It's important to realize that dysplasia is a condition a
dog is born with. A dog either has it or he doesn't. Dysplasia,
by definition, means a malformation present from birth. Dysplasia
cannot be acquired, so the tales about dogs eating too much
protein or exercising too much and getting dysplasia are false.
Hip dysplasia is the type most people are familiar with,
but a dog can have other types of dysplasia affecting the elbows,
shoulders and even the kidneys. Just like high cholesterol
in a person, a dog with bad orthopedic genes will probably
have problems sometime in its lifetime.
Hip dysplasia means that the coxofemoral or hip joint is
not as deep as it should be. Because of this, the femur is
unstable and the head of the femur rides up on the pelvis.
This is sometimes detectable as early as four months of age.
There are grades of hip dysplasia, depending on how uncomfortable
the dog is and what the hips look like on radiographs. The
higher the number, the worse the dysplasia. As the dog gets
older, the joint becomes more painful, or arthritic, and the
dog has a harder time getting around. Surgical options are
usually done at a relatively young age, i.e. not greater than
5 years, but there are exceptions.
There are three different types of corrective
surgery for hip dysplasia:
The procedures vary in price and success rate.
- A total hip replacement;
- A triple pelvic osteotomy;
- A femoral head ostectomy.
Medical options would be using anti-inflammatory drugs when
needed. There are two types: non-steroidal or NSAIDS (e.g.,
Rimadyl) and steroidal (e.g., Prednisone or dexamethasone).
Neither NSAIDS nor steroids should be given for long periods
of time, and both should be discontinued if the dog vomits
or experiences diarrhea.
Another drug effective in treating joint problems is the
combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These drugs
strengthen the joints by repairing cartilage and forming joint
fluid. These can be given long term. Examples would be Cosequin
Another form of dysplasia or abnormality present since birth
would be certain elbow problems. The types of diseases we see
in dogs are an ununited arconeal process or a fragmented coronoid
process. These diseases are caused by little pieces of bone
in the joint. They cause both pain and weakness. Dogs will
limp on the affected leg especially after laying around for
a while. The best treatment is surgical removal of the bone
fragment. Surgery has a very high success rate, providing there
hasn't been too much degeneration of the joint.
When a dog limps on his front leg, the
shoulder joint must also be considered as a source of discomfort.
Dogs can have a condition called osteochondritis dissecans
or OCD. In this disease, a little flap of cartilage breaks
off the head of the humerus and causes pain. Treatment for
this disease is also surgical. It is important to remember
that for any of the congenital diseases, surgery has a higher
success rate if done at a young age.
Dogs with any of these diseases should
be exercised carefully and not be allowed to become overweight.
Dogs with these diseases or with a family history should not
A common orthopedic condition is rupture
of the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee. The dog will
become lame and will be very uncomfortable on manipulation
of the affected knee. A symptom called cranial drawer will
occur. This is where the femur and the tibia can be moved forward
and backward. Sometimes a dog must be sedated to exhibit cranial
drawer due to the tenseness of the muscles while he's awake.
Surgery is the best option for treating this. If done early
success rates are very high.
Another common problem are fractures of any of the bones.
Most fractures are caused by trauma such as an being hit by
a car or falling. Occasionally a fracture will occur in an
older dog for no apparent reason. When this occurs, bone cancer
Treatments for fractures vary on location, severity and age
of the dog. Hairline fractures of young dogs can sometimes
be treated with external stabilization like a splint or a cast.
Bones that are completely broken usually need some form of
internal stabilization like a bone plate or pin. Some severe
fractures may actually require bone grafts from other bones
in the body. The success of fracture repair depends greatly
on how restricted the dog can be kept after surgery.
How to Prevent Orthopedic Problems
If you decide to purchase a puppy from a breeder, make sure
you have the family history at least back to the grandparents.
Many dogs are OFA Certified (Orthopedic Foundation of America)
for their hips. The extra money paid for these OFA puppies
is worth it in the long run.
Keeping your dog on leash can eliminate accidents with cars.
It's a tragedy when a beautiful, healthy dog is damaged by
an automobile. Don't let your dog run free near roads. Lastly,
keep you dog in shape. Extra poundage causes stress on joints
and causes them to wear out more quickly. Better to have a
dog a little too thin than a little too heavy. If you have
any question about your dog's orthopedic health, check with
your veterinarian. He or she will have the answers for you.
Note: GRRMF and Hip Dysplasia
Rarely do orthopedic problems show up in very young puppies
which is why GRRMF always recommends reputable breeders to
people who are looking for a puppy. Although OFA ratings on
the parents are not a guarantee that the puppies will have
normal hips, it greatly increases the odds that they will.
One of the benefits of adopting an adult dog through GRRMF
is that you generally have a better idea of health in terms
of allergies, orthopedic problems, etc. GRRMF does not routinely
x-ray our dogs for hip dysplasia. If, however, there is a physical
symptom that suggests a risk of hip dysplasia, we do go to
the expense of x-raying the dog to determine the cause. In
the unusual circumstance that a dog awaiting adoption shows
evidence of orthopedic problems and x-rays determine dysplasia
exists, the most common practice is to have femoral head surgery
and rehabilitate the dog before it is adopted out to a family.
The prospective adoptive family is advised of the dog's medical
history prior to adoption.