Vol 6 No 3

Summer 2004

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Kids & Dogs

Canine Hip Dysplasia

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Hip Dysplasia in Golden Retrievers
"We think our dog has Hip Dysplasia. What do we do?"

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) is a condition in which the hip ball and socket don't fit together properly, causing wear, pain and disability.

As the dog ages, the affected hip joint gradually becomes arthritic and degenerates, potentially leading to the total crippling of the hind limbs.

The exact cause of hip dysplasia is unknown, but it is believed to develop because the skeleton grows faster than the supporting muscles.  The imbalanced growth rate is influenced by heredity and diet.  Other unknown factors may influence the development and severity of hip dysplasia.

Since hip dysplasia has an hereditary component, dogs with this condition should not be bred. 

Not all dogs with hip dysplasia are affected to the same degree.  The disease can be very mild and cause no signs at all, or it can be severe and cause crippling of the hind limbs.  Whereas the disease usually affects both hips, occasionally it only affects one side. Although this disease is most common in large-breed dogs, it can occur in any breed.

 Golden Retrievers are commonly affected, and while the diagnosis can be of serious concern to owners, the severity of the condition -- and treatment options -- vary widely.

Lizzy -- A Severe Case Requiring Surgery

Lizzy most likely began her life at a puppy mill, the typical source of pet store puppies like her.  She was 4 months old when she was surrendered to GRRI-NJ.  GRRI volunteer Karen Thompson was Lizzy's foster Mom, and in very short order, her adoptive Mom as well.

But over the next few months,  Karen noticed that Lizzy was becoming exceptionally clumsy and seemed to be dragging her back end.  X-rays then confirmed that Lizzy had severe CHD in both hips.  Karen's regular vet referred her to Dr. Gregory Zoltan, of Lebanon, NJ who specializes in hip surgeries.

The  procedure Dr. Zolton recommended was  bilateral Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO), in which the tops of both femur bones (the ball of the hip ball and socket joint) would be removed.   Dr. Zolton explained that when the ball is removed, the dog's body forms scar tissue that supports the femur.  He also noted that young dogs are particularly good candidates for this type of surgery.

Though it can be effective, and has been for Lizzy, the surgery doesn't come cheap:  $2500.

Tyler -- A Moderate Case Responsive to Lifestyle Changes

Tyler was somewhere between 9 and 10 years old when he was surrendered by his former owners.  He was severely overweight and in such pain from CHD that he could barely walk and had to be lifted (not an easy task!) into the car transporting him to his foster home.  Over the next few months, he lost approximately 20 lbs, was given glucosomine and chondroitin supplements every day, and started a gradually increasing daily regiment of gentle exercise (such as walking on soft ground) -- all to reduce the stress on his joints and build compensating muscle.   And it worked!  Evenutually, Tyler could even run ... especially if food was involved!

Common Symptoms

CHD symptoms can show up after a puppy's first growth spurt, as with Lizzy, or as with Tyler, it can develop slowly over a lifetime. Things to look for:

1. Weakness or lameness to the rear legs after exercise or when first getting up after resting.

2.  A bunny hop gait.

3.  Clumsiness, awkwardness or limping when walking.

4.  Inability to jump or run.

5.  Decreased activity, less energy.

6.   Difficulty going up and down stairs.

7.   Sitting or lying instead of standing.

8.   Unsteadiness.

9.  Worsening symptoms in bad weather.

10.  Whimpering when touched on joints.

11. Loss of muscle mass in the thigh area.

If symptoms occur and persist, a dog should be x-rayed for a definitive diagnosis.

Surgical Interventions

In addition to the FHO that Lizzy had, other surgical interventions also exist:

Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO) - In a TPO, the pelvis is cut in three places and then rotated to allow normal function with less arthritis. If this is done at the proper development phase it can be a lifelong solution to CHD.

Total Hip Replacement (THR) - THR is recommended for adult dogs that are severely dysplastic. The hips are replaced with prosthetic hips. They are composed of three parts-the femoral stem, the femoral head, and the acetabular cup. Over 95% of dogs who undergo this procedure are able to function normally after surgery.

Other Therapeutic & Lifestyle Interventions

For dogs who either don't need or aren't good candidates for surgery, other therapeutics, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, and chiropracty, can also be effective.  Glucosomine and Chondroitin supplements (available in human grade or under the veterinary trade name Cosequin) are often especially helpful for the dysplastic dog.

Some Lifestyle Tips:

1.   Elevate your dog's  food and water bowls.

2.  Keep your dog lean; excess weight exacerbatest the problem.

3.   Massage your dog as often as possible.

4.   Keep your dog warm.

5.   Provide your dog with  a soft, warm place to sleep.

6.  Apply warm compresses to painful areas (no electric heating pads-they can cause  burns).

7.  Provide your dog with regular moderate play and exercise, such as swimming and walking on soft ground.

8. If your dog has difficulty getting in and out of the car on other high places, provide your dog with a dog ramp (available at pet supply centers.).

Thanks to Sylvia Mogerman and Eileen McFadden for contributing to this article.