Large-breed puppies have a lot of growing to do in their first year of life. With good care and nutrition, the majority will pass into adulthood without any growing pains. However, if you own or are thinking of buying a giant breed of puppy, beware of these bone disorders:
The hip is a ball and socket joint where problems can arise if the growth of these two parts is not in harmony and they fail to fit together properly as the dog grows.
Hip dysplasia is unfortunately common in many large dog breeds, particularly Labradors. It often becomes evident at around six months of age. Sometimes they are obviously lame on their hind legs but others just have an 'odd' hind limb gait or 'bunny hop' their back legs rather than running properly.
Hip dysplasia is diagnosed using x-rays. The majority of cases are treated successfully with pain relief. However, more severely affected dogs can be candidates for hip replacement surgery.
Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD)
Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is an inflammation of the growth plates of the long bones in large- or giant-breed puppies. It makes the legs painful, causes a temperature, and often anorexia. This condition is diagnosed using x-rays, treated with pain relief, and in most cases, the pups grow out of it once they reach adulthood.
In many cases of bone disorders in young, large and giant breed puppies, the chances of them suffering can be reduced by ensuring they are fed a high quality diet suited to their unique nutritional needs, and that their parents were carefully selected and tested before breeding.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)
In joints, the bone ends are coated with cartilage. This smooth but tough material ensures the joints can move freely and that the underlying bone is protected. In affected dogs, the cartilage is dry, cracked, and can splinter inside the joint. This is very painful and the joints will often swell. The most commonly affected are the elbows, knees, and shoulders.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) usually starts between four and ten months of age, and is more common in the front legs than the back, Males are more vulnerable than females; there is also a clear familial link, so affected dogs should not be bred. This is why many breeds are elbow-scored (an x-ray that checks for joint deformities) by responsible breeders before they are mated.
The condition can be diagnosed using x-rays, but in some cases, MRI or CT scans are required to assess the damage fully. Treatment is with painkillers; however, many dogs will need surgery to remove the broken fragments of cartilage from the joint space.
Sadly, as with hip dysplasia, many affected dogs will improve once they are fully mature, but the vast majority will suffer with arthritis in later life. Unfortunately, there is no cure for OCD.
The classic presentation is a six- to eighteen-month-old male (it is less common in females) who has suddenly gone lame despite no history of an accident. The leg will be sore to the touch; this may happen on several occasions, but affecting different legs.
This condition is diagnosed by taking x-rays of the legs and treated with painkillers. The vast majority of dogs will grow out of it by eighteen to twenty-four months of age.
If you are concerned about your dog, take him to your vet. Most of these bone problems are easily diagnosed. While some may affect dogs for life, they will outgrow others and suffer no ill effects in the long term.