Surprising insights into Back Disease by Ian Seath
The 2015 DachsLife Breed Health survey set out to find out people’s experience of IVDD (Back Disease) in their Dachshunds and to look at the lifestyle factors that may contribute to back problems.
There are plenty of anecdotes and advice on how to rear a Dachshund to minimise the risks of back problems, but very little data to support any of these. So, when the results of the survey emerged, there were a few surprises. With responses for over 2000 Dachshunds we had a good sample and were able to draw statistically valid conclusions. However, it is important to remember that “association” is not the same as “causation”; just because we found a relationship between a particular factor and IVDD, doesn’t prove there is a cause and effect linkage.
Some of the results are intuitively obvious and will clearly support long-held views. Others contradict conventional wisdom and, no doubt, some people will be looking for reasons to discount the findings. However, don’t forget that we had a large sample of dogs and are only reporting results that were statistically significant. It’s also worth noting that 89% of the dogs in the survey were purely owned as pets and did not belong to owners in the showing community.
How many dogs had back problems?
In total, 342 (17%) Dachshunds were reported as having had some degree of back problem. 104 of those went on to have repeat incidents. The proportion reporting IVDD varied depending on the variety (coat and size). Smooths had the highest (25%) reported prevalence and Wires the lowest (9%). There was no difference in IVDD prevalence between dogs and bitches.
However, it is important to note that IVDD is a particular risk between the ages of 4 and 7, so these figures need to be adjusted to show prevalence by age. Although there were a few cases in very young dogs, the majority of cases of IVDD began to be reported in Dachshunds over 4 years old.
Across the whole survey population, 83% of the dogs had not experienced IVDD, but 40% of the dogs aged between 5 and 14 had suffered some degree of IVDD. 76% of the dogs that suffered some degree of IVDD had this diagnosed between the ages of 4 and 8.
Many of the findings reported here are for dogs over the age of three, to remove the effect of IVDD-free young dogs in the sample.
Lifestyle Factor 1: Neutering
The odds of a neutered Dachshund suffering IVDD over the age of 3 is nearly double (1.8x) that of an entire Dachshund. Neutering under the age of 12 months has higher odds of IVDD than neutering over the age of 1. This does not mean there is a cause and effect relationship between neutering and IVDD, but it has some parallels with a study of Golden Retrievers that showed neutered animals were more likely to suffer from Hip Dysplasia. Although the mechanism for this is not clear, it is easy to draw hypothesise about the effects of early neutering on bone development when an animal is not fully mature.
Lifestyle Factor 2: Body condition
In their 2013 research the Royal Veterinary College showed that dogs that were fat or obese were more likely to suffer with IVDD than fitter, thinner dogs. We weren’t able to replicate that finding in our survey. Even if being overweight doesn’t act as a risk factor for IVDD there are plenty of other reasons not to allow your Dachshund to get fat; as in people, heart disease and diabetes are likely risks.
Lifestyle Factor 3: Activity levels
We asked owners to describe their Dachshund’s activity level as:
· Highly active
· Moderately active
· Mildly active
· Not at all active
Dogs over the age of 3 that were highly or moderately active were half as likely to have suffered an IVDD incident as dogs described as mildly or not at all active.
This could either be a genuine effect of fitter dogs being less prone to IVDD, or affected dogs are now leading less active lives.
Lifestyle Factor 4: Exercise
Dachshunds over the age of 3 that were only exercised by being given daily free running/ playing in the garden were 1.8 times more likely to suffer IVDD than dogs that were taken for walks on and off the lead as well. This was statistically significant.
Presumably, “proper walks” on and off the lead build more muscle-tone and better body condition than free-play in the garden.
Lifestyle Factor 5: Going up and down stairs
Dachshunds over the age of 3 that were allowed to go up/down a flight of stairs every day had a lower probability of IVDD than those not allowed to use stairs (Odds Ratio = 0.4). This was statistically significant.
This finding is interesting in light of a previous Scandinavian study that showed moderate use of stairs reduced the risk of disc calcification whereas accompanying a cyclist increased the risk.
Lifestyle Factor 6: Jumping on and off furniture
Dachshunds over the age of 3 that were allowed to jump on and off furniture every day had a lower probability of IVDD than those not allowed to do this (Odds Ratio = 0.3). This was statistically significant.
Lifestyle Factor 7: Walking in a collar vs. a harness
Dogs over the age of 3 that were exercised wearing harnesses were 2.3 times more likely to have suffered an IVDD incident than those exercised in collars. This was statistically significant. This does not imply causation; it may simply be a reflection of the fact that dogs that have suffered IVDD may be exercised in harnesses in preference to collars.
Dogs that pulled on the lead rather than walking to heel were no more likely to have suffered IVDD, irrespective of whether or not they wore a collar or a harness.
Lifestyle Factor 8: Showing your Dachshund
Dogs over the age of 3 that did not participate in KC Open or Championship shows were 3.8 times more likely to have suffered an IVDD incident. This was statistically significant.
In our 2012 survey, dogs that were not shown were twice as likely to have suffered from IVDD.
This effect is not related to Body Condition Score (BCS) as show and non-show dogs did not have significantly different proportions of dogs with a BCS >3 (ideal).
Lifestyle Factor 9: Owning more than one Dachshund
We all know that owning Dachshunds is a cumulative hobby and the good news from our survey is that it also reduces the risk of your dog having back problems!
Dachshunds living with more than 1 other Dachshund or living with other (non-Dachshund) dogs had a lower risk of IVDD than Dachshunds living on their own. Living with 2 or more other Dachshunds halved the risk compared with those living on their own. Those living with other breeds of dog also had a lower risk.
Owning several Dachshunds possibly means they spend more time playing together and self-exercising than those who live alone.
There was no difference in IVDD prevalence if living with just 1 other Dachshund. These findings may support the data that suggests “show” owners’ dogs have a lower IVDD rate, as most show people typically keep multiple Dachshunds.
Lifestyle Factor 10: Diet
4 in 10 Dachshunds over the age of 3 were fed a Complete Diet and a further 1 in 4 were fed a combination of Complete/Wet. There was no statistically significant difference in IVDD rates between any of the diets (complete, wet, raw, or any combination).
Lifestyle Factor 11: Dietary Supplements
Many owners give supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin in the hope that they will be “good for backs” and “prevent joint problems”.
Overall, for dogs over the age of 3, the risk of IVDD was no different between dogs receiving supplements and those not. In fact, dogs whose diets were supplemented with Glucosamine and Chondroitin were nearly twice as likely to have had an IVDD incident. This is possibly a reflection of the fact that owners give supplements to dogs that have already had an IVDD incident.
Interestingly, dogs whose diets were supplemented with Cod Liver Oil were half as likely to have had an IVDD incident.
What’s the best advice to 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 too fat
You can find all the survey results on the Breed Council’s Health website (link on contact page)
The content of this report does not constitute veterinary advice and you should make decisions on your Dachshund’s lifestyle in conjunction with advice from your own vet.
Latest research on neuter status and disc herniation found at link below: