I refused to pay $15,000 to keep my sausage dog alive. Here's why

It's every pet owners worst nightmare, but luckily for Abbey Smith the universe had other plans for Tanq.

It's something you never imagine happening, but have to be prepared for. The loss of a dog, especially after just a few short years can be devastating, and it was the reality I was facing with my eight-year-old Dachshund Tanq. An afternoon walk turned into panic when I realised my four-legged bestie could barely move.

Tanq's symptoms appeared suddenly on a Thursday afternoon when he started swaying from side to side and sitting down every few seconds. After a few panicked phone calls and Google searches, I put him in the car and went to an animal Chinese medicine specialist because the vet was unable to see him until the following day.

Tanq struggles to walk (left) and looks at the camera while healthy (right).
In a matter of hours, sausage dog Tanq went from healthy to seriously ill with IVDD. Source: Supplied

Following the appointment, Tanq and I drove home as tears dripped down my face. This dog who had been with me through thick and thin, even moving states with me, was possibly looking at the end of life as we knew it. I was shattered.

My worst fears were confirmed by the vet the next day, he was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). The disease, which affects 1 in 4 sausage dogs, is an injury where dogs lose the ability to walk due to paralysis and it can develop after a dog suffers a significant traumatic injury or even just jumping and landing funny. In Tanq's case he had been hit by a car the previous year (the car came off second best).

There's two options when it comes to IVDD treatment. You either pay up to $15,000 for surgery by a veterinarian and hope it works, or you go the holistic route. The prognosis from the vet was that he needed surgery straight away, and if I went holistic, it would be likely I wouldn't be celebrating his next birthday.

How I made the hardest decision of my life

Tanq (and his sister Tori) are my babies. I don't have kids so they're given the royal treatment. I spent that weekend sleeping on the lounge room floor with both of them, and rocking Tanq to sleep, recounting all the fun things we'd done in our life together as we'd moved across Queensland for me to chase my career in journalism. I did the best I could to keep him comfortable, but I knew that the following week, I would have to make the hardest decision of my life.

Abbey (left) and Tori and Tanq (centre and right).
Abbey is a proud dog-mum to Tanq (right) and his sister Tori. Source: Supplied

My beautiful mum began researching every single thing she could find on IVDD and came across the website of an animal chiropractor.

An animal chiropractor focuses on the health of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system. Nerves control everything in our bodies and anything affecting the nervous system can have detrimental effects on the entire body. It's the same for our animals.

Chiropractor Dr Chris Hume-Phillips put us at ease in our first visit. From what he could tell, the injury wasn't "the worst he'd seen." Hume-Phillips said Tanq had developed some arthritis from when he was hit by a car and that had lead to the IVDD.

So, here I was left with a decision. Pay $15,000 to the vet for IVDD surgery, with no guarantee of it being successful or take a chance Hume-Phillips was right, and things weren't as bad as first thought. The cash was nearly half of my house deposit and while Tanq was my world, I knew it would set me so far back, especially while being single and in a cost of living crisis that I'd struggle to recover for many years.

I refused the surgery when the vet called and selfishly prayed Hume-Phillips was right.

Fitter than ever

Nearly a year on and Tanq now has one appointment with Dr Hume-Phillips every eight weeks for maintenance. I've even begun taking Tori along as well to ensure she is fit and healthy which could lower her risk of IVDD. Just like humans, it's vital to be proactive with your pet's health as they get older.

Dachshund owners I've spoken to since have all said they had no idea just how prevalent IVDD can be in the breed. It's not something spoken about when you bring your tiny puppy home.

Abbey is a proud dog-mum to two dogs. Source: Supplied
Abbey is a proud dog-mum to two dogs. Source: Supplied

Hume-Phillips is passionate about changing that, and has these tips for anyone facing the same reality I did:

1. Research and prevention

Do the research on the breed you're buying, so you know what to expect and how to best care for their animal.

"Prevention starts at home, and owners need to be educated about the relative risk profile of their breed of dog, mainly related to their build and genetics, and what activities are best avoided, or at least limited," he told Yahoo News Australia.

Hume-Phillips (left) and Tanq and Tori (right).
Tori, Tanq's sister now regularly sees Hume-Phillips who is a human and animal chiropractor. Source: Supplied

2. Get a second opinion

Hume-Phillips is urging pet owners to seek a second opinion when it comes to their pets' health.

"In fact, get three or four opinions. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions," he told Yahoo.

3. Use both traditional and holistic care

He said the majority of veterinary professionals are now willing to engage with and listen to the benefits of chiropractic care.

"I think the notion of there being any real “taboo” around allied animal health care that is provided by qualified professionals is a fairly antiquated concept," he said.

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