Intervertebral Disk Disease, or IVDD for short, is when the discs in-between a dog’s vertebrae “slips” and puts pressure on the spinal cord. Some dog breeds, like Dachshunds (most common), Corgis, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Yorkies, Poodle, Bassets, and any mixes of these breeds are prone to getting IVDD. You cannot tell that your pet has IVDD until they have an episode. I wanted to share with you my IVDD story and hopefully educate you about the disease. I wish I had known then what I know now. Time is VERY important when your dog goes “down” with an IVDD episode.
In July of 2013, I returned home one night to find my dachshund, Lola, in pain and unwilling to move. It was a Saturday night so the vet offices were already closed and weren’t open tomorrow. We immediately took her to the emergency vet here in Peoria (which I DO NOT recommend – they honestly don’t know much). They gave me some steroids and told me to wait it out. This is the absolute WRONG thing they should have advised. At this point, Lola still had deep pain sensation (when you pinch their toes really hard, they can still feel it), which is a huge indicator of the severity of the IVDD episode. First thing Monday morning, we got in at our vet, and they immediately sent us to UofI for a consultation after examining her. She had gotten bad enough that if we chose to do surgery, she would need it right then and there.
They explained the options of surgery vs not having surgery. The team at UofI was giving Lola a less than 10% chance of not being totally paralyzed even with surgery. I felt in my heart, that I wanted the disc matter removed and not pressing on her spinal cord. The vets were pretty sceptic, and I got the feeling they thought it was a waste of time and money, but something told me that was what we needed to do. They got her prepped and into surgery right away while we had an excruciatingly anxious breakfast nearby.
After the surgery, they confirmed that the disc was pushing so hard on her spinal cord that she had absolutely no chance of any improvements had we left it. She would have been completely paralyzed with me needing to express her bladder and poo. Everything was so overwhelming, and I just felt like I was drowning. It was truly one of the worst days of my life.
We got to take Lola home after a few days in recovery. She had to start crate rest immediately. This means she was in the crate at all times except for potty breaks. This was to minimize her movements and let her back heal. If you do not have surgery, you start off with 8 weeks of crate rest to see if you have any improvements. Sometimes when the disc is just aggravated and not actually protruding, this is enough for the flair-up to die down. Your dog will be much more prone to re-injure or aggravate the disc, though. They should not be jumping onto furniture or going down large flights of stairs if they’ve had IVDD issues. This can make the disc flair up.
After her crate rest was completed, Lola went down to UofI again for a couple of weeks of intense physical therapy. This was make it or break it. Here is where she’d show us if she was going to improve at all or stay the same. The first few days didn’t yield any major improvements or breakthroughs. By the end of the week, though, her therapist called and let me know that she believed that Lola could heal and make some improvements. She was starting to walk on her own while using the water treadmill and had actually wagged her tail. I got the news at work and burst into tears of happiness. I genuinely thought that I’d never see her wag her tail again, so this was just the best news ever.
She also started acupuncture at Dr. Bortell‘s in Bloomington to aid in her healing process. I believe this helped her recovery tremendously. The acupuncture sends an electric current through the needles to activate and engage the nerve endings. It was amazing to watch her progress. She also continued doing physical therapy at the Central Illinois Small Animal Rehabilitation Center at the Pekin Veterinary Clinic.
Slowly but surely, Lola improved and began walking on her own. It’s not pretty and it’s not all the time, but she tries and is growing stronger every day. Three years later, in the summer of 2016, she began walking more than she was dragging herself. She defied all odds and is truly a miracle. She does have an amazing wheelchair that is from Eddie’s Wheels that she uses for dog park adventures, going on walks, and when we volunteer, because that’s a little too much walking for her to handle. At home, though, she walks unassisted.
Lola has her own Instagram and Twitter account that I try to update semi-frequently for her many friends and followers who have encouraged us along this journey. Feel free to follow her if you’d like to be in the loop! Thank you to all the friends (both in real life and online) and family members who rooted for us and were there for us, especially at the beginning of this ordeal. I cannot adequately express how much your support has meant to me over the years.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT IVDD
It’s treatable. With surgery and without. Crate rest is a huge part of healing if your dog has IVDD. It’s not THAT bad. They will cry and be mad at first, but they will realize it’s for their own good and adapt.
Your dog doesn’t care. Your dog’s personality will not change. They do not care that they are paralyzed or think of themselves as different. They will carry on, like usual.
It’s not a death sentence. Don’t think for a second that you need to put your dog to sleep because it has IVDD. And if owning a paralyzed dog is too much for you, please surrender them to a rescue. Not everyone’s life can accommodate the change, and that’s okay. If the best interest of the dog is to go to a different home, please do it. I just hate hearing stories where people put their dog to sleep because of this. It’s absolutely unnecessary and breaks my heart.
Act fast. If your dog is refusing to move or acting like its back hurts, please get them to a vet immediately! Don’t try to wait it out or see if it improves. Time is crucial!
Know your resources. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Dodgerslist. They are forever my angels. I don’t know what I would have done without them. They made everything feel not so hopeless. They were there to encourage and sympathize. Please doxie and at-risk-breed owners, take a look over their website. And know that their message boards are there if you need support.
Stay positive. It’s hard, I know. But stay positive. Look at the little victories. Get words of encouragement. I especially love the k9 BackPack for their daily reminders that nerves heal sloooowly. All your dog really cares about is that you love them. Don’t get discouraged. Talk to others who know what you’re going through. We’re here for you.