Holistic Solutions To Overcome Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and Paralysis in Dogs

Photo by Kevin Jackson on Unsplash

Thanks for having me as a guest blogger, Trupanion Pet Insurance. It was fun to rehash one of my first cases in holistic medicine at Riverside Animal Clinic & Holistic Center. It’s the story of Bella, the paralyzed dachshund who I ended up healing through holistic measures and you can read it right here. It’s been 10 years since my video of little Bella sparked a lot of conversation on the Internet. I was surprised that there were so many pet owners throughout the United States who were desperate for help and called and emailed to find out how they could get their dogs treated, too. 

What Causes Dog Paralysis?

Acupuncture helps this dachshund stay tuned up, dialing down back pain. PC: Cristen Carlson

Dachshund lovers are die hard when it comes to their little “wiener” dogs. But their confirmation sets the breed up for a unique problem not just experienced by Dachshunds and Corgis but by many other breeds. The long dachshund back coupled with short, little legs makes the breed and others like it prone to a disease called IVDD. Intervertebral Disc Disease is extremely painful. A disc is the cushion between the vertebrae in the spine. Discs can become compressed and bulge or rupture when the vertebrae are pushed together through activity or genetics. IVDD is marked by slow nerve degeneration and severe pain. A dog will IVDD could become paralyzed.

Why Is My Dog Paralyzed? A Symptoms List You Should Know

If your pet’s breeding leaves it susceptible to IVDD, it’s important that you know the early signs of the problem. The most obvious sign is a hunched back. Put this one at the top of your mind to be sure you remember to check in. A hunched back can start off slowly and isn’t always a dramatic change. If you spot this symptom when it’s early, your chances of helping your dachshund or corgi are better.

Signs of depression, lying around, lack of energy or enthusiasm should always be evaluated by a veterinarian. If you see those traits, you should see a vet right away. While they are broad symptoms and it might feel a little vague, these are signs of many different problems ranging from gastrointestinal issues to pain.

Reactivity to touch. A dog experiencing disc discomfort might have a spasm, tremor or muscular contraction when getting its back scratched. That can be a manifestation of pain even though it might just seem like your dog feels ticklish. Depending on your dachshund’s temperament, you might start to see some snapping or growling which can escalate to biting. A reactive dog needs professional assessment. 

Again, you should be familiar with all of these symptoms if you have a dog prone to intervertebral disc disease.

Acupuncture on a French bulldog suffering from IVDD. The needles are vibrating with energy causing the blurred image.  
pc: Cristen Carlson Acupuncture by Dr. Jim Carlson, Holistic Veterinarian

Can A Paralyzed Dog Live?

Yes, it’s possible for a paralyzed dog to live a normal life after undergoing the right care. The options for treatment begin with surgery. Surgery and conventional treatment should be considered in all cases and a visit to a qualified veterinarian will give you valuable information about your pet’s case of IVDD. Finding a qualified surgeon to perform a hemilaminectomy can be difficult in some areas. Calling a university veterinary college or specialty clinics in your area will be the best option to locating a surgery consult.

Surgery does come with a high price tag. Currently, in Chicagoland, prices are around $7500 for hemilaminectomy surgery. Like any treatment, surgery is not a guarantee of a positive outcome. If your dachshund doesn’t have feeling in its feet or has more than one slipped disc, it’s possible your pet might not be a good surgery candidate and the surgery may not be successful. Physical therapy and extra home care will be required post surgery. You may need to set your home up to accommodate your patient. Physical aids may also be required like a wheelchair or specific bedding. 

No one can resist this face and those big brown eyes. Note the needles mid back

Is Dog Paralysis Reversible? How To Treat a Paralyzed Dog… Holistically

Indeed, a dog can recover from paralysis either through traditional medicine or in my practice, through holistic methods. Many pet owners find the cost of surgery to be prohibitive and are willing to try other means before going the surgery route. Like many holistic remedies and treatments, pet owners have personally tried them with success. This step into holistic on the human side has spawned a great way to look at pets and what else can be done for them outside of conventional medicine. Some of the reasons pet owners like holistic treatments such as acupuncture, herbal therapy, physical therapy and other remedies are that these are cost effective and non-invasive. A very strong contrast to surgery. 

In my guest post for Trupanion, I detailed my treatment plan for Bella: physical and water therapy, compounded Chinese herbs, acupuncture and wheelchair work. The interesting part of this plan is that it was the first time I ever had the opportunity to treat a paralyzed dog. In a week I had her walking again! That was about 10 years ago. I see Bella for her regular wellness appointments and every few years she comes in for a touch up on her acupuncture.  Here’s a video of me telling you more about BELLA and her treatment. 

Bella couldn’t be a cuter dog and it’s always great to see her again. The good news about a holistic strategy featuring these treatments is that I’ve repeated my initial success. I did it for Bella, and I’ve helped many, many other dogs return to walking and living a normal life without invasive surgery.

Preventing IVDD and Back Problems in Dogs

Photo by Carissa Weiser on Unsplash

Yes, prevention is possible and can be a key factor in keeping your dog’s back healthy. Some of the worst injuries I’ve ever seen were due to falls and jumps from mattresses, couches and chairs. Training your dog to stay off comfy furniture is really important if you want to give your pet the best chance to avoid injuries. This is my number one suggestion to pet owners. No jumping with any breed prone to IVDD such as dachshunds and corgis. Finding comfortable bedding that is easy to clean is much more safe for a dog than allowing climbing and jumping. Get a trainer if you need to because the skill of staying on the floor is necessary now but especially later if your dog ever becomes seriously injured or develops IVDD.  Check with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers or help finding a trainer in your area.

In many other cases, stairs are a culprit in paralysis in dogs. The long backed breeds have a particularly difficult time when it comes to navigating stairs. Because they are long with short legs, they may take a zigzag pattern. Their spine can become compressed by going straight down the stairs or running too fast. 

I’ve noticed a common theme with owners who bring in a dog with back problems: stairs. Stairs might be a fact of life for your pet. Hard to find a house without them. PetMD has a good article on stair safety and some of the measures you can use to help your pet stay safe on stairs. Stairs are a place of injury, often, and it’s easy for a dog to tweak its back going up or down stairs. Some dogs can be ok after sustaining an injury on a staircase and appear fine for a while. But it’s only a matter of time before their back hurts suddenly while doing a normal activity. The same is the case with jumping off furniture or rough play. I’ve had pets who came to see me and stairs are as often the issue as jumping off furniture. 

Watch your dog’s diet carefully. A rolypoly tummy, short legs and long back are a horrible combination for future health. The more overweight your pet is, the more his back will naturally start an unnatural curve downward, drug down by a sinking, heavy belly. While a chubby wiener dog is super cute, trust me, you will regret the lack of attention to your pet’s diet and exercise program. If you need more info about how many calories your pet needs, my favorite application is the pet nutrition calculator by Pet Nutrition Alliance. It even has a treat budget available and you can enter just about any pet food into the application. I recommend this all the time and often use it in my examination rooms to help work out a diet plan for pets to either stay healthy or lose some weight. You can’t go wrong with this product.

Talk to your veterinarian about the issues surrounding weight and always before you start exercising your dog. The dogs who recover quickest from paralysis usually have fitness and weight management already on their side. Limit rough play with larger dogs, go slow on your fitness journey and be consistent.

Photo by Carol on Unsplash

Genetic Assessment of Potential IVDD Problems

Dachshunds and corgis aren’t the only breeds to experience IVDD. The pet DNA company Embark now tests for a genetic mutation which can tell you if your dog is prone to IVDD. Embark’s Breed + Health Kit is the test you’ll need to check for the genetic mutation. The company says the issue is found in many purebred and mixed breeds, not just Dachshunds and corgis. And just because your pet might have the mutation, it doesn’t mean genetic expression is certain. In fact, if you know it’s something in your cherished pet’s genes, you can take steps to help prevent your dog from a full blown case of this serious illness. 

Caring For A Paralyzed Pet

There are many considerations about your pet’s case that you’ll need to discuss with your veterinarian. At Riverside Animal Clinic & Holistic Center, I see my paralyzed patients very frequently. Sometimes, pets will stay with me for a week after diagnosis. This works really well because I can observe them, keep them in a safe environment and work with them throughout the day. The ability to adjust medications or physical therapy practices is important. 

If you don’t have the option of a first week in a clinical setting or choose surgery as an option you will need to find the best ways to help your pet maintain comfort, reduce excitement and take care of many normal functions like eating and drinking and using the bathroom.

Can A Paralyzed Dog Poop or Pee?

There are some things that make life harder during a paralysis episode. While you’re working with your dog in recovery, the very basic needs of urinating and defecating will be more problematic. If your pet is in a situation where its tail won’t wag, the hind legs are paralyzed from the waist down and there isn’t a response when the toes are touched, the likelihood that your dog will need medical intervention to poop or pee are greater. A veterinarian can help you learn to express the bladder and bowels at home. However, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Sadly, paralysis in dogs is a messy illness.

Basic hygiene is also important. Skin irritations are common if a pet lies in waste. You may need to use a diaper, puppy pads or towels. Also, as a holistic vet I would also like to mention that any cleaners you use to handle messes should be mild. Heavy disinfecting cleaners can contribute to skin irritations.

How Does A Paralyzed Dog Eat and Drink?

Defer to your veterinarian on what your pet should eat. Sometimes paralyzed animals face other issues that are comorbid with paralysis especially in the GI tract. If your dog can’t go due to paralysis or pain in the GI tract, you will need to work on diet management with a professional or a veterinary nutritionist which you can find through the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists. Staying hydrating and keeping the GI tract hydrated are very important. You may need to learn to offer assistance to your pet while drinking or give water alternatives like bone broth. 

Skin Irritations and Ulcers in Paralyzed Dogs

Dogs that drag their hips and legs or are stuck in an immobile position experience the worst skin problems. Ulcers on the skin called decubitus ulcers can form. This is really like a pressure sore that can be painful and troublesome to treat. Do your best to avoid this by learning to move your paralyzed dog appropriately. Veterinary technicians are excellent at giving advice on this subject. Find a good tech in your doctor’s practice, they are a great resource.

Soft bedding prevents some of the pressure sores associated with being bedbound. However, it should be changed often. This could mean every time it’s messy or daily. It really depends on your pet’s case. I find a good mattress with disposable paper pads work well in cleaning. You’ll need to remember to clean your pet’s skin with a waterless bath product or plain water to prevent skin irritation. At the pet store at Riverside Animal Clinic & Holistic Center, we stock waterless baths by Fort Dodge Animal Health, King Kanine and PetzLife. We also sell pet wipes and this is a great time to use a product that’s simple like our disposable Riverside Face and Derm wipes which are available by emailing our office or at our location at 1112 Front Street, McHenry, Illinois.

When your pet starts using a wheelchair, you do need to be sure it’s fitted well. Look for areas where pressure could become painful, where hair is rubbing off or spots that seem hot when you remove the chair. You might need to get creative if you find spots that could potentially break down the skin. Polar fleece or cotton padding are good ways to work on padding the wheelchair. Just make sure it’s washable.

Pet Wheelchair Rental

Riverside Animal Clinic & Holistic Center offers pet wheelchair rentals. Since we see a lot of cases of paralysis, we find having a wheelchair or two on hand can help a dog for a short period of time or until they get their own wheelchair. Please call 815-344-7716 for more info or drop by our clinic and pet store at highway 31 and 120 in the heart of McHenry.

While not every dog will recover, with the adoption of holistic and integrative medicine in many clinics across the country, your Dachshund has a better shot than ever to recover from intervertebral disc disease and paralysis. If you need more info, be sure to drop me a line and I’ll be happy to help you out.  Or, join my Facebook group Holistic Vet Advice with Dr. Jim and Cristen Carlson

We discussed some IVDD info on our podcast featured on VoiceAmerica.com. This podcast answers some questions from listeners who are worried about a lot of different pet questions. If you’re concerned about your pet’s health, be sure to ask us by email: holsiticvetadvice@gmail.com or join our Facebook group. Always here to help. 

Dr. Jim Carlson with Cristen Carlson