IVDD In Dogs: Oliver's Story

I am sharing this information specifically to help other dog parents out there who have breeds in which IVDD is most prevalent {short-legged dogs such as dachshunds, corgis, frenchies, etc.}.  This is a disc disease that requires quick detection and action.  My hope is to bring awareness so that if your dog develops some of the symptoms, you crate them quickly and hopefully prevent further damage.

I will note that Oliver is a high-stressed, sensitive dog so our story may certainly differ from others in some respects, but the basic information would be the same regardless.

Oliver's Story:

Oliver is a fun-loving, high-stressed French Bulldog who excels at supervising all people, animals and vacuum cleaners in the household, rarely taking a break, sticking his nose into everyone else's business, and stressing about pretty much everything that happens outside of the ordinary day.  He loves watching any 4-legged animal on tv {the Cadbury bunny commercial is, by far, his favorite commercial.  Ever.}, keeping track of his chickens, tackling Jack and eating "Nana Cookies".  Oliver is a tad bit sensitive, is a momma's boy, and slightly dramatic. 


A few years ago, Oliver was having serious issues and we found out he had swallowed a piece of a Kong Toy that had come apart at a seam.  During that ordeal it was discovered that Oliver also has Hip Dysplasia.  Over the last 2 years he's had only a few episodes where he struggled with walking and needed to receive pain med's for a few days.

Three weeks ago, we thought he was having one of those episodes.  He didn't want to walk down any stairs, was a bit standoffish, and just wasn't himself.  By Saturday he seemed to be doing better until early evening.  I went to take him and Emerson down the deck stairs to do their business and Oliver refused.  I carried him and when I placed him on the ground, he favored his back right leg and kept his head low - something he's only done once, when he strained his neck corralling guinea hens. (it's a long story....) After about 10 minutes I couldn't get him to walk or look up.  I took him inside and conducted a spine check {finger-pressure on both sides of the spine, working all down the length}.  He was fine.  I touched his side and he screamed and screamed and screamed.  We assumed it was his hips and put him in his bed with meds {later realizing I gave him a muscle relaxer and not a pain med}.

Oliver did not do well at all that evening.  I slept downstairs on the air mattress with him by my side.  By 4 a.m. he was shaking uncontrollably.  I rushed him to the emergency vet.  They tested his spine as well and eventually decided we were dealing with his hips and gave him pain meds.  We returned home where he seemed ok.  He ate, drank and went to bed.  J and I headed off to the farmer's market.  When we returned, he was lying face-down on the floor, shaking, panting frantically, and screaming.  It was awful.  Awful!  This is something he's never ever done before.  When he did stand up, he was also not putting any weight on his front right leg now.  I put him back in the truck, called the emergency vet to let them know we were coming and off we went.

I requested an x-ray because something didn't seem right.  The emergency doctor agreed.  What we found were some concerns with a couple of his discs.  She felt strongly this is what we were dealing with.  IVDD.  My heart sank.  We'd been letting him walk all this time, not realizing we were dealing with spinal issues.  How much further damage had we caused?  We went home with a new pain med, more muscle relaxer and an anti-inflammatory.

He hadn't made any improvements by the end of the week and, in fact, appeared to be worse off.  He was now struggling with his front right leg more and more.  Our doctor determined he likely has another disc bothering him, this one up in his neck area.  She switched up his meds. 

Oliver began looking better by Tuesday.  Wednesday he was feeling so well he did a couple of naughty things.  I caught him scratching his ear with his hind leg and then turning and biting at his back right foot.  He paid for all this movement the next day.  Severely.  We took about 10 steps back.  He was in such distress that the frantic panting, shaking and screaming were all back in full force.  Part of it the anticipation of the pain and part of it the actual pain.  Add to all of this the fact that he was constipated, and it made for quite a horrible time.

By Friday J and I were both maxed out with stress as was the entire household.  We just couldn't get away from the panting and screaming, but we felt awful leaving him, so we continued to try and soothe him.  Exhausted and at wits' end, I called our vet begging for more help. 

Can I just make a side note here?  If you live in the Saratoga Springs area, have pets, and don't see Dr. Lori Langdon, can I suggest you give her a try?  She is amazing.  Truly amazing.  Her heart is enormous, she is full of knowledge and good advice, and is open to hear and/or try just about anything.  Amazing.

So, we agreed to bring him back Saturday for an increased pain med to be given so that he could somewhat reset.  We are currently in a holding pattern, waiting to see which way this goes.

The big question is, where do we go from here?  Honestly, we have no idea.  We have to see how this plays out.  Eventually he may need to have surgery.  We will at some point go to a neurosurgeon to have a myelogram performed.  Similar to an MRI, this will give us a look down his spinal cord to see if he would be a candidate for surgery someday.  For now, we are trying {desperately} to help him allow his little body to try and heal itself by 6-8 weeks of crating and resting.  Because he is high-stressed and quite emotional, it seems to make it twice as difficult.

Here are a few things we have found:
  • The spinal touch test did not work for him {I found out it also didn't work for this little Frenchie}.  But when we touched his sides, he screamed and screamed.  Don't rule out IVDD with a spinal touch test alone.
  • If you think there is any possibility you may be dealing with IVDD, isolate and crate your dog immediately.  Carry him/her to and from the yard to do their business, then carry them back to the crate.
  • We found the standard dog crate a difficult thing to use.  They work well when the dog can walk in and out on their own, but when it's up to you to carry them in and out while keeping their spine straight, it can be very challenging.  We purchased a child's Pack & Play which corrals him into a space, has mesh sides so he can see all of us, and allows us to be able to lift him straight up and straight back down. {Not our original idea - we saw it here}
  • Because of the disc damaged in his neck area, eating rice/baby food/chicken has been difficult for him.  I made tiny chicken meatballs {ground chicken/cooked rice/1 egg as a binder/touch of shredded cheese} to not only hide his medications in, but to feed him and allow his head to stay still.
  • We turn the light off and leave the room when he goes into a frantic pant.  This allows him to self-soothe much quicker than if he's getting attention from us.
  • Quiet and dark are must-haves for a dog dealing with IVDD.  They must lay still and sleep as much as possible.
  • This is a long-lasting, stressful ordeal.  It helps tremendously if you can find someone to help you and/or if it's two of you going through it together.

What is IVDD?
According to Pet MD, Inter-Vertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a condition where the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or burst (herniate) into the spinal cord space.  These discs then press on the nerves running through the spinal cord causing pain, nerve damage, and even paralysis.  Made up of a gelatinous substance surrounded by a thick outer layer, the intervertebral discs are basically the spine's shock absorbers.

There are two types of disc herniation in dogs:  Type I and Type II
Type I:  most common in the neck region, the discs develop a hardening, or calcification, of the outer layer.  This damages the disc, allowing it to break down easier.  Any forceful impact such as jumping, and landing can cause one or more discs to burst and the inner material to press on the spinal cord.

Type II: is where the discs become hardened and fibrous over a long period of time and eventually break down, bulge out, and compress the spinal cord.  When the nerves of the spinal cord are compressed, the nerve impulses are unable to transmit their signals properly which may lead to paralysis, loss of bladder and bowel control, etc.

What Are Some Of The Symptoms To Watch For?

  • Unwillingness to jump or walk up/down stairs
  • Pain and weakness in rear legs
  • Crying out in pain/sensitivity anywhere on body
  • Anxious/unsettled
  • Muscle spasms in neck and/or back
  • Hunched back
  • Reduced appetite and activity level
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
  • Lowered head stance
  • "Knuckling over" when walking or standing
  • Weakness
  • Stiffness
  • Reluctant to get up
  • Tremors/trembling/shaking
  • Lack of coordination
This depends on the severity.  Certainly, starting with a more conservative treatment is ideal, depending on the signs and how your dog is responding.  This includes strict crate rest {walking as few steps as possible to do their business only}, a pain medication, a muscle relaxer and an anti-inflammatory.  If they do well on this, they may gradually return to normal activity.

With damage that is too severe {including paralysis}, emergency surgery may be necessary.  After surgery, rehabilitation will be required in order for the animal to regain function

Regardless of your treatment, your dog may have ongoing episodes including muscle spasms and pain.  Heat, massage, acupuncture and/or medications may be used to help calm and treat.

In breeds that are predisposed to this disease, keeping them at lower weights will help reduce the stress on their backbone and neck.  Walking with a harness will also help reduce stress on the neck for those dogs that tend to pull {Oliver is a puller}.  Ramps to get up on furniture and beds are also beneficial.

I am by no means an expert in this subject {and hoping and praying to never have to be}, and the information in this article is not intended to be medical advice.  I sincerely hope it sheds light on this disease and helps other pups {and pup parents} out there.

 **Oliver did undergo surgery - see Oliver Update 1 and Oliver Update 2 which (thankfully) went well.  It was rough going for about 3 weeks, but after that, he started doing well.**


  1. Thanks for taking the time to put this important article together. I have two mini-dachsies so I am very interested in learning all I can about this. My friend has 6 French Bulldogs (couldn't bear to part with puppies when hers had them) so I will share this article with her also. I will keep your little guy (and you both) in my prayers.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience with Oliver. We are just starting on our IVDD journey with our Frenchie and I am terrified.

  3. I'm glad to see your pup is on the mend. Our dachshund had an accident last winter and lost control of her rear legs. It took almost two months of bed rest and a complete lifestyle change ( no more stairs or jumping off the bed ) but she's back to normal. I work at a chiropractic office and my doc is kind enough to sometimes adjust our clients pets as a courtesy. My spoiled pup went in for adjustments a few times a week. On the first appointment she still wasn't using her legs and as soon as he adjusted her lumbar spine she back legs started paddling. It was amazing to know that the connection was still there. There might be someone in your area that caters towards animal chiropractic. Give your doggie a snuggle for us and we wish you a speedy recovery.

  4. Thank you so much GypsyElves. Kimberly - I am terrified as well. My thoughts are with your pup. M. Pearl - thank you. You are giving me hope. :)

  5. Oh my goodness, poor boy. And poor you! I'm so sorry you are all going through this. You are blessed with a great vet who will no doubt see you through. Healing thoughts being sent your way!

  6. I have two pugs. 3 years ago one of my babies starting howling and shaking and acting just like you said your boy was. The vet simply told me to put him down . She showed me his x-rays and said he had a problem with his joints and bones. She said he would just suffer more and more and the best thing for him would be to put him down. Something in my gut told me there was another solution. I strongly believe what we eat has more to do with our health than anything else. I started giving him food grade diatomaceous earth with his food. He had one more attack but it wasn't nearly as bad. I had him on pain killers for a few days after the first attack. It took about a week and a half for him to start acting like his wonderful self again. He has never had another attack and he appears healthier now than ever. Recently I've started adding a high quality gelatin to his food because he is getting older and I know it is good for bones too. I don't know if this will help but it worked for my Winston. I thought I'd share with you just incase it helps and for sure it will not hurt.
    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I'm sorry to hear your little boy isn't well and I hope this will help.


  7. So sorry to hear that Oliver is going through all this. Poor little guy. I sincerely hope for a good outcome for him. I just love the photo of him and emerson together...they are gorgeous. Best wishes.

  8. Thank you so much Daisy and Suzie. Nancy - thank you for some wonderful ideas!! The gelatin sounds like a great idea!!


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