Ella is a German shepherd puppy diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia. She is energetic, fun-loving and a stunning patient, being intelligent and quick to respond.
Her owner adopted her as a 12-week old pup, with high hopes that she would join him in his active lifestyle; he loves to run and cycle, and the only thing better than getting your heart rate up is doing so with your best friend.
His hopes were soon turned on their head when Ella presented with a persistent lameness and was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common diagnosis in large breeds, especially those that love to be active.
Hip dysplasia in puppies
Hip dysplasia affects many dogs, especially large breeds such German shepherds. While there is a genetic predisposition to this condition, there are also many environmental factors that will determine whether or not your dog develops hip dysplasia, and to what degree. Some of these factors include:
- muscle mass and development
- growth rate
As owners, we have control over some of these factors and can do quite a bit to prevent hip dysplasia from developing in our young dogs.
Reducing the risk
Starting with nutrition, young, large-breed dogs should be on an appropriate diet that will help to slow down their growth rate, and keep them at a healthy body condition score. The faster young dogs grow, the more likely they are to develop orthopedic conditions such as hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia.
Likewise, the more excess body weight they carry, the more likely they are to develop these conditions, while at the same time worsening the presentation and prognosis when hip dysplasia does develop.
Young, large-breed dogs should be kept on the skinny side of the spectrum for at least the first year of their lives, and indeed it will benefit them to remain there for their whole lives!
Activity and muscle mass go hand in hand. In general, keeping our young dogs active helps them to develop correctly. But this is also a slippery slope – we have to control the amount and kind of exercise we give our young dogs to avoid overworking muscles that are not yet ready for arduous exercise. So while an inactive puppy is predisposed to developing an orthopedic condition, an over-active puppy is just as likely to develop one of these conditions, if not more so.
When it comes to how much and what kind of exercise to give your puppy, it is worth consulting with your puppy trainer and Veterinary Rehab therapist. Each breed is different, and it helps to know what your young dog is capable of without the risk of injury.
We can also control many aspects of the environment to reduce the risk of developing orthopedic conditions. These include limiting access to stairs for the first 12 weeks of life, and thereafter allowing very controlled access, where the dog is only allowed to navigate stairs in a slow and deliberate manner (not like a crazy kukulu, as Candice Ramsay so aptly puts it!) We can also ensure that the floors they walk, run and play on are not slippery, and that we minimise the amount of jumping onto and off of things as much as possible in their youth. This includes the couch, bed and car.
Do you have a dog diagnosed with an orthopedic condition such as hip dysplasia, or elbow dysplasia?
Please speak to your vet about what Veterinary Rehabilitation can do for them. Just like Ella, your dog might benefit from Veterinary Rehabilitation, helping them to live longer, stronger and pain-free lives.