Musculoskeletal problems, which affect the bones, joints, and muscles, are common in dogs, and Labs are no exception. As a breed, they are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia and osteochondritis dissecans. Other problems that can occur include ruptured cruciated ligament and toe injuries.
If your veterinarian determines that your puppy has unusually loose hip joints, you may want to look into a surgical technique to close the area between the two halves of the pelvis. The surgery must be performed before five months of age, so the pup must be evaluated early.
Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the thigh bone (femur) doesn't fit properly into the hip socket, causing joint laxity (looseness), inflammation, pain, and lameness. Signs of hip dysplasia include limping and a lack of enthusiasm for exercise — very unusual in an active Lab puppy! An x-ray of the hips and pelvis can confirm whether there's a problem. In mild cases, nutraceuticals, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, and pain-relieving medications, can help a Lab get along. When hip dysplasia is severe, though, total hip replacement is the best treatment.
Elbow dysplasia is caused by the failure of the elbow bones of one or both forelegs to unite and move properly, or by bone fragments within the joint. Lameness is the primary sign of elbow dysplasia, and the problem can be confirmed with x-rays. Like hip dysplasia, it can often be managed with nutraceuticals and anti-inflammatory medications. Exercise, such as swimming and walks on leash, can help maintain the range of joint motion and strengthen the surrounding muscles, improving joint stability and the health of the joint fluid. Severe elbow dysplasia may require surgery to fuse the joint and relieve the pain.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)
Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is a problem of cartilage development that usually affects shoulder joints but can also affect the elbow, hocks, and stifles (knees). Labs with OCD may gradually become lame or show pain when the affected joint is flexed or extended. X-rays provide a definitive diagnosis. The recommended treatment for OCD is rest and joint-protective nutraceuticals to help prevent pain, inflammation, and further degeneration. If the elbow or shoulder joints are affected, your veterinarian may advise surgery to scrape away defective cartilage or remove cartilage flaps loose in the joint.
Ruptured Cruciate Ligament
Also known as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, this is a common injury in retrievers. It usually occurs when the knee twists suddenly or hyperextends. ACL tears are one of the major causes of arthritis in the canine knee joint. If your Lab suffers an ACL tear, you'll know. He'll hold up the injured leg or cry out. The knee joint will be swollen and painful. A surgical procedure called tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) is the best treatment.
If an ACL tear occurs in one knee, the ligament in the other knee is likely to tear at some time in the future.
Active dogs are likely to suffer toe injuries at some point. These can range from a broken toenail to a dislocated or sprained toe. Toes can become broken, dislocated (rupture of ligaments), or sprained (rupture of tendons) if the dog bangs the toe hard against something, steps in a hole, or lands wrong from a jump. A toe injury might be the problem if your Lab is limping.
Sometimes toes heal on their own, but surgery may be necessary to repair the structure. Run any toe injuries by your veterinarian to make sure they're not serious. An x-ray can find slight fractures that might otherwise be missed.
When nails are kept short, broken toenails are unlikely. If your Lab does break a toenail while running or by snagging it on carpet fibers, the injury is likely to bleed profusely. It looks scary, but you can stop the bleeding by putting pressure on the wound with a cloth or towel until the bleeding stops. If the toenail doesn't break off cleanly, it's a good idea to take the dog to the veterinarian to have it removed. Removal can be painful and may require anesthesia. Usually, the toenail will grow back.