Home Podcast TOP #24: Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

TOP #24: Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

Dealing with back problems is just as difficult in dogs as it is in people. Oftentimes, when you visit a vet for a consultation on your dog's back issues, the common advice is to get a surgery, and most pet owners don't realize that there may be alternative options.

This week I had a chance to speak with Lisa Luckenback, who is the creator of the Wiggleless Back Brace for dogs with intervertebral disc disease and other back related problems. In this podcast episode, we discuss the common back issues in dogs, how to prevent and deal with them, and how to use a WiggleLess back brace to fix your dog's back instead of opting for a costly and dangerous surgery.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs
(raw podcast transcript)

Intervertebral Disc Disease in Dogs

* Scroll down below to read the interview with Lisa Luckenback.

This week a family member of ours has a dog who is suffering from a major back injury; they actually think that he is going to need surgery. So that got me thinking about back injuries in dogs, and how common they are.

I actually tested a product called the Wiggleless Back Brace for our website before, and my dog, thankfully, didn't have any back issues. But I tested the brace, I saw how unique it was. It's kind of always there, in the back of my mind, that this product was out there and available. So I recommended it to our family member who's dog is suffering from some back trouble right now. They ran it past their veterinarian, and decided it was going to be a great fit for him. And something that would really help him.

So then I got to thinking I actually have a contact with Wiggleless, and it just so happens to be Lisa Luckenbach, who's the creator of the Wiggleless Dog Back Brace. And she, obviously is the founder of the company. So I wanted to reach out to her, and she if she would speak to us, and she graciously agreed to do that.

So this week I'm talking to Lisa, and we're discussing inter-vertebral disease in dogs, IVDD, and this is actually something that's a lot more common than a lot of people think., and back injuries in general.

Think about what your dog does everyday. Jumping in and out of the car, climbing up and down off furniture and beds. All of that stuff, over time, takes a toil on the back, the joints, the hips. And a lot of times people see things like arthritis in later years, and they just think that their dog's getting old. But actually these things could be either fully prevented or at least pushed off for a few years if we are aware of our dogs' bodies, and what they're doing, and how hard it is on their bodies.

So I talked to Lisa today, we specifically talked about back injuries. and the Wiggleless Back Brace, and what a unique product that it is, and how it can help dogs with back injuries.

So I will leave you with that interview.

Interview with Lisa Luckenbach

Samantha: So, first of all thank you so much for coming on the podcast and talking to us a little bit.

There's going to be some background information about you on the website. But for our listeners that are listening to the podcast, we'll talk a little bit about Wiggleless, the company that you are with and the back brace that you guys have created.

But let's talk first about back issues in dogs in general. I wanted to get just a little bit of a background from you about back issues that owners might see, things that they should maybe look for in dogs if they're concerned that they might have a back issue.

Lisa Luckenback: Okay, sure. Well it's estimated that one in five Dachshunds alone are diagnosed with IVDD, which is Intervertebral Disk Disease. So that is Dachshunds only, and that is one breed among about eight breeds that are prone to back problems. So IVDD — Intervertebral Disk Disease — whether you want to call it a slipped disk or a ruptured herniated collapsed disk — IVDD is probably the most common back problem in dogs.

The spinal chord has twenty-six doughnut shaped jelly masses in between each disk and they act as shock absorbers to protect your dog when your dog is jumping, running, moving around. When this material is dislodged or leaks, it brings on sudden pain to your dog; it can cause paralysis.

So a canine disk disease can occur after an injury as minimal as just jumping off of a bed or trauma like being hit by a car. You've got breed such as Poodles and Beagles, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds; they are prone to these issues. Then you have degenerative disk diseases. You have spinal stenosis, its a narrowing of the spinal chord from degeneration over time or from a birth defect. It puts increasing amount of pressure on the dog's spine, so the dog can be in tremendous pain and sensitivity.

Signs to look for a dog that may be in back pain — they have have difficulty raising their tail, they won't wag their tail, there's stiffness in their body, there can be limping, there's restricted movement, there's a sensitivity and yelping to touch.

There's many signs the dog gives — shaking, trembling, head down, knuckled foot that doesn't quite lift to the ground, all of these things can potentially be extremely serious and would require a vet immediately.

If it's gotten in time then the dog has a tremendous amount of chance to recover, and the usual veterinary protocol for back pain disc issues is rest first and foremost; so about six to eight weeks of crate rest or confined rest. There's going to be strong medication, pain killers, anti-inflammatories, steroids, and that is really the protocol.

And it's very difficult to keep a dog contained and have a dog not be able to be a dog. So how do you do that? And that's kind of what happened with me and my story and how Wiggleless started — I had dachshunds, two long-haired dachshunds, and over time they were both diagnosed with IVDD. They were litter mates four years apart. Each one of them — June had a very long, thin build like a pencil, and Henry had a more stocky build like a little Tootsie Roll — so their builds were very different, but they were both diagnosed with it.

I had never experienced any kind of back pain in any of the dogs I had growing up. I've always had dogs, I had bigger dogs, so this was a brand new thing for me, and I myself had gone through some back issues, and it was kind of like — I got help with back braces from the pharmacy and there must be something out there for a dog that can help support a dog while they're being treated at the vet, while they're resting, for prevention, for recovery, all that, and there wasn't anything available at the time.

So I just had a prototype made up. I went to a seamstress and had an idea of what I wanted for a back brace for a dog, and she sewed it up, and I was using for Henry and June, and had no intention of starting a business with this, and I brought the dogs to the veterinarian, my veterinarian, and he was like “Wow, this is really something that could help a lot of dogs. You should consider selling these to dogs.”

So that's how Wiggleless started, and that was… Well the seed of of the idea was probably in 2008 and then it took a couple of years to develop it and get the design patented and all that, get the business going and it went live to sell to dogs worldwide online in 2011.

Samantha: And I've actually tried a Wiggleless back brace with our boxer and I will put a link to that as well underneath our podcast so people can check that out if they want some more specific details and see the videos and pictures and things I took of our boxer Chloe.

If anybody is familiar with boxers, they do that well known boxer wiggle, we call it and Chloe doesn't have back problems thankfully. But when trying the Wiggleless back brace, I was really impressed with the fact that — you said it very well when you said, “it allows a dog to be dog” without stopping that kind of natural dog-ness that they have but it keeps their back from bending in ways that's going to either do further damage or cause a lot of pain.

So I was impressed with that because we have a very wiggly dog and it kept her from doing things that would injure her back if she had a problem.

Lisa: Oh, that's wonderful, I am happy to hear that.

The movements are minimally restricted or curtailed, I like to say — sharp twisting movements are curtailed. There's boning in each brace, we have 8 sizes right now, so depending on the size there's different amount of boning. So a boxer I'm sure has our most boning and the 8 steel boning pieces that are sewn into the brace just to help with support and to help these movements that are curtailed or modified that can potentially exacerbate back injuries for dogs.

Samantha: Yes. I am kind of surprised to hear quite how common back injuries are in dogs.

One of the things that stood out to me when you were telling us about the symptoms to be looking for, is a lot of those symptoms I feel — like limping, or curling a paw under or something like that — a lot of pet parents might think that — oh, he's limping it's not a big deal, we'll give it a few days and see what happens.

Obviously if it gets worse, hopefully the responsible pet owner would bring their dog right into the veterinarian. But these things might seem little to us but of course they're kind of those symptoms that are showing signs of a deeper much more serious issue.

So, would you recommend, even if it's a little symptom like limping, to bring your dog in and have them checked out, just in case?

Lisa: I would. Yes. I would because — if it is something that's fundamentally worse than maybe the outside appearance of just the small limping — if the dog owner does not get a dog to the vet on time, in terms of back injuries, there could be paralysis, and that's what you don't want.

So you want to get in to see the vet asap, and get diagnosed, get a treatment plan, get the protocol, and start there. But you don't want to wait. You do not want to wait until, “oh…” the symptoms get even more severe.

Samantha: I also heard you say that there are some dogs, some breeds that are more prone to back issues — but I think what you're saying is any dog, of any breed, size — I think we think of the longer breeds, like Dachshunds obviously maybe are going to have back issues — but what you're saying is that it can happen to any dog, no matter what size, weight, activity level, any dog can suffer from back issues.

Lisa: Absolutely. That's what I learned over the course of this journey is, with customers calling in, and — I have customers that call in that their Great Dane, their German Shepherd, their Golden Retriever — and in my early days with this business I had assumed, and I did not… Or I just wasn't educated; I had never had this happen with any of my dogs before, so I just… The bottom line is any dog can.

If you think about it, kind of common sense-wise it makes sense. I mean in terms of us humans and how we injure our backs, and dogs are a lot more active, and there's a lot more going on, so it does make sense that at any time a dog can have a back problem just like we can.

Samantha: Yes. Absolutely, I think that's something — you said it very well when you said you just weren't educated — I think it's something that a lot of pet parents aren't educated about.

It does make sense when you actually think about it, but it's something that isn't thought of until — like the situation that you were in — you never deal with it so you don't really think about it. And then all of a sudden it's thrown in your lap, and now you have no choice, you have to think about it, and make a plan for that.

So speaking of that, your plan was to try and find a back brace, which didn't work out at the time. Because there wasn't really anything available. So you created the Wiggleless Dog Back Brace.

What's unique about this brace, that people aren't going to find with other products?

Lisa: There's one other product that is a back brace for dogs. They have three sizes; we have eight sizes. What's unique about it — I think back braces are a pretty unique niche for dogs regardless — so it's myself and this other company that sell them.

Ours is a different design; it's very user friendly. You just lay it flat on the floor, and you straddle your dog over the brace; you lift the sides of the brace and secure it evenly over the torso. Then you secure the breast bone strap, and there you have it.

It can provide back stability and again, curtail the twisting; it can be used for when a dog is recovering. My two dogs, Henry and June — I created a pen. They were not used to being crated. So I had a pen set up with pillows and dog beds, and their water bowl and food and they were in our living room and they were still very much a part of our family life while they were healing, and they wore their braces during that time and then, after they recovered, they did eventually fully recover, but, a dog can have a back episode one time in their life or they can have one many times, again, just like human beings.

So it's one of these things that you just don't know. Is this going to happen again? That was the piece where it's like — my vet said, it could happen again.

Your dogs are like a ticking time bomb once this happens and, what do you do? How do you help them still be a dog and have a nice high quality life? That was my dilemma and for my dogs; once they started wearing a brace they wore it a part of each day, for the rest of their lives, and they never did go to the vet again for back issues. It totally protected their backs; it gave me peace of mind. We have a backyard, a fenced in backyard, that they love scrambling around and climbing rocks, and jumping off of little rock walls and things like that. But it gave me peace of mind knowing that when they were in the backyard wearing their Wiggleless Brace, that they were protected.

Samantha: Absolutely. That's so important, that peace of mind for pet owners. Whether your dog has issues or not, it's always on the back of your mind that something could happen. So to have a product like this that gives you that peace of mind is definitely a really nice feeling for us.

Lisa: Yes, yes. That's a huge thing.

It's as much an emotional product as a functional product, because as you well know, our dogs are our babies, they're our children, they're our family members, and we want to do whatever we can to help them.

Samantha: For sure.

So if you have a dog — let's say like you said it's a one time deal of having a back issue. Maybe they're young and they jumped off something and hurt their back. About how long would a dog wear a Wiggleless Back Brace for a secluded incident like that?

Lisa: Well when there's a flare-up, like what you're talking about, or an injury, a specific injury, I don't recommend… First of all you need to talk to your vet, and we are allies of veterinarians, we want to support them, and assist them. We understand that veterinary care is essential, right off the bat, and then Wiggleless can come in, as well as other modalities appealing, like laser therapy, acupuncture, canine massage — water therapy, all that.

Wiggleless is another tool to put in your tool kit to help with their overall health and well-being. So if a dog were to have this — first and foremost, you want to make sure the fit is right for your dog, that your dog is comfortable, and responding well, that your dog can still walk, and sit, and sleep and nap, and be a dog. Those things are really important, and once those things are determined, then we would have your dog wear it — some customers have to work all day, so that have it, and once they determine that it's all going to work out for their dog, and they're comfortable, and all that, that they can leave, then we have dogs that wear it for an eight hour work day.

Basically you're wearing it until you go back to the vet. And your vet said, “It looks like everything is good”. So it could be for several months of healing and recovery, and then can be used for periodic prevention, used during the day during their most active times during the day. While taking walks, while playing, things like that. That can be for life.

But you just want to while they're healing from an injury. And I don't know how long that can be — back problems can last a long time with human beings, and so with dogs. For my dogs I would have to say they wore it a good couple of months, until their backs were healed. And then again they wore it for a prevention for the rest of their lives.

Samantha: And is it something that can be worn 24 hours a day, if needed?

Lisa: Well it's like anything snug. I think they need a break from it. I don't always… Unless your veterinary said they really should be wearing this while they're sleeping, it's critical that they wear this at night as well — I say the body is in rest mode anyway and in healing mode, so I don't think it's as important to wear at night when they're sleeping. But, there are customers that there's a very acute injury where they want their dog swaddled all through the night and again that's fine as long as the dog is comfortable.

So it's really kind of up to a dog owner to be dialed into their dog, to understand when's the time to take this off, anything snug, it's nice to have a break from that. So, on and off throughout the day and again at night, that's between a vet and the seriousness of the injury.

Samantha: Are the materials that it's made with… They're going to be comfortable for a dog if they did need to wear it during a work day for eight hours or something like that. For the most part of course, every dog is built a little bit differently, but you did take into consideration the comfort of the pets when you are making the WiggleLess back brace?

Lisa: Absolutely. To me, as an owner of WiggleLess, my love of dogs, and my intuitive feeling with dogs — that's the most important thing, that they're comfortable while wearing it. If a dog isn't comfortable, then it's not the right fit, it's not going to work.

It doesn't work for every single dog, I will say that, but we have had much more success than not, and that's why we're still in business today.

Samantha: Absolutely, and do you work with veterinarians, obviously not every veterinarian, but is it available in some veterinary offices?

Lisa: We have a couple here in California that carry them. My veterinarian carries them here where I live. But we have mostly its direct customers that have been to the vet, they've done all of the things that is appropriate to do, and then they're in the position like I was like — okay, but what if this happens again? So that's where it became for me like — okay, I still need to do something. I need to do the vet care, the protocol, the pills, the rest, and all that, but they also need some support.

So that's how it came to me and now I'm forgetting what your question was again. [laughs]

Samantha: Availability of the WiggleLess, do you work with pet stores or is it pretty much —

Lisa: It's mostly direct on line, and then customers will bring the brace to the vet, and the vet will say “This is wonderful”.

We have a lot of vet testimonials and vet recommendations and we have customers that will say “My vet recommended it.” So it is both — it's customers, it is direct customers and also vet recommendations, yes.

Samantha: So if one of our listeners is looking for something; if their dog is having back problems or they just want to be prepared if they have one of those breeds that's more common — certainly check with your veterinarian — but the best way to order probably is online?

Lisa: Best way to order it is online and the measurements per our website are very important. We have different pictures of dogs, and the different sizes that we carry. And it is not something where you can just say “Oh that looks like my dog, I'll get that size.”

It is very important to measure because we put a lot of science into the design and we are trying to get as many builds and breeds of dogs as possible. And within every breed, the builds are different as you well know.

Samantha: Absolutely. And I think with anything that snug-fitting, as you mentioned, just because you have a Boxer or a Labrador, they are not all built the same, so measuring is super important.

We also are going to, along with the podcast, right underneath it, will be the link to your website. So if anybody is listening that decides that they might want to order a Wiggleless Back Brace, make sure you get on the website and order. Don't just assume that your dog is small so you're going to need a small size, that is super important.

Lisa: Exactly, yes. Thank you.

Interviewer: Great. So that is pretty much everything that I had for you. Is there anything that we did not talk about that you would like to acknowledge?

Lisa: I think it is nice to know that all the braces are made in the USA and they are in the garment district of Los Angeles. I feel proud of that.

Samantha: Absolutely.

Lisa: The braces are made of a double layer polyester mesh. There is steel boning sown in it. Lots of Velcro. We don't recommend machine wash, they are a hand wash. But the braces themselves — we have had customers who… The braces last a lifetime for their dogs. The wear and tear is important and so the care you give the brace — to clean it out, to pick the hairs out from time to time — it can last a lifetime. So that is a nice thing to know.

In our price break we have the smallest size. Our price ranges are from 71.45, to the largest is 153.95. I think if a dog had to have surgery it would be over $10,000 in some areas. So the value that the brace gives, the peace of mind that the brace gives, and the function of the brace is pretty priceless, in terms of helping to prevent a surgery. We have had customers say that the brace worked so well that their dogs back straightened out, and they no longer need surgery. That's priceless.

Samantha: Absolutely and just the peace of mind if you have a dog who maybe has had surgery and is recovering. You know that you want that long term peace of mind that you're not going to have to deal with any long term back issues again. Absolutely is priceless.

Lisa: Yes. Yes.

Samantha: Great. Excellent.

Again I just want to thank you for doing the podcast and coming on. I think that this is a topic that a lot of pet parents aren't educated about because like we said in the beginning, you just don't think about it until it's your problem to deal with. And then at that time you're kind of scrambling to find information. So I think it's important that people are educated about it now, especially if they have one of those breeds where back problems are a more common issue. But it can happen to any dog, and breed, any size.

So I really appreciate you coming on and just talking to us a little bit about back issues in dogs, and of course the Wiggleless back brace as a great tool to help those pets suffering with back problems.

Lisa: Well I certainly appreciate you having me on, and getting the word out. I'm rewarded when I can just help one dog. So you know we want to help as many dogs as possible knowing the issue at hand here. There's a lot of dogs out there that are potentially suffering from back problems, and we hope that we can help in some way.

Samantha: Thanks for listening today guys. I hope you got as much out of that interview with Lisa as I did. So keep a watch on your dog and look for those signs of back problems. If you do have any issues, like Lisa mentioned, you don't want to wait to take your dog to the vet because things could get worse very quickly when it comes to back, hip, and joint issues. So be sure to schedule an appointment for your vet to check things out. If you think the wiggle less back brace could be for you, go ahead and mention that as well.

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Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.