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WEEKEND WEB: Keep a check on your dog’s hips

Animal Magic - our weekly advice column, written by Alder Veterinary Practice, of Spalding and Bourne.

She’s not jumping into the car as easily as she used to.” “He doesn’t run off like he used to but is content to walk by my side.”

These are the phrases we hear a lot from clients as they bring in their older dogs for health check and vaccination.

Certainly, as dogs get older, they are more prone to develop muscle stiffness and osteoarthritis in their joints and these diseases can limit their flexibility and mobility. With nutritional supplements, prescribed pain relief, and regular exercise, these dogs can stay mobile, pain free and continue to lead happy lives.

However, it is also possible to hear these phrases about a young dog too and with investigation diagnose osteoarthritis in one or more joints. The most common cause of osteoarthritis in young dogs’ hips is hip dysplasia. This is an inherited genetic condition in which the hip joints do not develop properly, so although the puppy is born with normal hips, by the age of 6 to 12 months, the hip will be deforming.

Normally, the hip joint forms a deep socket with the ball tucked in it but with dysplasia, the socket becomes shallow and the ball is flattened and sits outside of it. Constant stresses on the joint cause cartilage erosion and damage to the bone tissue and over time osteoarthritis develops.

We think of hip dysplasia as a disease of Labradors but it can affect any breed, though it mainly happens in larger dogs rather than the toy breeds.

Responsible breeders have their dogs assessed for hip dysplasia before breeding to try to reduce the incidence of this painful condition. Environmental factors cannot cause hip dysplasia but may contribute to whether the disease develops clinically. There is no evidence that over-exercising when young can influence the onset of disease but certainly obesity in puppyhood can. A healthy dog is a lean dog.

If you notice stiffness, limping, difficulty sitting or getting up, problems clinbing stairs, then have your dog checked out. Even if they do not seem in pain, your vet may suspect hip problems and advise radiographs and manipulation of the hips under sedation/anaesthesia, which is the first step in diagnosing this condition.

Where the condition is mild, then weight management, exercise regimes, physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory pain killers will manage the disease successfully. However, for some dogs this management is not successful and surgery is required. This usually requires referral to an orthopaedic specialist and may involve MRI or CT scans for full diagnosis and advice.

One of our patients, a beautiful Border Collie called Bruce, was having trouble with his agility classes.

We had already diagnosed hip dysplasia and initially he was working well with pain relief but over time he started stiffening up, so his owners had to retire him and at only two he became depressed as competing in agility was what he really loved to do.

We referred him to a brilliant orthopaedic hospital where he had total hip replacement surgery. He’s now back to competing and loving life again.


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