Hip dysplasia is a common problem among large breed dogs; however, the diagnosis is no longer something to fear or shy away from. With the proper medication, weight control and exercise your dog can lead a normal and fun-filled life. I know because I have an 11-1/2 year old yellow lab that swims, runs, and enjoys life while living with hip dysplasia.
Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that affects a dog’s hip joints. Obese dogs are more prone to hip dysplasia. Pet owners need to make sure they feed their dogs a high-quality food and treats to ensure proper nutrition and weight. It is common to find hip dysplasia in large dogs such as Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers.
The hip joints, known as ball and socket joints, are what attach the dog’s hind legs to its body. Those joints need to rotate freely in order for the dog to walk normally. A dog’s hip joints are similar to those in humans. The most common way hip dysplasia is diagnosed is when the dog has a noticeable limp and is taken to the vet.
My lab, Abby, was diagnosed quite accidentally with severe hip dysplasia in 2001, when she was just shy of two years old. She had winced in pain while running through the woods. She hit the ground and stayed there for a while. When she stood up we knew she was in pain, as she was limping and whimpering. We took her to the vet, who told us she had ruptured the cruciate ligament in the left knee, which is a common knee injury. She was overweight by about 20 pounds at that time. The vet said to schedule surgery in a week and told us to put her on a diet. He wanted her to lose weight to help take some pressure off of her knee and help in her recovery.
We put her on a diet and a week later took her in for surgery. The vet told us they would take x-rays, operate on the knee and call us when she was in recovery. The doctor called me within an hour to tell me that the x-ray showed she also had extreme hip dysplasia in both hips and would probably not live to be 5 years old. This was not at all what I had expected to hear. Needless to say I was at my wits end. I don’t know how I got through until the next day when we picked her up.
Her recuperation from the knee surgery was excellent. I was told she would not put weight on the knee for a week. He didn’t know Abby very well, as she put weight on it two days later and was walking with just a slight limp after a few weeks. We also learned when a dog blows out one knee the second knee will follow suit.
A few months after the knee surgery we moved 700 miles to Tennessee. Three months later she blew out the other knee. We took her to a vet who was recommended as an expert in knee injuries. At least by then she had lost over 20 pounds and was in much better condition. I told the new vet about her previous knee surgery and also about the hip dysplasia. He said he would take x-rays and review her hips.
When we picked her up after surgery the vet said she did very well. We could see that, as she was walking out with him using all four legs! His procedure was much different from the first vet. Her scar is half the size and she was able to walk without a limp within a week. He also gave us the good news that her hips were not as bad as we had been told and we should just take it day by day.
Five years later she when she was about 7, the hip dysplasia started to rear its ugly head. She refused to get in the back of our SUV, which was the first clue. We took immediate action and drove her directly to the vet. We were living in a different area of Tennessee, therefore, a different vet yet again. This time we had a female vet and she said x-rays were needed but she was sure it was the hips giving her problems. We left her there for the x-rays, and when we picked her up later that day the vet showed us the film. We could clearly see how different her hip joints looked compared to what a normal joint looks like.
I was prepared for the worst, but the good news was that she did not need hip surgery. We discussed two medications and chose the one that fit her needs better. She gets 50 mgs once a day in a chewable tablet. Does she still have problems? Yes, and she always will. Her big problem areas are steep steps, sitting down and getting up. She walks fine and she runs like the wind. She can run around the pool at full speed, jump in for her Frisbee, swim to the steps and climb out. She can do that for hours on end. Without her meds she would not be able to be that active without a noticeable limp.
In 2001 we were told she would not be with us longer than 5 more years. Well, it’s 8 plus years later and she is living proof that with the right vet and the right medications, hip dysplasia is not the end of the world. The bottom line is this: get a second opinion or a third if necessary. Do your own research and then find a vet you can trust with your dog’s life. Don’t panic when you hear the diagnosis of hip dysplasia. With love, proper nutrition and medication, your dog can live a long and active life!
Read more articles by Anna Lee
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