Ask if Dachshunds can use stairs, or post a picture of your Dachshund using them, in any breed-specific forum and 95% of the people will scream, “NO!”
The belief perpetuated on the internet is that stairs are bad for Dachshunds and using them will cause a back injury and IVDD.
However, although the difference between that old trope and the truth is semantics, that is false and, in fact, using stairs may be beneficial.
First, Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) is a genetic disease that affects breeds affected by Chondrodystrophy (CDDY) (dwarfism – like the Dachshund).
The gene (it’s a gene mutation actually) causes a dog’s spinal disks to dry out, age prematurely, and calcify.
Approximately 25% of Dachshunds will experience a back issue in their lifetime due to the disease.
If a disk gets brittle enough, it can rupture.
The soft stuff inside extrudes and impinges on adjacent nerves, which causes pain and, potentially, paralysis.
While it’s true that a disk can rupture during exercise, or while using stairs, a brittle disk can rupture at any time.
I most often hear of it occurring during daily activity or while a Dachshund is sleeping.
The bottom line is, just because a belief is repeated over and over – like Dachshunds should never use stairs – doesn’t mean it’s true.
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, Just a passionate Dachshund owner who has been studying IVDD since 2016.
Can Using Stairs Case a Back Injury?
Now, it is true that compression and twisting of the spine can hasten the rupture of a brittle or calcified spinal disk.
And, yes, stairs can be the cause of these forces.
But to clarify, if a back injury occurs from using stairs, in all cases except the rare acute injury, it’s because a Dachshund has IVDD – they already had brittle disks ready to blow.
You may have heard the term “Correlation is not causation”.
This phrase comes from the practice of statistics and means, in a nutshell, that just because two things occur closely together, doesn’t mean one is causing the other.
In other words, although some Dachshunds have ruptured a disk while using stairs, it doesn’t mean that the stairs were the cause of the injury.
You May Actually Want Your Dachshund to Use Stairs
IVDD is a heartbreaking disease and having a dog go down because of a disk rupture can feel traumatizing.
It’s also expensive to treat, potentially costing somewhere around $10,000 USD for surgery.
It’s understandable that Dachshund owners want to do everything they can to prevent a back injury.
Most people are afraid of a Dachshund back injury because the experience is upsetting and spine surgery is expensive.
Scientists around the world are actively studying what causes IVDD so our understanding of it is evolving in real-time.
While the recommendation that a Dachshund should never use stairs has been around for a long time, doesn’t mean it is still true.
In 2000, a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine concluded that “moderate stair climbing seemed to reduce the rate of occurrence of disc calcification.” (source)
In 2015, in the UK Dachshund Breed Council, as a result of their DachLife owner survey, found that “Dachshunds over the age of 3 that were allowed to go up/down a flight of stairs every day also had lower odds of IVDD than those not allowed to use stairs.” (source)
Now, again, correlation is not causation.
The scientist behind the study said this result,
“[This] should not be taken as a cause and effect association but is interesting in light of a previous Scandinavian study (linked to above) that showed moderate use of stairs reduced the risk of disc calcification.”
However, these results suggest the possibility that prohibiting a Dachshund from using stairs could be doing more harm than good.
Should You Let Your Dachshund Use Stairs?
It’s important that each owner makes the best choice about the use of stairs based on their own Dachshund’s health and fitness to do so.
I want to make some crucial distinctions in regard to stairs that could influence your decision.
Consider your Dachshund’s age
The DachLife survey results indicated that Dachshunds who regularly use stairs may be at a decreased risk for IVDD.
However, it specifically stated this information was relevant for dogs over 3 years of age.
If your Dachshund is a puppy whose joints and muscles are still forming, or elderly with health issues like hind end weakness or muscle wasting, you probably want to limit stair use.
Regular use may be a key
The study cites Dachshunds who were allowed to go up and down stairs every day were at lower odds of an IVDD injury.
Based on my experience and knowledge, I interpret this to infer Dachshunds who use stairs daily may be more fit and have developed muscles to do it safely.
If your Dachshund has never been allowed to use stairs and then you let them use a lot of them, any potential benefit is likely negated.
In fact, I suspect a Dachshund who uses stairs in excess, when they were previously never allowed to use them, may be at increased risk of injury (both in general and disk related).
If a Dachshund is fit with toned muscles, their spine will be better supported during any activity.
Has your Dachshund been diagnosed with IVDD?
If your Dachshund has suffered a back injury in the past and been diagnosed with IVDD, you may want to limit the use of stairs.
The scientists behind the DachLife survey above stated,
“[Dachshunds] that have been diagnosed with disc degeneration and/or suffered an IVDD incident will be at higher risk of further injury if they are allowed to jump off furniture” (I’m assuming this applies to stairs too, although probably to a lesser degree).
Anecdotally, with my case study of one (my Dachshund Gretel who has IVDD), I can say that using stairs in moderation has not caused another disk rupture or flare up.
However, it’s important to note that she is fit, strong, and active on a regular basis.
I’ve worked to build up her spine-supporting muscles.
Should You Use Dachshund Stairs or a Ramp for Furniture?
Many people purchase either dog stairs or a dog ramp to help prevent their Dachshund from jumping off tall furniture.
Because the jump down off furniture is higher than the typical stair rise, and thus causes more impact on the spine than stairs, a big jump like this should indeed be avoided for Dachshunds.
But which is better to help a Dachshund get on or off furniture – steps or a ramp?
Given the evidence that stairs might not be as bad for a Dachshund’s back as once thought, you might assume that either is fine.
I think this is true to a certain extent.
However, other things that should be considered when making the choice between the two include:
- Your Dachshund’s willingness to use them
- The chance your Dachshund could fall off and twist their spine
In my experience, some Dachshunds are more hesitant to use dog steps than a ramp.
However, if a Dachshund regularly uses stairs around other areas of the house, they may prefer using those.
The difference between using dog stairs or a ramp is minimal.
Stairs are typically more compact than a ramp. This means that the supporting base is smaller, so they can be less stable and more apt to wobble or tip over.
If the steps wobble, a Dachshund may refuse to use them because it feels scary.
If the pet stairs were to tip over with your Dachshund on them, it would cause a fall and potential injury.
Ramps tend to be wider than stairs, and more stable, so the chance they will fall over during use is very rare.
However, most ramps do not have rails to keep your Dachshund on them (except the DoggoRamps Bed Ramp – affiliate link), so there is still a chance that your Dachshund could fall off.
The belief that Dachshunds should never use stairs because it will cause a back injury (disk rupture) is common and pervasive.
But recent studies are challenging that belief and may even indicate regularly using stairs is beneficial to support the spine (for healthy Dachshunds over 3 years of age).
In my experience, the more active a Dachshund is, the less likely it is that using stairs in moderation will cause injury.
When a Dachshund participates in moderate, their core muscles are strong and the spine is already conditioned to twists and mild impact.
Still, it remains true that avoiding stairs may be prudent for Dachshunds that are very young and still developing, are elderly with mobility issues, or that have a history of repeated back injuries and flare ups due to IVDD.
Even so, according to our rehab veterinarian, my own experience, and some of the information I have read, Dachshunds with IVDD can benefit from a moderately active lifestyle after the initial recovery period.
Regular activity improves circulation, which can help keep the spinal disks hydrated.
Regular activity also supports your Dachshund’s mental wellbeing and quality of life.
For healthy adult Dachshunds, it seems sensible to find a middle ground between preventing activity, including regular use of stairs, and not overloading the spine with too much stress (ie. big jumps should be avoided).