A useful tool to help ethical breeders predict the risk of IVDD.

Currently there is no cure for this disease.  However, considerable research is going on behind the scenes in overseas countries.    For many years now in Scandinavia a significant amount of research has been carried out, which has identified that there is a strong correlation between calcification of the discs leading to herniations.  This was particularly identified when dogs were screened once they reached maturity, between the ages of 2-4 years.   It is after the age of 2 that calcifications on the discs on X-rays can be clearly seen.  However, the interpretation for scoring must be interpreted by the highly trained specialist’s eye.  Until very recently these specialists have been based in Scandinavian countries, however we are pleased to report that we now have an Australian based veterinarian specialist whom is based in Brisbane that can interpret the scoring. Given that we know that IVDD is highly genetic, it is understood that breeding a dog with high calcifications, is fundamentally breeding for the high risk of disc herniation.   

What is the benefit of X-Ray screening?

X-rays have been a very useful tool to date to help ethical breeders predict the risk of IVDD.  It is highly likely that dogs with many calcifications will produce offspring also with high calcifications.  Studies have shown (Lappalainen 2001) that the lower the number of calcifications, the lower the risk of IVDD and vice versa.  

How are they scored?

X-rays are scored by the total number of calcifications and the exact location in the spine.  The range used is from 0 calcifications through to 1-2, 3-4, and 5+ calcifications.  The greater the number of calcifications the greater the risk of IVDD.   Advice to breeders, thus far, has been to avoid breeding dogs with 3+ more discs being calcified.

So to summarise, the introduction of the X-ray screening program has led to many ethical breeders, whom are interested in the future health of the breed, undertaking X-rays of their dogs to be scored.  In this way they can plan their breeding programs in the hope to help reduce the incidence of this disease.

How are we doing in Australia?

Nordic countries have had X-ray schemes in place for over 10 years now, and very recently the UK has also introduced their IVDD screening program, through the dedicated UK Breed Council to help support and assist breeders in taking part in the screening program.

The great news for Australian breeders is that until recently these specialists have been based in Scandinavian countries, however we are pleased to report that we now have an Australian Diagnostic Imaging Specialist, Dr Alana Rosenblatt, based at The University of Queensland (Gatton) that can interpret the scoring. 

The National Dachshund Council is now encouraging ethical registered dachshund breeders to partake in this screening program and current results can be found here NDC Health Results.

This is most certainly encouraging, and we hope that in the years to come more  Australian breeders will get involved.  However currently it comes with its limitations, and at a huge cost to the breeder, to take part in this screening program.  The calcifications in the dog’s spine are only visible by X-ray at approximately 2-4 years of age, and thereafter the calcifications disappear.  The analysis of the X-rays also depends on the experience of the analyst, and how well those X-ray images are taken.  To ensure good imagery, it means a dog also needs sedation for these X-rays to be taken.

It is imperative that continued research is conducted into the future to hopefully achieve a breakthrough in developing a DNA test.  However this is also very much in its infancy.

The National Dachshund Breed Council (Australia), is now encouraging breeders to participate in screening programs.  Despite its limitations, we can continue to make strides in advocating testing to help reduce the incidence of this disease in our dachshunds here in Australia.

In the meantime, if you are looking to purchase a puppy from a breeder, please do your research and ask your breeders if they know of an incidence of IVDD in their bloodlines.  Given we know it’s highly heritable, it’s worth having this conversation with them.  Perhaps ask them if they are involved in the X-ray screening program for IVDD.  Whilst we currently know that some breeders are being pro-active in helping to reduce the incidence of IVDD, it still does not make them completely bullet proof as it can still occur even with the most ethical breeding program at heart.  Whilst the X-ray screening program is a step in the right direction, it is still a far cry away from finding the DNA behind what actually causes IVDD.

IVDD testing procedures & current providers in Australia

For further research click on the links below

Academic Dissertation by Anu Lappalainen
Department of Equine and Small Animal Medicine Faculty of Veterinary Medicine University of Helsinki, Finland
Radiographic Screening for Hereditary Skeletal Disorders in Dogs

Dachshund Breed Council UK – Testing for IVDD
UK Screening Process

Intervertebral disc disease (IDD): Instructions for radiography according to the Finnish Kennel Club protocol
Anu Lappalainen / 13.6.2015
Finland Screening

National Dachshund Council (Australia)
NDC Australia Current Test Results

A wonderful presentation by Ian Seath Chairman UK Dachshund Breed Council on the latest UK X-Ray screening program on IVDD. For all dachshund owners this is what Australia should also be doing and following suit. This presentation is a must view if you care about the future of this breed and back health.