Let me guess – you love dachshunds and would love to have one, but you are put off by their increased risk of back problems? Hoping that by going for a crossbreed, you might get the adorable looks and sweet temperament of the dachshund without the risk of issues? It’s not a bad plan, but it’s not quite as simple as you think – let me tell you more!

What is the problem with Dachshunds’ backs?

Dachshunds are very prone to a problem called intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). In fact, one paper estimated that 1 in 5 dachshunds will be affected by IVDD in their lifetime. IVDD is more commonly known as a “slipped disc”. You have probably heard this term before, because humans get them too. Basically, the spine forms a kind of cage around the delicate spinal cord to protect it from harm; the same way that our rib cage protects our heart and lungs, the spine protects the spinal cord.

The spine is made up of lots and lots of small individual bones called vertebrae, and in between each vertebra is a small pad of cartilage called an intervertebral disc (or just disc). These discs are very clever as they allow the spine to be incredibly flexible (much more so than if it was just one long bone). They also absorb a lot of shock, when we jump up and down or run. This is to prevent the bone of the spine being damaged from that impact. 

In some cases, one or more of the intervertebral discs can become damaged. Occasionally through a one-off traumatic event (like landing from a particularly hard jump). But more commonly this happens gradually over time, due to abnormal wear and tear. Intervertebral discs consist of a hard outer shell, with softer material inside. When these discs become damaged, the outer shell can rupture. Which means the inner soft material gets forced out of the disc and the disc collapses. This material often ends up in the intervertebral canal, which is the tunnel through which the spinal cord runs. It can cause pressure on the spinal cord, which affects the messages being sent down the spinal cord from the brain to the limbs. This can lead to a decrease in limb function, or even paralysis – as well as severe pain. 

Why do Dachshunds get IVDD?

Dachshunds get intervertebral disc disease for a combination of two reasons. The first is genetics. If a dachshund has had an episode of IVDD, then their offspring and siblings are more likely to get IVDD. Some work has been done on predicting which dogs will be affected so they can be excluded from breeding, but results have been mixed. 

The second reason this happens, is because of their conformation. Dachshunds have very short legs with a long back (this is why we love them, right?). This conformation is known as Chondrodystrophia, and while it looks very cute, it isn’t a good thing for back health. The legs usually absorb a lot of the shock from walking and moving around so that not too much of it gets transferred to the back. But when the legs are very short compared to the back, this doesn’t really happen. Those intervertebral discs end up having to absorb a lot more shock than they are able for. So over time, they degenerate and IVDD is the end result. 

So, can this problem be solved by crossbreeding?

Yes and no! It depends what kind of dog you cross the dachshund with, and whether the offspring still have this chondrodystrophic conformation. If your aim is to cross a dachshund with another breed that also has a long back (like a basset hound for instance), then the offspring will likely be just as prone to IVDD; as they will still have a very long back relative to the length of their legs. If you cross the dachshund with a dog who is more evenly proportioned (for instance a poodle or a terrier), then you may well get some puppies who have longer backs like their dachshund parent and some who have shorter backs like their other parent. The ones with longer backs compared to leg length will still be relatively prone to IVDD compared to their shorter backed siblings. 

If your aim by crossbreeding, is to get a dog that still has the characteristic long back of the dachshund, but is less prone to IVDD, then I’m afraid that is probably not going to work. The problem is directly linked to the look. If however, you are willing to sacrifice the length of your dachshunds back and breed them to be more normally proportioned, then there is a much better chance of escaping this horrible disease.

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