Preventative care for IVDD in Dashunds
Dashunds are one of the most common breeds that I see in my practice. Unfortunately it is often because they have experienced paralysis due to intervertebral disc disease and are either wanting to avoid surgery, or recovery from surgery is slow and further assistance is needed. For these dogs as long as there is deep pain in the back legs (they turn and look at a toe being pinched really hard in the back foot) then there is a good chance of making progress with manual therapies. I use a combination of electroacupuncture, techniques derived from osteopathy and laser to treat dashunds with intervertebral disc disease.
I really love it when owners come for proactive care to prevent disc prolapse in the first place, or post one surgery to minimise the chance of another surgery. We can never completely eliminate the risk of another back episode but at least we can reduce it. Here are some things to think about with reducing the risk of disc degeneration in your dashund.
If you are currently in the market for a dashund consider buying your puppy from breeders that have had their breeding dogs x-ray scored for disc calcifications when they are 2 - 4 years old. There are genetic tests available however these don't as yet appear reliable as disc disease seems to be a combination of genetics and environment.
Desexing has been shown to positively correlate with increased incidence of IVDD in dashunds. If you have a Dashund puppy it would be best to wait until they are at least 12 months old before considering neutering.
Regular gentle exercise is essential for core fitness and maintaining muscle strength. Daily walks with some variety of terrain (up and down and across slopes etc) will give good general fitness. Avoid ball/stick throwing - the sudden twists,turns and jumps with ball throwing create back problems in breeds that are not even prone to disc degeneration.
You can also also do some conditioning exercises at home to build core strength. Conditioning exercises need to be done on non slip surfaces. Some exercises you can do at home include:
- weight shifting exercises - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z52x-LYbqek
- figure of 8 weaving - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0PM3izDqgU
- weave poles - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJUewKvhsZU
If your dog has a recent injury they need to be assessed for the most appropriate exercises for their stage of recovery.
Life Style & Home Set Up
One of the most important things you can do to prevent disc disease in your dashund is to stop them jumping up onto things and off things. This generally means the couch and bed. Ideally don't let them start getting up on the couch and bed in the first place as both are hard habits to break (for both parties involved!).
Likewise for large steps (and for some dogs even small steps) consider using ramps so your dog doesn't have to jump. If you sleep upstairs train your dog to stay on one level and be carried. Baby gates are also useful to restrict movement up and down large flights of stairs.
Previous studies to date have not found a correlation between diet and disc disease in dashunds. Though using first principles of thinking about the tissues that comprise intervertebral discs then I always think diet is helpful - and not just for discs but for general health! Here are some things to consider:
- Portion and treat control: important to keep your daschund a good weight in order to reduce stress on the back muscles that are needed to support extra weight if they are overweight.
- Hydration: Disc disease in dashunds usually occurs from degeneration of the nucleus of the disc. The nucleus of discs contain up to 86% water! Suboptimal hydration in people reduces the diffusion of nutrients into the disc which can limit repair and lead to degeneration. I find dogs that are on a predominantly moist food diets are better hydrated and recommend moist foods as the majority of their meals. Even better if the diet can be species appropriate meat based meals. There are a variety of raw, cooked, freeze dried commercial options and also recipes for homemade meals that are appropriate. We can look at what may be most appropriate for your dog in a consultation.
- Protein: Intervertebral discs are composed primarily of collagen and proteoglycans. In order to give the body the building blocks for repair a species appropriate diet is again important (many commercial foods and especially dry foods are high in carbohydrates that aren't ideal for canines). You can also give gelatine, type II collagen or bone broth to supplement some of the building blocks for repair of these tissues. See our bone broth blog here.
- Chinese herbs: For dogs that are assessed to need additional support with improving circulation to the spine to counter degeneration of the disc chinese herbal formulas can assist. The formula is selected following assessment of your dog.
Carrying your dog
It is important when carrying your dog to support their back, keep their back straight and support the spine and back legs. Many small dogs, dashunds included, get carried with owners supporting under the chest only and this will strain the back.
Improper alignment creates repetitive strain on the discs and means they are more likely to degenerate and rupture.
Additionally, the centre of intervertebral discs doesn't have a blood supply and is reliant on the blood vessels in the surrounding spine for diffusion of nutrients. Proper spinal alignment will allow for optimal supply of nutrients for repair, and also allows diffusion of wastes from the intervertebral discs.
Periodic reviews with a biomechanical practitioner or veterinary acupuncturist will assist with maintaining spinal alignment and health. I suggest a check in twice a year for dogs that are non symptomatic and 2 - 4 times per year for dogs that have had previous episodes of back pain or surgery.