Ok, I willingly acknowledge that my title dangerously borders on the cheesiest of cheesy but sadly, pun or no pun, it’s true! IVDD (Intervertebral disk disease) is a very real and very serious pain in the neck or back. When you have dachshunds, one of the biggest fears you face is hearing the whimper or seeing the twitch and tremble of pain telling you IVDD may be present. It’s not only painful for Fido but can be very painfull for your pocketbook.
I am not a complete stranger to this horrible disease. My sister and niece’s boy Bailey was dubbed “Franken-puppy” after his back surgery to repair a damaged disk. That was some time back and he has since passed away unrelated to IVDD.
Over the last couple of years Isabella has had occasional bouts of back pain requiring both pain meds and steroids. Sadly this is common with many dachshunds. When the pain reoccured this summer and continued with little improvement from meds our vet started her on k-laser treatments to give a last non-surgical effort to addressing the problem.
You try to keep them from jumping… you have stairs next to every bed in the house, next to every couch yet still, we all know the last thing a dachshund is looking for upon hearing the doorbell ring is a set of stairs to casually make their way to the door. Nope, if your dachshunds are like mine, I propose the person guilty of ignoring the “No Soliciting” sign (clearly displayed in plain sight) in hopes to sell me a home security system has barely removed their finger from the ringer before these little guys are front and center determined to scare away said person with the very piercing ferocious doxie bark. What I find the most disturbing in this situation is that I’m still being offered an alarm system to warn me of impending intruders… as we struggle to hear each other over the comotion!
Noise aside, the situation poses such a horrible health hazard to dachshunds as well as other long-backed breeds. Ashas doesn’t just bounce off the couch as Isabella does. No, he does a swan dive worthy of an Olympic 10.0 Gold Medal! It’s beautiful to see but heart wrenching at the same time knowing his possible future and the damage it may one day cause being a dachshund and prone to IVDD. Stopping him from doing it is a challenge in and of itself, one we have not yet overcome but rest assured we’re working on it and very open to suggestions if any of you have successfully halted this behavior!
As I mentioned, Isabella had already begun having issues appearing over the course of time. We are constantly rubbing and massaging our little lapdogs and standard x-rays showed possible inflammation along her middle back, the same area she had begun to show sensitivity to during the typical back rub so after the latest flare-up, our vet decided it was time for a surgical consult. We had no idea when we walked into the surgeon’s office for the consult on her back that she would in fact be having surgery less than 24 hours later on her neck.
Through this experience, I’ve learned a whole lot about IVDD that I didn’t know. Not that my regular vet had never talked me through it but the way our surgeon explained it opened my eyes to exactly what this disease is all about. For one, I thought it was caused by an injury. I had always heard Dachshunds (and long-backed dogs) were prone to IVDD, but naively I thought it was due to the shape of their skeleton and the length of the back causing the IVDD injuries.
What I now know differently, is that IVDD is common to specific breeds purely due to genetics. The disk material in certain breeds has a propensity to lose its moisture and dry out, becoming hard and brittle. The long back comes into play as the animal is at risk for injury frequently caused from the sudden jarring and pressure associated with jumping and most importantly, landing. By “injury” I mean the compression of the now hard and brittle disk material which has nowhere to go but to push intrusively into the spinal cord causing pain and often paralysis. Also, IVDD is a disease which can reoccur as multiple episodes at different areas in the spine over the course of the dog’s lifetime whether surgery has occurred or not. Simply put, even if surgery has corrected one area, other disks can become affected later and require more surgery. A short 30-40 years ago, many cases of IVDD ended sadly in paralysis and/or ultimately in euthanasia. Thankfully veterinary medicine has come out of the dark ages and although it’s expensive, with the use of procedures such as MRI, they can pinpoint where these injuries have occurred and make educated decisions on how to treat them, surgical or not.
Isabella is a great example of the benefit of MRI. The conclusion from her MRI was that while she had some areas in her middle back as suspected, they are quite mild (at least for now) and also not the area most likely to have been causing her pain. Her issue was in her neck where she had a severe disk protrusion into her spinal cord. The chance of this correcting itself without surgery was nil so the choice was a no-brainer. Oddly, she showed no discomfort during phiscal examination of her neck, only the back so this would have gone undiagnosed or worse, we might have chosen to operate in the wrong place if not for the MRI. Of course I got a copy of it on DVD. :-) Here’s a snapshot from the MRI file showing her bad disk with about a 50% spinal intrusion:
Something else I learned… neck injuries are less often to cause actual paralysis however they tend to be more painful for the dog than those of the back. Episodes involving the back start out with some pain but often develop into paralysis at which time the pain subsides. Like either is a more desired outcome? Also, neck injuries, while a much more complex procedure for the surgeon, is a much easier post-surgical recovery event for Fido.
It was a longer surgery than I expected… they took her back at 11:00, to start her prep and it was after 5pm when she finally came out of surgery. They had to drug her up a little heavier than usual they explained as she had already tried to jump down and get lose from her confinement. I guess she had enough and was ready for home?
When we were finally able to see her she was a pitiful sight. There she was, in a drug induced stupor with her tongue just sadly hanging from her mouth. They tried to show us her scar but we couldn’t see much and what we did see looked pretty small. The procedure was done with an incision below the neck to access the area of involvement and remove all of the diseased disc material. It was hard to leave her there that night. The most consoling news was that she would remain on a pretty high dosage of meds for at least 24 hours and so out of it that she wouldn’t be missing us anytime soon.
When we went back to see her the next day after work she was doing amazingly well. Much to our suprise, what we thought was a small scar turned out to be a little larger than small… Three days after her surgery we brought her home where she had two weeks of confinement. what a long two weeks. Within just the first week you would never have known anything was wrong with her! Full recovery for this surgery is a mere 9-12 weeks before she can return to “being a dog”…
Not only has she rebounded quickly but the most wonderful change since her surgery is seeing her lay on her back… something she hasn’t been a real fan of for a couple of years and already she’s doing it regularly! She’s also been “sweeter” and more patient. It’s crazy what we miss even though we think we see everything. If only our little fur babies could talk to us and tell us what’s going on. Sadly it’s in their nature to hide things like pain so often we don’t know until things are severe. Having her lay around carefree and more importantly “pain free” reaffirm that the right decision was made to go the surgical route.
We’re at 4 1/2 weeks and at least she can now roam freely around the house and the yard as well as participate in low key activity. She wants to play with Ashas really bad but their playing involves rolling and wrestling and pinning each other down nipping each other’s necks so when they start horsing around we watch and when it turns rough (usually pretty quickly) we put a halt to it. She’s also ready to chase and fetch her ball… another 6-7 weeks to go little girl!
P.S. ever wonder what your dog looks like on the inside? Pretty much like we do! Kidneys, liver, intestines…