Common Problems of the Musculoskeletal System
Bones and muscles support the body and protect the internal organs. All dogs, regardless of size, have an average of 319 different bones in their bodies. The bones are connected by ligaments and surrounded by muscles.
If your dog is limping or is favoring a particular leg, chances are he's got a bone or joint disease, a strained muscle or tendon, or possibly a broken bone. The causes range from something as severe as a congenital disorder, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, to something as ordinary as a strained muscle or age-related arthritis. Your veterinarian should give you a professional diagnosis.
Canine hip dysplasia (often referred to as CHD or just HD) is a disorder of the hip socket. In a healthy hip, the head of the thigh bone (femur) should fit snugly in the hip socket (acetabulum). If the ligaments around the socket are loose, the head of the femur will start to slip from the socket. This causes gradual hind-end lameness and pain. Treatment varies depending on the age of the dog, the severity of the condition, and the options available to dog and owner. Rapid advances are being made in the treatment of hip dysplasia.
While a specific cause of CHD has not been identified, it is suspected to be an inherited disorder, and breeders are encouraged to X-ray their dogs before breeding and to only breed dogs that have been certified free of the disease. It has happened, however, that CHD-free parents have produced pups that develop hip dysplasia. Weight, nutrition, and environment have all been implicated in the possible exaggeration or development of CHD, which normally manifests at an age of rapid growth.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals was established in 1966 to study and improve the condition of canine hip dysplasia. Now in its forty-first year, the Foundation's expanded mission is “. . . to improve the health and well-being of companion animals through a reduction in the incidence of genetic disease.” Learn more about them at www.offa.org.
Millions of dogs in the United States are living with this painful degenerative joint disease. The vast majority of these dogs are seven years or older. Dogs with arthritis usually show the following signs:
Stiffness when getting up or lying down
Lowered activity level
Reluctance to walk very far or to climb stairs
Flinching or snapping when touched
Swollen joints that seem hot or painful
Arthritis doesn't have a cure, but a number of medications are available to relieve the pain of those achy-breaky joints. Your veterinarian can prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to relieve pain and inflammation. These drugs are similar to the ibuprofen or acetaminophen you might take for yourself, but they're formulated specifically for dogs. In fact, your ibuprofen or other NSAID can be toxic to your dog, so never give her anything like that without your veterinarian's okay. Canine NSAIDs are generally safe, but they can have side effects — vomiting, diar-rhea, and liver or kidney damage — and some dogs (Labs in particular) are highly sensitive to them. Your veterinarian may need to adjust the dose or try a different drug if your dog develops these problems, and she will probably require periodic blood work to check liver and kidney values before renewing a prescription.
If you have a small dog, lift her on and off furniture throughout her life, but especially as she gets older. This helps prevent cumulative damage to her joints. Keep your dog's weight at a healthy level to reduce stress on the joints, and consider providing your dog with a heated bed. Warmth is one of the best ways to relieve joint pain.