It doesn't look like it at first glance. However, as far as design and functionality are concerned, our best friends have many similar bones, joints, muscles, tendons, sinews and nerves to us. And they often suffer from the same illnesses as people. In the following we have summarised what you should know about potential illnesses of the musculoskeletal system in your dog, and how to correctly deal with these problems. You will find out what can make life difficult for your dog, what your animal is lacking and how to deal with the problems.
Hip dysplasia (HD) is one of the most frequently-occurring musculoskeletal illnesses in dogs. The hip joints connect the back legs to the rump and allow the dog to move them forwards, backwards, sideways and towards the front and rear at an angle. If the hip joint is healthy, the ball of the femoral head fits exactly into the acetabulum. In the event of deviations in the shape or interaction of the structures, hip joints are referred to as dysplastic. In principle, any breed can be affected by HD, whereby medium-sized and large breed tend to be the most frequent sufferers. The predisposition is already there at birth, but only starts to develop during the growth phase. Development can be accelerated by giving the animal food that is too rich in protein or energy, or due to excessive physical activity. HD is inherited in the majority of cases, for which reason the majority of breeder's associations only breed using dogs that are free of HD. The characteristics increase from generation to generation. For this reason, successors can develop worse hip joints than their predecessors. Or generations are skipped, and the successors of healthy parents suffer from the disease of their predecessors. For this reason, when you are buying a puppy you should ensure that it has an HD-free bloodline.
The symptoms vary depending on the age of the dog and the stage of the illness. The dog doesn't want to run, sits down more often, is unsteady, limps more frequently, occasionally yelps when playing or just lets itself drop when it lies down. The X-leg position is also typical, where the heels are turned towards the inside. The best course of action is to obtain proof of the HD by means of an X-ray, during which the joints can be extended under a mild anaesthetic. Another option would be the Ortolani test, in which the vet allows the femoral head to briefly pop out of the acetabulum and lets it jump back in again. The result of the X-ray examination affects breeding approval. Of course, X-rays can be taken at any age without anaesthetic or official evaluation. The degree of severity of HD cannot be determined until the dog is one year old or at the end of the growth phase.
In spite of state-of-the-art medicine, HD is incurable. It is only possible to slow down its progress and reduce the pain. The sooner the disease is detected, the better the chance of giving the dog a virtually normal life. The treatment depends on age and the degree of severity. In the early stages, conservative methods using pain-killing and anti-inflammatory medication is often sufficient. Muscle build-up training in combination with massage and manual joint therapy and balanced requirement-oriented nourishment give the dog its usual quality of life back.
Elbow dysplasia (ED) is a chronic development disorder of the growing skeleton. Lack of development or abnormal development in the vicinity of the elbow, whereby the ulna and the radius are incongruent with the bone of the upper arm, can lead to disease in the joint concerned. ED mainly occurs at a young age, because the length growth of the bones is particularly active during this period. Breeds that develop quickly are the most affected, such as the German Shepherd, the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever. The dogs are usually fully grown at 10 to 12 months, but with large breeds this can take several months longer.
If your young dog shows a medium to high degree of lameness and /or a typical relieving posture with the paws and forearms turned to the outside and possibly twisted elbows, it is essential to consult a vet. The presence of ED can only be determined using X-ray diagnosis. ED is genetic in 70-80 percent of the dogs that are affected. However, the type of food that is provided during rearing also plays a part. Food that is too energy-rich, rapid weight increases and rapid growth are unfavourable for healthy bone development. Breeds weighing more than 40 kg should therefore be given protein-reduced food from the 6th month onwards. After this we recommend changing from the junior 1 product to junior 2. When choosing puppies it is important for the parents to be ED-free and the breeder to be aware of healthy nutrition and exercise in accordance with age. Overstressing during the growth phase such as long walks, running next to the bike and frequently climbing steps should be avoided at all costs. You do not have to pack your puppies in cotton wool, but it is advisable to pay attention to the details that have been mentioned with breeds that are predestined for ED.
With all manifestations of ED, the dogs show reluctance to move and lameness. Because the more they move, the more the pain caused by the inflammation-related effusion in the joint increases. In spite of this, it is essential to move your dog in a controlled way. Walks on the lead, swimming exercises, aquatherapy and physiotherapy provide gentle muscle development. Unfortunately osteoarthritis cannot be avoided or undone. However, these therapies can help to alleviate the complaints and minimise consequential damage. Unfortunately an operation with subsequent physiotherapy is unavoidable in many cases.
Slipped disks that can accompany lameness of the back legs give many dogs painful problems. They occur as a result of degenerative changes to the disks, ageing, overstressing and overweight or hereditary preloading. Particularly dogs with a long spine such as Pekinese, Spaniels, Basset Hounds and German Shepherds are affected by this. Slipped disks generally occur along the entire spine.
The symptoms can differ drastically depending on the location an severity of the occurrence. Possible signs are a lack of coordination, lameness, a shaky gait, dragging of the hind legs, lack of stability control, "seal position", tense or hunched back, or refusing jumps and climbing steps. In the event of a slipped disk caused by overloading, the connective tissue ring tears and the disk enters the vertebral canal. It cannot absorb the pressure between the vertebrae and bursts, whereby the pulpous nucleus comes out and presses against the spinal cord and the nerves. This extremely painful condition makes the back muscles spasm considerably, which increases the immobility of the vertebral column and the pressure on the disk. In the case of a degenerative prolapse, the centre of the disk does not rebuild itself like connective tissue, but like cartilage or bone. The non-elastic, calcified mass leads to damage to the outer parts of the disk, whereby tearing and then prolapsing of the changed disk core in the vertebral canal occurs. With a damaged disk, a small trauma such as jumping out of the car or playing with other dogs is sufficient to provoke a prolapse. Age-related disk damage can occur from the 10th year onwards, and breed-related prolapses can occur between the ages of 4 and 6.
In mild cases a disk prolapse can be treated conservatively – with heat, medication and complete rest! Because the medication removes the pain, the dog may move too much and a slightly bulged disk may prolapse completely. With complete prolapses and lameness, surgical intervention is most likely to succeed. The operation should be carried out within the first 12 hours. Good results can be achieved with physiotherapy after both surgical or conservative treatment. All measures should take place intensively and over a long period. The goal is always reducing pain. With the conservative treatment, the tense back musculature is loosened. This reduces the pressure and encourages spontaneous regression of the prolapse. Physiotherapy also counteracts regression of the musculature. If your dog already has problems with the spinal column, or belongs to one of the breeds that is frequently affected, you should avoid the following: jumping out of the car, climbing stairs, draughts and cold floors and extreme frolicking. Pay attention to the weight of your dog and keep its back straight when you pick it up.
The cruciate ligament is a tendon in the knee joint. There is an outer, inner, front and rear cruciate ligament. It is used to stretch the leg. The ligaments cross in the centre of the knee joint, hence the name. Together with the other structures of the knee ligaments, the cruciate ligaments stabilise the joint during any movement. A cruciate ligament rupture or tear is one of the most frequently-occurring orthopaedic injuries in dogs. This usually involves the front cruciate ligament. This can rupture as a result of an accident, due to normal ageing or because of constant overstressing. An unlucky step into a hole in the ground is often sufficient. In dogs, the cruciate ligament almost never ruptures at once, but tears fibre by fibre. The final rupture is usually attributable to an earlier injury.
Some animals whimper audibly when a cruciate ligament rupture occurs, but often the injury remains undetected for quite some time. The dog is lame in the hind quarters for 2-3 days and then often shows no symptoms for several weeks. You should therefore carefully observe whether your dog is running in a different way and how it positions its paws when it changes direction. If a dog suddenly only uses one of its back legs or protects the back legs to an excessive degree, a cruciate ligament rupture is probably the cause. Dogs with a cruciate ligament rupture are reluctant to move and continuously lose muscle mass. Failure to pay attention to these indications can result in severe osteoarthritis or permanent lameness. For this reason, you should consult a vet as soon as possible. The vet will check the mobility of the knee joint, usually using the so-called drawer test. If the front cruciate ligament has ruptured completely, the lower leg will be able to be pulled forwards like a drawer in relation to the upper leg. Furthermore, the effusion caused by the tear in the knee will be clearly felt.
A ruptured cruciate ligament will not grow together again. But there are many treatment options. With small and lightweight dogs, conservative treatment may be possible. However, if the injury is not operated on, the dog may suffer meniscus damage. In the worst case, the cruciate ligament at the healthy side may also rupture because of the constant overstressing. With operative therapy, consequential damage seldom occurs if the knee joint is stabilised in good time. However, the operation method should be selected in accordance with the age, weight and need for movement of the dog. Physiotherapy can begin immediately after stitching. Strict weight monitoring and moderate movement are other important measures on the way to full recovery of the dog.
The Cauda-equina compression syndrome (degenerative lumbosacral stenosis) is a wear-related neurological disease of the spinal column that can cause severe pain and paralysis. At the transition of the lumbar vertebrae and the sacrum, nerves running through the vertebral canal protrude, which are known as cauda-equina (Latin for horse tail) because of their appearance. These nerves supply parts of the back leg and tail musculature and the sphincters of the bladder and the rectum. If these are damaged by pressure, squashing, swelling or inflammation, the neurological deficits that are typical of this disease will occur. This usually affects older dogs and medium-sized to large breeds such as the German Shepherd, the Poodle, the Giant Schnauzer, the Siberian Husky, the Doberman, the Rottweiler and the Boxer.
The disease can be triggered by stress such as running, jumping and climbing stairs, but also by tumours, fractures and slipped disks. The initial clinical symptoms usually occur from the age of 6 onwards, but can happen much sooner or later in individual cases. The symptoms usually develop over several weeks or months. Affected dogs show pain when getting up, refuse to jump or climb stairs, and do not want to be held by the croup. During the course of the disease the back legs can become paralysed, the tail may be lifeless, the hind quarters may suffer sensory loss and uncontrolled urination or defecation may occur due to muscle loss (atrophy). The exact diagnosis requires a detailed neurological examination including X-rays or computer tomography or magnetic resonance imaging.
Depending on the temperament of the dog, symptomatic and inflammation-reducing therapy with comprehensive movement reduction or also gold acupuncture may achieve results. Any overweight must be reduced. In cases where the compressing cause can be surgically corrected, an operation must be considered. If paralysis has not yet occurred, the chances of an improvement or cure are good, because the nerves of the cauda-equina are extremely capable of regeneration. Physiotherapy, medical gymnastics, massaging and stretching can be helpful as supporting measures. The goal of every therapy is to increase the well-being of your dog by means of short-term pain reduction and the long-term build-up of the supporting musculature in this area.
Spondylosis is a degenerative change to the spinal column. It leads to bony formations on the body of the vertebra and the degeneration of the elastic intervertebral disks. The spinal column is divided into the five areas of cervical vertebra, thoracic vertebra, lumbar vertebra, sacral vertebra and caudal vertebra. The individual areas consist of vertebra that each have a special shape and function. The spinal column protects the spinal cord and is the supporting framework for the musculoskeletal system and the inner organs. The spinal column is extremely flexible in the neck and lumbar area, whereas it is extremely rigid in the thoracic and sacral vertebra area. At walking pace, the spinal column pivots from the shoulder to the hip in an S-shaped movement from back to front. Since the last vertebra and intervertebral disks of the moving section cannot transfer this movement to the right part, the movement energy has to be buffered there. The stress is extremely high in this transitional area, and the spinal column is extremely susceptible to spondylosis. From a pathological point of view the spondylosis is a protection mechanism - the bony prongs formed by the body are intended to take the pressure away from the intervertebral disk and stabilise the weak points.
The possible causes include genetic disposition, overbred body shapes, environmental influences and trauma and long-term overstressing caused by sport or obesity. Although spondylosis can occur in any dog, Boxers are the main susceptible breed. Since the illness seldom has clear complaints, it is often discovered by chance. The first complaints usually occur when individual vertebra start to form bridges. If the vertebra have not yet fused together, spur or bridge-type bone formations can cause extremely painful irritation of the periosteum. The dogs have difficulty standing up, avoid steps and no longer want to jump. The back may be clearly bent by the pain. When ossification of the vertebrae and stiffening of the spinal column are complete, the bone irritation reduces and the pain subsides. The formations can adopt considerable dimensions, and can extend as far as the nerve branches in the side area of the vertebral body. In extreme cases, entire sections of the spinal column can be rigidly locked together by a solid bone bridge. We speak of a spondylosteoarthritis if the small spinal joints above the spinal column are also included in the degenerative event.
Basically, a dog can live with spondylosis quite easily, provided that it is not currently in an acutely painful phase. However, all pushing and pulling movements of the spinal column should be avoided. For example, climbing steep stairs, jumping into the car or onto the sofa and ball games involving sudden stops. You should also pay attention to the weight of your dog! Dogs do not want to run during the painful phase. You should accept this. Because each movement can trap more nerves and in the worst case cause paralysis of the rear extremities. Massages, heat and magnetic field therapies can help to relieve the back musculature and reduce pain during this phase. Even though the bone changes are irreversible, the symptoms can be well alleviated by means of targeted therapies and the quality of life maintained over the long term.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most frequently found illness in dogs. They often suppress the pain and try to run, even though there are problems with the bones, muscles or joints. Areas that come under considerable strain such as the shoulders, elbows, hips or knees are often affected. There are many causes for osteoarthritis, all of which can lead to abnormal joint stress. The most frequent of these are: accelerated growth, obesity, malpositioning and disfiguration, accidents or old injuries, operations on the joints and overstressing caused by too many ball games, jumping and climbing stairs and running next to the bicycle too soon. Understressing of joints is just as bad, since regular movement is important for sufficient production of joint fluid and the supply of the adjacent structures.
The joint is the pivot in the body. The joint capsule encloses and protects the bones of the respective joint. The joint bones are also enclosed by a layer of cartilage. This cartilage acts as a shock absorber, without which smooth movement and loading of the joints would not be possible. If this sophisticated system is interfered with by malpositioning, erroneous loading or injury, the cartilage loses stability and lubrication. This ultimately leads to the bone rubbing against bone. Mobility is reduced, resulting in crunching or cracking joints with severe restriction of movement. The joint cartilage then only remains smooth if pressure and tension are exerted on it in a targeted way. The following symptoms of osteoarthritis should be taken seriously, even at an early stage: Brief start-up pain after resting phases, problems with weather fluctuations and wet/cold weather, slight to serious paralysis, visible movement restrictions and deterioration in the musculature because of relieving posture. Your dog does not need to show all of these symptoms, because each animal reacts differently.
Osteoarthritis is not curable, but it is possible to reduce the pain, safeguard joint mobility and slow down the progress of the illness. Pay attention to providing the dog with a draught-free, soft lying surface, an aid for getting into the car and healthy nutrition. Avoid obesity, since this makes movement unnecessarily difficult. Move your dog in a controlled and regular way, and adapt the movement intensity to the health of the dog. Physiotherapy can provide sensible alternatives to active movement. You can support the treatment with food additives, but these can only get into the joint by means of exercise. Heat is a good self-help method for osteoarthritis. It reduces the pain in the joint and the surrounding musculature and improves circulation. Important: Heat must not be used in the event of joint inflammation. It can be recognised by an extremely hot and possible swollen joint. In cases such as this, cold compresses on the elbows and knees help. If you suspect that your dog has osteoarthritis, consult your vet and have the stage of the illness checked. He will initiate all of the important therapy measures.