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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Joeri's ordeal: disabling disc disease one month from tracking season

It looks like August 27 is not our lucky day. A year ago Tropical Storm Irene messed up our house, and now, a year later to the day, we found ourselves in a difficult situation again.

As most of you know Joeri is a 4 1/2 year old wirehaired dachshund that we imported from Germany. He was a very precocious puppy with a great conformation and nice temperament. He also showed a real talent for field work, especially for natural blood tracking, so for the last couple of years he has been John's number 1 tracking dog. The two are very close. Joeri did not fare as well as a producer, and we stopped using him for breeding two years ago.

On August 20 I noticed that Joeri's gait was a little different and he walked with caution. Not knowing what the reason might be, we crated him and observed. From the way he acted we thought that it might have been Lyme disease or a back problem. Two days later John took him to our regular vet. He tested positive for Lyme and was put on doxycycline, but at the same time he was put on prednisone as he showed some tenderness in his back. He was in some discomfort but not a great deal of pain. He wagged his tail, ate his food. He was put on a strict crate rest.

On Sunday, August 26, Joeri felt much better, but when I put a leash on him for his last bathroom walk, he jumped up, his body twisted a little, and he yelped. I could see that things were worse. He moved very slowly and with difficulty. By Monday morning he had deteriorated. We made a phone call to orthopedic surgeons located 50 minutes from us and got an appointment at 1 PM. This was emergency. Unfortunately John had a personal medical appointment that he could not cancel so I drove Joeri by myself to the Pattersonville clinic and I could see that he was really hurting.

He was examined, and luckily he still had some deep pain perception in his hind legs, but when I left him there he could not use them to walk any more. A CT scan revealed a herniated disc behind his last thoracic vertebra. The ruptured disc material was filling approximately 40% of the spinal canal and there was a severe degree of spinal cord compression.

The sooner a herniated disc is treated surgically the better, and odds for a full recovery decrease with delay. Joeri was operated on Monday evening, and the vet’s report said that “the herniated nucleus pulposus was carefully removed from the spinal cord and the spinal canal to decompress the spinal cord”. According to Joeri’s surgeon, around 80% of dogs recover after this kind of procedure. There are no guarantees that this is not going to happen again. As far as I know Joeri's problem was not caused by any injury, and according to his doctor Joeri’s disc would have ruptured sooner or later.

We picked Joeri up on Wednesday afternoon, and the final bill was $3954. The first couple of days were very challenging. Even though Joeri had been on pain medication and muscle relaxants, you could see that he was in pain, especially in the mornings. As far as medical issues go, I have always believed (and still do) that when a dachshund's back goes down, this is the most traumatic experience that a dog and owner can go through.

John and I have been extremely lucky over the years. When you read statistics that 1 in 5 dachshunds will experience a back problem at one point in life (some very mild that respond to crate rest), our experience has been more like 1 in 50-60. Since we joined our breeding programs 18 years ago we have not owned a dachshund with a back problem (until now), and we probably produced 4-5 that had to be treated (one was put down). But there is no doubt that the dachshund is predisposed to premature aging of spine, and Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is  the number 1 health issue in the breed.

We have been selecting against disc disease in our breeding program, and have been trying to stay away from it. It is not easy as not much is known about heritability (genetic control) of the disease. However, there is hope and progress is being made. It looks like Scandinavian countries are leaders in this field, and I will write more about it in another post. Another complicating factor is that since our breeding is based on imported dogs, there is usually limited information available to start with. Joeri’s breeder responded to the bad news by writing “We are surprised to hear bad news. The feeling of surprise is intensified through our breeding experience (more than 30 years) – our own dogs showed no back problems”.

Joeri’s recovery has been going really well. He could take small steps on Wednesday evening when he got home.  Now, three days later, he can come out of his crate on his own and can walk to the main entry door. He has a long way to full recovery but so far his progress is quite remarkable. One thing is certain – he is not going to track this fall. We are fortunate that Tommy will be able to assume the role of John’s main tracker.

Joeri, 60 hours after surgery, was not feeling great. This was Thursday morning, and he was much better in the afternoon.

Joeri on Thursday morning.
I am going to write more about IVDD in dachshunds in the near future. This post is dedicated just to Joeri and his surgery. We'll keep you updated on his progress. For those who’d like to read more about disc disease in dogs a good presentation of basic facts is given here. The most comprehensive website about IVDD in dachshunds is at, where you can order a DVD for just $3.00.


Maribeth said...

Dear John and Jolanta,
I am so saddened to hear this news about Joeri. As you know, he has always been one of my favorites of your dogs. His personality was so wonderful as a pup and only seemed to improve with age.
I have been in your shoes, with our first wire, that we got from a breeder in Bavaria. I remember sitting in the Vet's Office while they worked on her.
I send my prayers to you and John and Joeri for a complete recovery!

Lindsjö taxar said...

I´m very sad to hear abour Joeri. This is/was a common descease on dachshunds. We had a lot of it many years ago. But breeders worked to get healthy dogs. Today its very unusual for our dachshunds to get this serious situation. Today we xray the backs like we do ..hmmmm you know look in the eyes...we have to do that before breeding and then every 3rd year. In Norway they have to exray the backs before breeding, think it will come in Sweden too.
My dogs Trixe and Nova, now resting at Rainbow bridge had not so bad as Joeri but they had to stay completly still for 3 weeks.Trixie was worse and every time I had to carry her out she was bad but resting she was well and she was 14 when she hade to go...
Hope for the best. As you said we are very goos at it in Sweden....
Hugs from us!

SLEHudgins said...

Wow! We too have been warned about a dachshunds predisposition for for back troubles. So sad for Joeri, but so glad he has such good humans to "foot" the bill and help him on his way to a full recovery! (a bill worth every penny for one of these special guys)! Thanks for the information... we too are always tuned in to our pets well being! God Speed Joeri! Terry, Sara & Pepper~

Anonymous said...

Dear John & Jolanta: Wishes for Joeri's recovery and he'll be out tracking very soon. Joeri has loving and informed parents as some folks may not be aware of disc issues with dachshunds. God Bless you, the family, and your tracking program. Carmen

Claire said...

Ah, I am so sorry. This is the bad part about dachshunds.

I am one of the few who refuse to do back surgeries. I also tell my puppy people that I do not expect them to do so. I made this decisions many years ago and I have had to test it twice in my line when I bred American dachshunds. I hope I never have to do so again, but if I do...

I hope Joeri makes a complete recovery and stays healthy the rest of a very long life.

Jolanta Jeanneney said...

Thank you evrybody for your encouragement and support. Joeri is doing really well and it has been only 5 days since his surgery. I have heard so many good stories about full recovery that I have to wonder Claire "why not surgery if the odds are so good"? Majron, I really would like to learn more details how screening programs are implemented in Scandinavian contries. Are there any links that you could share to more info?

Claire said...

I just try to keep in mind that these are dogs. If I have to shell out $$$$ for something with no guarantee of recovery, then I'd rather give that money to charity. When my Bridey went down I gave $5K to Planned Parenthood in her honor. I don't think keeping a dog for 6 weeks in a crate is good for the dog's mental health. Just my world view.

: )

Jolanta Jeanneney said...

While I respect your world view, I'd like to offer a different one, especially when it comes to this case. We don't have extra cash to be spent frivolously, but Joeri sired three litters for us, 18 puppies in total. All but one were sold for $1200-1300. He also was used at stud twice by other breeders so he generated two stud fees. IMO he certainly "earned" his upkeep.

He does not need to stay in a crate for 6 weeks. He has been staying for long hours in a small expen outside, in front of the house where he looks like he is enjoying life while he watches us and evrything that is going around him.

Hunting dogs can suffer a variety of injuries like torn ligaments, which when repaired (big expense) need a long convalescence time. I am not sure what percentage of them get to be put down. My personal biggest concern is prolonged pain for a dog, but pain meds are pretty good these days. If Joeri went down again, we'd put him down, but I feel like this time we owe it to ourselves (we have to live with our decision) and to him a chance.

MTWaggin said...

Healing thoughts headed your way. Poor guy but he is truly in the best home ever to have this happen. Your caring and experience definitely improves the odds of recovery for him!

Robin Mousseau said...


Sorry to hear of your boys back problems. Fingers are crossed he can get back to what he was bred to do and loves to do and that is hunt and track!

I'm with you in giving a dog a fighting chance of recovering by doing surgery especially at such a young age. None of us has extra money these days but I see them as my family members and they deserve a chance if the odds are good.

Knock on wood I have never had any back issues with my dogs and hope I never do but they give us so much in so many ways we can only do what is best for them at the time. My dogs have all lived long lives well into their teens so I cherish the time I have with all of them.

I pass no judgement on others opinions of care for their animals but if we euthanized all of our high dollar athletes when they had an injury and gave their salaries to charities then we might have a cure for many of the dreaded diseases we have today! Just making a comparison and saying! I still think I'd prefer to help my own animals and give to others as I could.

Prayers for Joeri's speedy recovery.

Samantha said...

I am so sorry to hear about Joeri. Best of wishes to him!! I worked at a vet clinic for five years and have seen many dogs with disc injuries make a full recovery. I am glad Joeri has the both of you to take care of him!!