Healthy Dachshund 101

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Taking steps to ensure good puppy health
  • Grooming for better health
  • Embracing the importance of exercise
  • Deciding whether to choose holistic health care
Your Dachshund is the very picture of health. You find it difficult to imagine that your bouncing bundle of energy could ever get sick or injured. However, it’s precisely when animals (and people) are at their healthiest that preventive measures are most effective. To keep your Dachshund puppy or dog in glowing health, from the tip of her nose all the way to the tip of her tail (and that’s quite a haul, as dogs go!), read this chapter. Here, you find out how to follow a few basic preventive health measures.

Remember

Beyond prevention, the most important thing to take away from this chapter is this: Pay attention! The people who know your Dachshund best are you, your family, and your vet. Always remain vigilant for signs that something isn’t right. Changes in behavior, appetite, sleeping habits, water consumption, or movement may be signs of a health problem. Bumps, lumps, dry patches, bare patches, and other irregularities you detect during your daily grooming examination may also signal a problem. Never hesitate to ask your vet about your Dachshund’s condition. The sooner you catch a problem, the easier it will be to resolve.

Keeping Your Puppy (Or Older Dachsie) Healthy

Puppies are vulnerable. They look it when first born, too, but after they fill out a little and commandeer entire households, bending each helpless human to their will, they may not seem so helpless.
But regardless of how sturdy and authoritative they look and seem, Dachshund puppies can easily fall prey to a number of serious, even life-threatening, diseases. While nursing, they receive immunities from their mothers, but after weaning, this immune protection drops off quickly. Until they develop their own immune systems, they’re particularly susceptible to the most serious contagious diseases.
Puppies can also develop nasty parasite problems, suffer from a lack of good grooming, and fall victim to ruptured disks in their back (although disk problems are more common a few years down the road; see Chapter Handling Dachshund Health Problems). How do you keep your puppy healthy? By taking a few simple measures, which I outline in the following sections.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations protect your puppy from canine parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, and rabies, as well as diseases that may be more prevalent in your area (such as coronavirus and Lyme disease). One of the most important things you can do to keep your puppy healthy is to get her vaccinated first at 5 to 6 weeks of age. If you buy your Dachshund from a breeder (see Chapter May the Best Breeder Win: Finding the Dachshund for You), she should’ve had the first one or two vaccinations done already. Continue to vaccinate your puppy according to the regular schedule suggested by your veterinarian. Different vets will recommend certain vaccinations at certain stages, so talk to your vet about when your puppy needs which vaccines.

Technical Stuff

Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that comes in a diarrheal form and a cardiac form. If not treated, it’s usually fatal — especially for puppies. Distemper is another highly contagious and often fatal viral disease that causes severe neurological damage in its advanced stages. Hepatitis is a highly contagious virus that begins with a fever and can end in coma and death. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can cause death or severe kidney, liver, and digestive tract damage. It can also be transmitted to humans, along with rabies. 

A debate is ongoing about vaccinations. Many people claim that pets are overvaccinated and that some of the vaccines from the first year last longer than vets previously thought. That could be. Others claim that serious diseases can result from vaccinations. That may also be true, especially with vaccinations of older dogs. But for puppies, that first year’s vaccination schedule is crucial. You can talk to your vet about how often your dog needs booster shots after the first year, and you can work out a schedule of lessfrequent vaccinations later, but please don’t neglect these initial vaccinations.
The one vaccine required by law is the rabies vaccine, so even if you’re anti-vaccine, you’re required to have proof of this one. You must show this proof to license your dog, board her in a kennel, and sometimes even to get veterinary care. Nobody wants to risk rabies, so be diligent about the rabies vaccine. Many places, like boarding kennels, doggy daycare, and even dog parks, require proof of other vaccinations, too. Unless your dog has a serious health problem and your vet advises against the vaccines, there really is no reason to ignore the first year of vaccinations.

Warning!

That’s not to say that vaccinations don’t involve risk. In rare cases, animals react adversely to vaccinations. The most serious reaction, an anaphylactic reaction, usually occurs in the first 15 to 60 minutes. This can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, so keep a close eye on your puppy for the first hour after a vaccination. Other less-severe reactions can happen later, from general fatigue, discomfort, and loss of appetite to a local infection at the site of the vaccination. The chances your Dachshund will have a reaction are extremely slim, though, and most vets agree that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. But always watch your Dachshund carefully for a week or so after vaccines. If your Dachshund changes her behavior or gets ill in any way following a vaccination, call your vet immediately.

Tip

Some people suggest that puppies should never be around other dogs until all vaccinations are complete. But what about puppy obedience classes? If you bring your puppy to obedience classes at 3 or 4 months of age, be sure to choose a class that requires all puppy owners to show proof of vaccination. You should be okay. Better to have a well-trained puppy and take the very small risk that something may get passed around. Not training or socializing your puppy is a bigger risk because you’ll be more likely to give your Dachshund away when she gets to be too much trouble. Besides, your Dachshund will already have a few rounds of vaccinations under her belt, and she’s already working on building up her natural immunity — now she can build up her good manners!

Sterilization: Spaying or neutering your Dachshund

Do you want to become a Dachshund breeder? Are you ready to devote most of your waking hours to the intense and often heartbreaking efforts of breeding, whelping, and raising, as well as studying to improve the health and temperament of Dachshunds? Are you ready to barely break even when you sell the puppies, to take back any puppy for any reason, to remain committed to every dog out of litter after litter, and to watch puppies fail to thrive and die in your arms?
If not, please sterilize your Dachshund. We are in the midst of a crisis in this country. Pet overpopulation is out of control, and the number of animals euthanized each year is staggering and saddening.

Technical Stuff

According to Spay USA (www.spayusa.org), every day 10,000 humans are born in the United States. In the same time frame, 70,000 puppies and kittens are born.

The fact is, Dachshunds like to run, dig, and escape. Even under the best of conditions, your Dachshund could get free. If a female does, she could easily come home pregnant. If a male does, he could easily impregnate the neighbor’s champion Shih Tzu. You could end up with a litter of unwanted puppies on your hands — how will you find homes for them? At worst, your neighbor could take you to court.
Sterilization doesn’t cost much. In fact, many humane societies offer vouchers to make the procedure even cheaper; give your local society a call. Sterilization also is very safe for dogs. There’s a slight risk to any dog that undergoes general anesthesia, but almost all dogs come out of it just fine. Sterilization can even improve the behavior of dogs, and health benefits come with early sterilization (such as a reduced incidence of mammary tumors and fewer prostate problems).
I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to sterilize your Dachshund, unless you specifically bought a specimen to serve as the foundation of a breeding program. In this case, you’ve made the full-fledged commitment to be the best breeder you can be. But that is the subject of another book.

Pest control

No matter where you live, and no matter how often you keep your Dachshund inside, your pup probably will have some contact with some kind of pest. Fleas are everywhere, for instance, and in the southern states and parts of California, fleas have established a comfortable and prolific year-round existence.
Ticks are everywhere, too, in the wooded areas of most states. Lyme disease — a serious and sometimes fatal disease spread by the deer tick — has been detected in 47 of 50 states. People can catch it, too, and become seriously debilitated by it. Many puppies, no matter how well they’re bred, are born with intestinal worms, and Dachshunds can easily pick up worms at any time during their lives. Mites that infect the ears or the skin abound, causing mange and other painful skin problems. Heartworms, dastardly critters, can kill your Dachshund by taking up residence in her blood vessels, lungs, or heart after transmission from a single mosquito bite.
In other words, pest control is something every pet owner must deal with. Pests come in many forms, and none of them are any fun. But each of them can be dealt with easily, as long as you practice a little prevention and address any pest problem as soon as you detect it:

Fleas: Fleas are uncomfortable for your Dachshund and can cause complications ranging from severe allergic reactions to tapeworms. You probably won’t be too fond of fleas jumping on and off your arms and legs either, and if your Dachshund isn’t close by, the fleas will be happy to bite you. In rare cases, fleas can even infect humans with bubonic plague. Yikes!

Flea solutions: Prevention is the best solution. Apply a spot-on adulticide flea treatment (ask your vet for a recommendation) every month during flea season. A few drops between your dog’s shoulder blades will kill the fleas that land on your Dachshund, even before they have a chance to bite (see Figure 16-1). You can also treat your dog with an oral insect-growth-regulator treatment once a month all year round. Any flea that does bite your dog won’t be able to hatch any eggs, and the flea reproduction cycle will be halted before it can start. Leading parasitologists are recommending the oral protein Lufenuron as the core to flea control with topical to kill adult fleas if you see them, due to the inevitable resistance fleas are developing to topical agents.

Ask your vet which flea products are best for your Dachshund. And don’t forget a thorough vacuuming around the house, along with washing your dog’s bedding in hot water — if you see any fleas. This combined approach should take care of the problem pretty quickly.

Ticks: Ticks can pass on severe diseases. The notorious Lyme disease is just one of many. Ticks are always dangerous when you walk with your Dachshund in wooded areas. They range in size, but sometimes the very smallest, barely visible ticks are the most dangerous.

Tick solutions: Please don’t try to burn off ticks or yank them out carelessly with your bare hands. You could injure your dog or cause an infection if tick parts get left under the skin; you could even infect yourself if the tick bursts and the blood gets on you. Instead, use a spot-on product made to kill ticks if you go out in tick-infested areas with your Dachshund. If your Dachshund does get a tick and you find it during your daily grooming session, pull it straight out slowly with tweezers or with your fingers (wear rubber gloves or use a tissue). If your Dachshund shows signs of listlessness, fatigue, and loss of appetite, Lyme disease could be the culprit. See your vet right away.

Worms: Roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from diarrhea and vomiting to weight loss, severe fatigue, pneumonia, and even death. If you aren’t thinking “Yuck!” at the very thought of worms, read on. Roundworms look like thin spaghetti, curled in your dog’s feces. Tapeworms look like 1⁄4- to 1⁄2-inch wiggly segments in your dog’s poop or on the skin or hair around the rectum. Hookworms penetrate your Dachshund’s skin, and the eggs can be detected under a microscope in your Dachshund’s feces. Whipworms look like 1-inch threads.

Figure 16-1: A few drops of treatment between the shoulder blades should keep fleas away.

Worm solutions: Have every new puppy you adopt dewormed, usually a few times. In many cases, good breeders have this done for new pet owners. Have your vet check fecal samples a few times because worms can shed eggs intermittently, so a negative sample doesn’t always mean your puppy doesn’t have intestinal worms. To prevent reinfection, always keep your yard free of dog feces, and keep your Dachshund from sniffing poop from other dogs on walks. Many worms are transmitted when your Dachshund eats, or even sniffs, the feces of another dog (including your own dogs). A fence will help to keep stray dogs and their remains out of your yard. Once or twice a year throughout your Dachshund’s life, continue to have your vet do a fecal examination to check for the ongoing presence or arrival of worms.

Mites: Mites cause severe itching and a variety of unpleasant and unattractive skin conditions — sometimes referred to collectively as mange. Some mites infect your Dachshund’s ears; others live in her skin. Suspect ear mites if your Dachshund shakes her head a lot and scratches at her ears. Dark earwax is another sign.

Scabies is a skin condition caused by a mite, and humans can get it, too. Scabies itches and often results in hair loss. Chiggers are tiny, red mites that live in wooded areas and burrow under your dog’s skin, causing itching and redness. Other types of mites cause puppy dandruff, mild itching, and hair loss, and some live in the hair follicles and infects them.

Mite solutions: See your vet to acquire various types of creams, drops, dips, or shampoos, depending on the type of mite he finds. And don’t wait. Your Dachshund won’t enjoy being bald and itchy.

Heartworms: Heartworms are transmitted from mosquitoes and, if left untreated, will kill your Dachshund. They travel to your dog’s heart and mature there, reaching lengths of up to 12 inches. A dog with heartworms can be treated (the treatment isn’t cheap), but if the heartworms are too advanced, it may be too late.

Heartworm solutions: First and foremost, prevent, prevent, prevent. Give your Dachshund a heartworm pill on schedule every single month, all year round — or always during mosquito season — for her entire life. Even if your Dachshund doesn’t go outside for very long, she can still get a mosquito bite. In fact, indoor-only Dachshunds have contracted heartworm from mosquitoes that got in the house. Also, avoid mosquito-infested areas whenever possible; use a product designed to repel mosquitoes on dogs when you must. (Don’t use your human bug spray on your dog, however.)

Warning!

Heartworm pills are great for preventing heartworms, but if your Dachshund already has heartworms, a heartworm pill could be fatal. Always have your Dachshund tested for heartworms before beginning heartworm pills. Most vets recommend a yearly test just before mosquito season. Never neglect this yearly test because an extra year or two carrying around a heartworm population could make a big difference in how treatable the problem will be.

Practicing Good Grooming

Keeping your Dachshund well-groomed is an important part of maintaining her overall health, for the following reasons:

– A healthy, mat-free coat makes examination of the skin easier and doesn’t harbor pests, dirt, or bacteria.

– Tartar-free and plaque-free teeth aren’t susceptible to gum disease. Brushing also prevents more serious conditions like heart disease, which can result from bacteria in your dog’s mouth traveling to her heart.

– Short, clipped nails keep your Dachshund’s feet healthy and correctly positioned on the ground. They also keep your Dachshund from sliding on slick surfaces, which could possibly injure her back.

– Clean ears are less likely to harbor mites and develop infections. Regular ear examinations help you detect the presence of such conditions if they occur.

– Emptied anal sacs don’t become impacted or infected. Grooming can become part of a daily or weekly routine, and it’s a good idea to start grooming your puppy the very first day you bring him home. Your grooming session will differ depending on your dog’s age and coat, but a regular grooming routine will usually go something like this:

1. Tell your Dachshund “It’s grooming time” and bring him to the grooming spot.

Good choices are the bathroom countertop, the back porch, or a table in a room that can stand a little Dachshund hair.

2. Gently massage your Dachshund from head to toe, feeling for any lumps, bumps, or irregularities.

If you do this task every day, you’ll catch any changes as soon as they occur. And don’t forget to examine your Dachshund’s coat and skin for changes.

3. Pick up each foot and wiggle each toe, feel the footpads, and then gently examine and rub each ear.

These typically are sensitive areas, and if your Dachshund is used to having them touched, he’ll be much easier for your vet to handle.

4. If your Dachshund’s nails need clipping, clip them.

Regularly clipping off the tips of your dog’s nails shouldn’t be a problem after your puppy gets used to it. On your very first vet visit, ask your vet to show you how to clip your Dachshund’s nails so you can do it yourself. It doesn’t hurt as long as you don’t cut down too far.

Remember

Your vet can show you how to avoid cutting the quick, or the small vein in your dog’s nail. When nails are clipped frequently (about once every two to four weeks — less often if your dog walks on cement frequently), the quick retracts somewhat and you don’t have to worry as much about cutting it. If you’re lax in your clipping duties, though, the quick tends to extend closer to the tip of the nail. If you do clip the quick, your dog may yelp, and you’ll have to stop the bleeding. Keep a product on hand for that purpose (many are available in pet stores).

5. Brush your dog’s coat with a soft-bristled dog brush. Add a once-over with a steel comb for longhaired and wirehaired Dachshunds

Check for any sign of parasites as you brush, and work out any tangles with the comb.

6. Brush your dog’s teeth.
7. Apply a pest-control product if it’s time (see the section on controlling pests in this chapter).
8. Praise your pup for behaving so well!

Warning!

All dogs have anal sacs on either side of the anus, and these sacs are probably responsible for scent identification between dogs, along with uses in courtship and/or marking territory. The anal sacs fill up with a thick, extremely smelly liquid that’s usually drained when dogs excrete feces.

However, some “lucky” breeds — including many of the small breeds and the beloved Dachshund — tend to develop impacted anal sacs. Have you seen your Dachshund dragging her rear end around on your carpet? That’s your first clue.

Tip

Your vet can drain the anal sacs, as can your groomer (if you ask really nicely). Depending on how often your Dachshund’s sacs get impacted, this procedure should be done every six to eight weeks. Having someone else do it can get expensive if you’re on a tight budget, though, so you can do it yourself — although I don’t recommend it if you’re squeamish. If the anal sacs become impacted often or abscessed more than once, a vet can surgically remove them.

Getting Regular Exercise: Move It or Lose It!

Every living thing with muscles needs to exercise. Exercise helps keep your Dachshund young, strong, and slim. Couch potato Dachshunds may be more prone to disk problems (see Chapter Handling Dachshund Health Problems), less able to fight off disease, and generally less healthy than their more athletic counterparts.
How much should your Dachshund weigh? That depends on her size (Standard or Miniature), muscle mass, and other factors. In general, however, you can tell whether your Dachshund is too fat by checking periodically (your daily grooming session is the perfect opportunity) for the following:

– Look at your Dachshund from the side. Do you see a nice tuck where her tummy is, or does her tummy hang down? If it hangs down, she’s too fat. If her belly looks overly bloated, she could have worms, so check with your vet before putting her on a diet.

Look at your Dachshund from the top (see Figure 16-2). She should look more like a squash than a sausage. Her body should get narrower between the back of the rib cage and the hips. A too-sharp narrowing, however, could signal that your Dachshund is underweight.

– Feel your Dachshund’s ribs. Can you feel the individual ribs under a thin but slightly padded layer of skin? Just right. If you can’t find any sign of ribs, however, your Dachshund is too fat. If the ribs are very visible without even touching them, your Dachshund may be too thin.

Figure 16-2: An overweight Dachshund looks more like a jumbo frank than a regular wiener. 

Feel your Dachshund’s ribs. Can you feel the individual ribs under a thin but slightly padded layer of skin? Just right. If you can’t find any sign of ribs, however, your Dachshund is too fat. If the ribs are very visible without even touching them, your Dachshund may be too thin.

Remember

Exercise is crucial for overweight Dachshunds. However, if your Dachshund is overweight, don’t begin a rigorous exercise program right away. That extra weight puts a strain on her back, as well as on all her muscles. She needs to build up strength before she can do too much, just like an out-of-shape human. Start with slow, short walks and watch for signs of excessive fatigue, such as heavy panting or sitting down and refusing to move. (You can bet a Dachshund will make her wishes clear!)

If you suspect that your Dachshund is over- or underweight, also check with your vet to rule out a health problem (such as a thyroid or digestive issue) and formulate a plan of action. A new diet, new feeding habits, or simply a decrease in treats and table scraps will probably be the prescription (see Chapter Purchasing Your Dachshund Essentials). Certainly, the second part of the prescription — especially if your Dachshund is overweight — will be an increase in her level of exercise.

But what if you have trouble getting off the couch yourself? How are you supposed to get your Dachshund to exercise? Following are some tips:

A daily walk is good for you and your Dachshund. It doesn’t have to be fast. Remember, your Dachshund’s legs are a lot shorter than yours, so she gets far more steps per block than you do. It doesn’t have to be long, either. A spin around the block in the morning and, ideally, in the evening is all it takes.

Going on an errand? Walking down to the neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of sugar or a power saw? Taking the kids to the park? Take your Dachshund along. The more opportunities she gets to move — even for short periods at a time — the better.

If you have a fenced-in yard, let your Dachshund spend time out there each day to romp around. Go out with her and throw balls, play chase, and work on tricks. If you just let her out, she probably won’t get enough exercise on her own (unless you have other dogs she can play with).

If you don’t have a fenced-in yard, look into installing a fence. Dachshunds adore being outside without a leash, but it just isn’t safe without a fence.

Remember

Dachshunds dig, so bury that fence a foot or so into the ground, if possible. If not, stay outside with your Dachshund or keep a close eye on her.

Training is hard, physical work for your Dachshund. Two or three daily training sessions, without fail, serve as an excellent form of exercise. See the chapters of Part III for much more on this topic.

Meditating on Holistic Health Care

When searching for the perfect vet, chances are you’ve encountered or at least heard about one or more holistic veterinarians in your area. The movement toward more holistic and natural health care is big right now — and nowhere more so than in the world of animal companions.
Holistic veterinarians may practice any or all of a number of different holistic healing techniques (most specialize in one or two), including homeopathy, herbalism, flower essences, acupuncture, acupressure, pet massage of all types, nutritional therapy, even chiropractic treatment, to name some of the more common methods.
Homeopathy works on the principle of like treats like — treating symptoms by using very diluted substances that normally cause those symptoms to put the system back into balance. Herbalism is the use of herbs as medicine to balance the system. Flower essences treat the emotional energies. Acupuncture is the application of needles to certain energy centers of the body to release blockages, and acupressure is the application of pressure to those energy centers. Pet massage helps loosen tight muscles and connective tissue. Nutritional therapy involves improved diet and supplements to help prevent and heal disease. Chiropractic treatment aligns the spinal column and joints to free blocked energy.
Should you use a holistic veterinarian for your Dachshund? Some Dachshund owners swear by holistic vets and would never take their pets to a regular vet again. Others wouldn’t consider a holistic healer for their Dachshunds. The decision is up to you and should be based on your own personal inclinations and feelings about the matter. If you use a holistic health practitioner yourself and you think the methods make sense, your pet may benefit similarly. If you don’t like the idea for yourself, you won’t feel comfortable about taking your Dachshund to someone who works in a more holistic mode.
Some of the strongest proponents and strongest detractors of holistic health are among those whose Dachshunds have fallen prey to canine intervertebral disk disease (see Chapter Handling Dachshund Health Problems). Testimonials abound about Dachshunds that regained the use of their legs through holistic techniques after full paralysis. Others argue that only mainstream medicine should handle such a severe, acute medical event. Again, the choice is up to you. Go with your gut feeling and do what feels right.
The approach I recommend generally is a combination of the two approaches, often called complementary health care. More and more vets recommend this approach as well. Holistic healing is great for preventive medicine, to keep the system healthy and balanced. It can also be, in my experience, highly effective for chronic conditions, such as arthritis, degenerative joint diseases, and diabetes, for which mainstream medicine has no cure. I know people who swear by pet acupuncture or herbalism, for example, and sincerely believe it provided pain relief and a return of function for pets that the mainstream medical establishment said couldn’t be helped.
For acute conditions, serious injuries, and dangerous illnesses, however, I would be more likely to choose the allopathic, or mainstream, conventional vet. Mainstream medicine in this country is best in emergency situations and for curing life-threatening conditions through surgery and other procedures requiring extensive skill and training. However, the more vets learn, and the more they combine their efforts, the more the lines blur. Someday there may be no difference at all, and every vet may use all available methods for the greater good of pet health.
by Eve Adamson

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