein they become susceptible to bulging or bursting - especially with hard impacts (jumping off a couch, steps, rough play, etc).
Owners generally first notice IVDD in their dog (if it's going to happen) between ages 3 and 7 (essentially when the dog is most active in their life). When the jelly in the disc bursts, it usually goes upward based on the shape of the surrounding bone, but can also go side to side. However, if it goes upward, it's going straight into the spinal canal where it can compress the spinal cord. This can cause pain, discomfort, loss of motor control, and complete paralysis in a matter of days following the injury and depending on how severe it is.
It's always best if you can prevent a disc from bulging/bursting in the first place. With IVDD, discs become more susceptible to bursting over time as the outer fibrous layer hardens and loses its elasticity. Bursting usually occurs from some sort of impact or sharp movement, like wrestling, jumping off or over things, stairs, an injury, etc.
Here are some good tips on how to prevent an injury:
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The unfortunate part is that sometimes these things just happen, such as with Crusoe's case. We've been following these precautions since day one (to the best of our ability), but he still ended up needing surgery. Don't let that discourage you though, these precautions CAN and WILL help prevent dogs from being injured when they don't need to be.
This is the non-surgical approach following a disc episode or injury. Conservative is generally followed if the episode is minor and there is no or not much loss of control in the back legs. It can also be followed if surgery cannot be done (for financial reasons, for example), but the chance of success is low at that point.
Conservative treatment involves:
Depending on severity of the injury will determine length of conservative treatment and how soon physical therapy can be introduced, such as stretches, hydrotherapy, short walks, wobble boards, etc. With conservative treatment you need to take it slow and cautiously, but physical therapy is still important. Some sources still advocate for 100% strict crate rest for 8 weeks, but this is a rather old school thinking. There will be a lot of muscle loss in 2 months of sitting in a crate that will take years to come back - and that muscle is important for keeping the spine strong and able to prevent future disc problems.
It's important to note that with conservative treatment you are not "curing" the issue. With proper care, the disc material will harden and scar wherever it erupted (oftentimes in the spinal canal). Even with a constricted spinal cord, it will learn to continue its regular signals even through a smaller space, potentially allowing the dog to regain full function.
Even with proper conservative treatment (which all in all likely takes minimum of two months), there's a 50% chance the issue will reoccur at some point.
Surgery is a hard decision to take, but should be done if you see the dog getting progressively worse in terms of pain, motor control, and definitely if the dog has lost complete ability to walk. Once the dog goes down and loses deep pain reflex in the toes, you have 24 hours to do the surgery with an 85% chance of success. Otherwise, the chances of the dog ever being able to walk again goes down quickly. If surgery is done earlier than that, like when you notice the legs going wobbly (such as with Crusoe's case) the chance of success is about 96%.
Always have the surgery conducted by a trained neurologist - not a general veterinarian.
Surgery removes the offending disc material, so it is solving the problem. Occasionally, you may also elect to fenestrate other potential problem discs (remove the inner jelly) so as to prevent them bursting in the future. This is generally done if a second surgery would not be a possibility (for financial or whatever reasons). The surgery may fix the current injured disc, but with IVDD, other discs are susceptible to rupture in the future as well, wherein another surgery may be required... So, a dog with IVDD needs some extra precautions, perpetually.
Following surgery, there is a period similar to conservative treatment to allow proper healing, albeit not as long as pure conservative treatment (generally 6 weeks or so). And physical therapy can be started right away as well. Again, some people advocate for 6 weeks strict crate rest, but even with humans who undergo spinal surgery, physical therapy starts right away - sometimes even the same day as the surgery!
There's a lot you can do in terms of rehabilitation whether you follow a surgical or conservative treatment. How much you do and how soon depends on the injury and whether or not the dog had surgery or is following a conservative program, so you should consult a rehabilitation-specialized veterinarian. The main part of follow-up care and rehabilitation is managing pain, as the body heals easier when it's not in pain.
I'm not a vet so won't recommend what medication to give your dog, but gebapentin (which is what Crusoe took) is a very safe drug and works particularly on nerve pain. Immediately following an disc episode or surgery, you'll also need anti-inflammatories (as inflammation will constrict nerves even more and cause more pain).
This is a very gentle exercise and can be done pretty much right away, but you can evaluate the dog's comfort level. You just move the dogs leg in its natural range of motion while they are lying on their side or standing up. You can also stretch the legs forwards and backwards gently.
Getting the dog to sit and stand up in little sessions a couple times a day helps work the back leg muscles following surgery.
Hold the dog's bum and with a treat your other hand, get them to follow your hand from one side to another, bringing their nose from one flank around to the other. This is good for flexibility and stretching the back muscles.
This is great for core-strength building, helping them recuperate muscle and prevent further injury.
For a dog who is working on walking properly again, this is good to help improve their gait again.
This is an amazing therapy that can almost work miracles. The sensation of moving through water stimulates motor and sensory nerves all over the body. It's an easy way for a dog to start walking (who isn't walking yet), at the same time building muscle and stimulating nerve regeneration.
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