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IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) is the most significant health issue in Dachshunds and is a disease resulting in degeneration of the discs in the spine. It is reported that 20 - 25% of Dachshunds will suffer with some degree of back problems within their lifetime (1 in 4). Unfortunately there is no health test for IVDD as yet, however, a new X-Ray screening programme has been launched that may provide some risk assessment. Severity ranges from mild discomfort and pain through to total paralysis. Symptoms typically occur between the ages of 4-7 years old, but can occur at any age and can literally happen overnight.
Why Dachshunds have short legs
Man and dog have been working together for a very long time. Archaeologists have found bones that appear to be from domestic dogs dating from 15,000 years ago, but genetic research suggests that the split between the dog and the grey wolf started about 40,000 years ago.
There were about five separate times when the wolf came into the dog’s family tree, but by about 14,000 years ago the dog was probably very much a domestic animal, although they may still have looked a lot like wolves (Parker, 2010, Savolainen, 2002). Indeed, there are some dog breeds around that still look very wolf-like, even today.
About 10,000 years ago a mutation occurred in one puppy that fundamentally changed the shape of this animal and its descendants. This puppy was the ancestor of all the short leg dog breeds to be seen in the world today. This puppy had a duplicate, but somewhat abnormal, copy of a gene that codes for a growth-promoting protein called Fibroblast Growth Factor 4 (also known as FGF4) (Parker, 2009). This growth factor is important in determining when bones stop growing.
The mutation caused a form of dwarfing with short legs but a normal head, chest and body.
If it had been in the wild, the disadvantages of the short legs – smaller, lack of reach and maybe speed – might have proved the end of the dog with the original mutation, although it might just have been lucky. Whatever the situation, it was a parent of at least one litter, and the mutation survived and has been passed down to us.
Dogs had been domesticated for at least 5,000 years when the dwarfing mutation happened, although we don’t, of course, know if the dog with the mutation actually lived with humans. It survived with this abnormality, which may have been due to it being in a ‘domestic’ environment. From the human point of view, dogs with short legs would be useful in getting through dense undergrowth or for chasing game down holes, so there would have been advantages in retaining these dogs for hunting.
Thus, it can be seen that Dachshunds actually haven’t got long backs, they have short legs. They are described as a Chondrodystrophic or Achondroplastic breed.
Please take time to study the new IVDD website, to become familiar with prevelence, signs, symptoms and treatment options as this is, by far, the most worrying health issue a Dachshund can suffer from!
How can you help you avoid back problems?
The fact that Dachshunds are a short-legged (chondrodystrophic) breed remains the biggest causal factor in IVDD because the discs in the spine calcify at a much younger age than in normal-legged breeds of dog. Additionally, IVDD has a strong heritability, meaning it runs in families. Dogs whose parents and other ancestors suffered from IVDD are much more likely also to suffer from IVDD.
Nevertheless, lifestyle factors can help reduce the risks:
· Don’t over-exercise a young puppy; allow it to mature fully and for its bones and muscles to develop before expecting it to be able to go on long walks (a rough guide is 5 minutes of “formal, on-lead exercise” per month of age, in addition to allowing free playing/exercise)
· Once fully grown (over the age of 12 months), keep your dog well-exercised and in good body condition (well-muscled and not overweight)
· A mixed exercise regime on-lead and off-lead will help build good muscle-tone; they need to live their lives as “proper dogs” – remember their working origins, so they should be able to run and jump
· Be very cautious of making a decision to spay or neuter your Dachshund, particularly before the age of 12 months; there is plenty of research evidence that neutering of males has few health benefits and spaying of bitches has some, but not overwhelming health benefits
· Feed a good quality, well-balanced, diet that helps maintain your dog at an ideal body condition (not fat, or thin); remember, it’s very easy NOT to notice your dog becoming overweight, especially when you are together every day.