I am a lifelong dachshund person, and right now I have two miniature black and tan dachshunds named Rigby and Sadie. They have ingratiated themselves to our family and are like little kids to us. Lately, Rigby has been on a journey of healing that has been at times inspiring and hopeful, and at other times really scary. Rigby is facing possible IVDD back problems, and for most dachshund lovers, even the mention of this term hits a familiar nerve of panic, loss, and impossible decisions.
IVDD is basically a degenerative back disease that causes the protective fluid and membranes between discs to rupture and leave the spinal column unprotected and vulnerable to damage. A certain percentage of dogs with long backs are prone to develop over the course of their lives. Some dogs have issues with it when they are very young, and some dogs make it to old age before developing symptoms, but once it strikes, even if a dog recuperates, there’s always the fear of another injury. IVDD can ultimately leave a dog paralyzed or in extreme pain.
Before I say more about Rigby’s journey, I wanted to bring up one other thing. During my graduate program in Veterinary Social Work, I learned a lot about anthropromorphizing. This is when we project human feelings, thoughts, and characteristics onto animals. As someone who sees my dogs as part of the family, it’s easy to transpose lots of human qualities on them that they clearly don’t have. Like the ability to have hopes, dreams, favorite songs, conversations, inner monologues, and complex thoughts. I know that at their core, dogs simply want to be warm, well-fed, exercised, entertained, and most importantly, close to their pack. Anything that I project on them beyond this is simply me wrestling with my own emotions, and I acknowledge this up front as part of why it has been so hard to watch Rigby be in pain.
A while back, Rigby simply started limping around. We didn’t notice any accidents, injuries, or even yelps of pain, she just started moving around really slowly like she was hurting. I took her to the vet, and after examining her back they said it was likely IVDD and she should be on “crate rest” for six weeks. Essentially what we were told is that she should be as immobilized as possible to keep her back from getting re-injured and to give her disks time to heal. It was terrifying to think that if we didn’t keep her perfectly still, a disc might rupture and cause her excruciating pain or even paralysis. The vet said that the best thing to do would be just to keep her still and give her anti-inflammatory medicine.
After a few days of crate rest, Rigby was feeling awful and seemed so sad to not be able to get around and play. Of course, when I did let her out to eat, go to the bathroom, or sit with me for a little while, I was paranoid. It’s nearly impossible to keep a dachshund still, especially one that still feels good and acts like a puppy despite being 10 years old. After she seemed to be feeling better, I decided to take her on short walks since I figured it would help her burn off some energy and tolerate her rest periods better.
Also, through reading about the IVDD journey of Crusoe the Celebrity Dachshund, I found out that treatment options like cool lasers and physical therapy were available, and I contacted our pet rehab facility in Nashville. I’m so glad I did, as it marked a major turning point in Rigby’s healing.
We worked with the team at Canine Rehabilitation of Nashville to get Rigby back on her feet, and I think it has made all the difference in the world in how great she is feeling these days.
At our first session, Rigby was given a cool laser treatment that helps stimulate bloodflow and repair the strained areas of her back. Rigby didn’t seem to like having to hold still, but it’s completely painless and she didn’t mind getting some treats for enduring it.
I was also taught several exercises to do with Rigby to build her muscles to support the areas of her back that were healing from the injury. We did traction, myofascial release, stability exercises, and my favorite, the hydro treadmill. Rigby isn’t a water dog, so she seemed somewhat resentful when the treadmill started to fill up with warm water, but she did well even on her first time and quickly acclimated to it.
We’ve done a total of 5 therapy sessions over the past month and a half combined with walks and at home excises the therapist taught us, and Rigby is feeling much more like her old self and hasn’t had symptoms of back pain in a few weeks. I am so thrilled that she appears to be doing better and getting stronger. I’m still reeling from the experience and hoping that further injury and surgery never have to be part of her life, but what I learned from this is experience is that there are options beyond what your vet might know. As the therapists explained, crate rest alone might provide time for the inflammation to go down and for the injury to heal, but it also causes the whole body to weaken, which can leave your dog susceptible to further injury on top of boredom and sadness at being so excluded from activities.
For any dachshund owners out there, prevention is also key. You don’t have to wait for until your dog has back issues to start exercising with them. I would visit a rehab specialist just to learn different strength training activities you can do with your dog to help them stay healthy. I’m thankful Rigby is doing such much better and will continue to update on her progress!