Lameness in Large Breed Puppies

So you always loved large breed dogs, but you have heard that they are prone to hip problems. While hip dysplasia is a common issue with large breed dogs, there are other sources of lameness in large breed dog, many of which that develop while they are puppies. Some lameness is transient, commonly due to being a clumsy puppy. If lameness persists for more than 7-10 days, you should have for puppy examined by a veterinarian. Often radiographs are needed to pinpoint the cause.

Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) is caused by a defect in the cartilage inside the joint. The shoulder is the most commonly affected joint, but it can less commonly in the elbows, hips, knees and tarsus. Conservative therapy with rest and anti-inflammatories may resolve some cases, most often surgery is needed to remove the diseased cartilage.

Panosteitis refers to inflammation of growing bones. Growing pain, as it is sometimes called, is a mysterious disease of unknown cause that causes fever and lameness in large breed puppies usually less than 2 years of age. Often the lameness comes and goes and may affect different limbs with each episode. The episodes of pain will most often resolve by the time the puppy is two years old. During flare-ups, your veterinarian may recommend rest and pain medications.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy is a less common inflammatory disease that affects the growth plates at the ends of the long bones of large breed puppies. The owner will notice lameness and swelling near one of the puppies joints. Most cases will resolve spontaneously, but in rare cases, it may result in permanent damage to the growth plate and abnormal bone development. Surgery may be needed to correct bone deformities caused by the abnormal growth plate.

Elbow Dysplasia is caused by an abnormality of one or more of the three bones that makes up the elbow joint, the radius, ulna and humerus. The owner will notice forelimb lameness, and often, the puppy will be reluctant to extend the elbow fully. While not all cases require surgery, if a loose fragment of bone is present inside the joint, most puppies do better with surgery to remove the fragment.

Hip Dysplasia is probably the most widely recognized condition of large breed puppies. All puppies are born with normal hips, but as they grow the ball and socket hip joint does not develop correctly. The cause is a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors such as over-exercise and excessive weight during growth. While many cases can be managed medically, some do require surgery.

Patellar luxation is a condition that is perhaps more common in smaller breeds, and large breed puppies can also develop it. The patella (or knee cap) normally slides in a groove as the knee is extended and flexed.
With luxation, the patella pops out of the groove either to the medial side (inside) or lateral side (outside) the groove. If the lameness is the only occasion, then surgery is not needed. However, lameness can become persisted in which case surgery is the best option.

Owners of large breed puppies are encouraged to speak to their veterinarian to develop strategies to minimize the risk of their pet developing one of these conditions. In many cases, during the puppy vaccines, your veterinarian will weigh your puppy and recommend feeding guidelines based on your puppies current weight and age. Getting your puppy through its critical growth phase will minimize the risk of orthopedic problems and ensure a pain-free life.

If you have any questions or concerns, give us a call at 506.622.2355 or book an appointment to see one of our veterinarians.

Written by: Dr. Randi Hartt, DVM