Is there anything cuter than a puppy? Yes! A Chondrodystrophic puppy!
You’ve done your due diligence and painstakingly selected a breeder who has carefully screened their breeding dogs for the common health problems in these breeds including Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and the big day arrives when you bring your new bundle of joy home.
Knowing you have a breed which is more prone to spinal and musculoskeletal problems, it is worth having a plan for prevention in place from day 1. Dachshunds are by far the most likely to be affected by IVDD, however if you have chosen any chondrodystrophic breed (Long body/Short legs) it’s well worth getting ahead of the inherent risk for back troubles from the very start.
Most breeders and breed societies have several good basic recommendations to help keep your dog healthy and injury free, including:
Prevent your dog from jumping – train your dog to wait to be lifted up and down from beds/sofas or use steps/ramps.
Avoid stair use – installing ramps and gates where needed so as to be able to monitor their use.
Maintain a healthy body weight, especially through puppy-hood.
Avoid vigourous chasing/tugging/rumbling/tumbling games by themself or with others.
These basics are an excellent start, however there is much more you can do to help ensure your little friend has the best chance of avoiding major troubles.
Keep your dogs nails short. Long nails change the angle of the whole lower limb, and cause many of the dogs postural muscles to function in unhealthy manners. This creates increased strain both in the legs and the torso. If you can hear your dog’s nails tapping as they stroll around the house, they are too long. The best approach is to gently handle your puppy’s paws and toes as part of their daily routine, and learn to trim them regularly yourself. Whilst taking them to the vet for sedation to have them done once every few months is an option, it’s not a great one, as they’re much more likely to end up being cut too short, causing pain and bleeding and making the whole process more unbearable each time. I will do up a full post on the way I find best to trim nails without catching the blood vessel, however in the meantime you can find some quick guides on my facebook feed here, here and here.
Avoid slippery floors. If you have a house full of slipper polished floorboards or tiles, consider laying down runner mats through the main pathways your dog uses in the house. As cute as it is, don’t encourage games of fetch up and down corridors that aren’t carpetted. We’ve all seen the videos on youtube of what happens when these sorts of games are played, and whilst they initally seem amusing the risk of serious injury, particularly to the spine, that they pose is no laughing matter.
Next – Keep your dogs weight DOWN! Whilst yes, they can resemble sausages, little but long dogs really do need a very definite waist and palpable ribs with light coverage. This also very much applies to the bull breeds who have unfortunately become poster children for obesity. There is a massive difference between muscly bulk and chunky fat. A body condition score of between 4 and 5 is ideal (see chart below). These little dogs generally have a low capacity for extra calories, so remember, a couple of extra snacks a day can easily add up to the equivilent of a humans eating a couple of extra cheeseburgers a day. Keeping your dog lean will minimise the impact on both legs and spine. Also, don’t fall for the fallacy that young dogs need extra for growth. Healthy growth comes from a well balanced diet that provides appropriate nutrients. A pure excess of calories only creates extra mechanical effort on joints and systemic inflammation, and is the last thing that will help your growing dog. If you are unsure on how best to feed your dog, please reach out and I can direct you to one of many excellent experts/resources available to help you make the best decisions.
One of the most powerful things I think you can do, is incorporate prehab (yes, like rehab, only before the problem happens!). The one basic set of exercises you can begin from puppyhood that I feel has the most bang for it’s buck, whilst also being super easy to incorporate into the daily routine, is changes of position.
It’s as simple as teaching your dog to do a straight sit, down and stand. Yep, that’s it. Sounds easy right? Well, yes it can be, however making sure it is properly straight is the key. Most dogs will develop a habit of slumping to one side or the other, and this often reflects a weakness in their postural muscles. This is why working towards having them be able to do half a dozen to a dozen repetitions of straight changes of position, once or twice a day (while they’re patiently waiting for their breakfast or dinner is a perfect time!) by the time they are 6 months old is extraordinarily powerful in developing healthy movement patterns and protecting joints from the rigours of youth .
When they are 8 weeks of age start asking for one or two of each position as a learning exercise and as they grow and show keenness they can slowly be asked to do more repetitions to begin building strength and stamina. The movements that they practice will greatly influence how they use their body for the rest of their daily activities.
Stay tuned for an in depth look into this process over the coming weeks, and in the meantime please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss how we can help get your puppy started using their body so as to minimise their future risk of injury!
Don’t forget that even if you are already struggling with an adult dog who has uneven movement patterns there is plenty you can do to improve their comfort by introducing a routine of safe stretches and exercises. I have compiled a comprehensive range of these within my eBook – The Canine Athlete Warm-Up and Cool-down Manual, which is a safe way for you to start exploring better musculoskeletal health for almost any dog. Check it out HERE or get in touch if you’re uncertain how to get started for your specific dog’s problems.