There can be many reasons why a dog shows problems while walking.
In young dogs, there is a condition known as hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is more common in large breed dogs such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Labradors. It is linked to the abnormal growth of the hip joint. The hip is a ball joint. If the ball and socket do not form properly as the puppy grows, permanent changes can occur that cause arthritis.
The symptoms of hip dysplasia in young dogs consist of standing with the toes turned outward and the hocks tucked over the hind legs so that the animal’s feet are spread from the rear. These dogs also “jump” when they run, their hind legs lifting together off the ground and landing together in a distinctive way. Owners also say they notice their pet is slow to get up from a resting position.
Treatment for these animals includes joint supplements to reduce inflammation, slow joint damage, and promote healthy cartilage. These dogs also benefit from regular daily walks to keep the hip muscles strong and supportive. Swimming is a particularly good exercise because it does not involve additional weight on the hips.
In general, keeping the animal’s weight to a minimum is very helpful in minimizing stress on the joints.
Another source of distress and lameness in dogs is injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee joint. The word “cross” means to cross or the shape of a cross. The cruciate ligament is so called because it is one of the two ligaments found in the knee known as the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments. These ligaments are buried deep inside the knee joint and intersect. When intact and healthy, they stabilize the knee, preventing it from sliding back and forth. It is the anterior cruciate ligament that is at risk of tearing. The posterior ligament is stable in its location.
The anterior ligament will sometimes tear because the animal sustains a trauma to the knee. It would involve a form of twisting, excessive pressure on the knee. The most common cause is chronic weakening of the ligament due to arthritis and repetitive trauma. It can be a combination of the two.
A cruciate ligament weakened by years of supporting an overweight dog will suddenly tear when the dog starts to run and pushes with its hind legs. In these cases, the animal may simply play in the yard and suddenly become lame.
The initial injury is often very painful. The dog will become a “lame leg carrier”, not wanting to set foot. Cross tears can occur in small breed dogs as well as large breeds. Not all dogs that tear the cruciate ligament are overweight. Some dogs appear to be genetically prone to this injury. It is also not uncommon for dogs that tear the crossbones of one knee to see the other knee develop the same injury in the future.
In dogs weighing less than 30 pounds, the knee can often stabilize without surgery. It will take time, at least four to six weeks. During this time, it is helpful to keep the animal on anti-inflammatory drugs. These dogs should also start taking joint supplements and they should continue taking joint supplements for the rest of their lives to reduce arthritis in the knee. It is also very important to keep the weight of the animal to a minimum.
In dogs over 30 pounds, surgery is indicated. Without surgery, these dogs find it difficult to support their weight. The surgery for this condition is orthopedic surgery. It requires quite a bit of post-operative care, but will be worth it to stabilize the knee. This is especially true for very large dogs weighing over 70 pounds.
All dogs who experience this injury should start taking joint supplements and stick with them for the rest of their lives.