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Canine Trauma

Dr. Henry De Boer Jr. on Canine Hip Dysplasia


My dog has just had his preliminary hip evaluations and I was told he had mild-moderate hip dysplasia. In view of this, should I stop working him?


For any of us that work breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia, this can be disheartening news to say the least. Having dealt with this question on countless occasions however, there are a number of recommendations that can be offered to those owners in this situation.

First and foremost you should make sure the radiographic evaluation is correct. If the x-rays were submitted to the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) or to Penn Hip, you can be reasonably confident that the evaluation is accurate. However, if the evaluation was done by your veterinarian, and if you have any questions as to his/her expertise in this area, it is not inappropriate to ask that the x-rays be reviewed by a veterinary radiologist, or any other veterinarian with experience in reading hip x-rays. Different breeds have varying hip joint conformation and unless your veterinarian is familiar with these differences and has experience with reading hip films, there is always the possibility that the evaluation could be better (or worse) than originally suspected. It is important to realize that grading hips is a subjective evaluation and therefore some slight variations in interpretation is inherent within the system.

On the presumption that the radiographic evaluation is correct there are a number of considerations that need to be made. The first is that this dog needs to be eliminated from any breeding program. If we, as breeders, are to make significant progress in reducing hip dysplasia we must constantly strive to breed only those dogs that are dysplastic free.

The second consideration that needs to be explored is whether or not you would elect to have surgery done if the dog is an acceptable candidate. There is a surgery that can be performed on dysplastic dogs that will help to retard the degenerative process that typically occurs with dsyplasia. The surgery is a triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) which will dramatically help some dogs, particularly if there is no pre-existing degenerative change in the joint. Clearly a TPO does not change the genetics of the situation, but it might extend the pain free longevity of the dog by virtue of slowing the degenerative process.

Whether or not surgery is done a number of steps should be taken to minimize the onset and magnitude of future problems. You should keep the dogs weight down and his muscle tone up. Extra weight and poor muscle tone both contribute to an increase in the speed of onset and the magnitude of the degenerative process within the hip joints. Additionally it is appropriate to use the nutritional chondroprotective agents that are available. Beyond chondroprotective agents, there is no documented evidence that suggests that nutritional supplementation helps dysplastic dogs. In fact the scientific information that exists shows that over supplementation with high energy foods, vitamins and minerals can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia.

The final decision that needs to be made is whether or not to continue to work the dog. We have to be primarily concerned with the comfort level of the dog during and after work. Whether or not the dog is comfortable does not depend on the x-rays, but rather the hip joints themselves. In many cases the level of change in the x-rays does not seem to have a very high correlation to how well the dog is able to do. Careful observation and evaluation of the dog is the best way to determine its comfort level.

Many of our working dogs have such high drive levels that they are relatively unlikely to demonstrate significant discomfort during work. It is more likely that you would see some signs of discomfort following work particularly within the first 24 hours after heavy activity. Symptoms might include difficulty in rising after rest, a stilted gait and reluctance to go upstairs or to jump up into a vehicle. When moving you might notice a waddling gait and if you watch the dog attempting to trot or lope you might notice a bunny-hopping gait with the hind legs. If you notice none of these symptoms during or after work, it is reasonably safe to say that the dog's comfort level is satisfactory. There is virtually no way to predict how long this circumstance will persist, but as long as it does so, it is reasonable to continue to train and trial. Clearly, you have to realize that you could invest a considerable amount of time and energy in training and have problems develop, but if that is a risk that you are willing to take, continuing to train is certainly acceptable.

An argument could be made that continued high impact on dysplastic joints could hasten the degenerative process within these joints. The other side of that argument is that continued activity and judicious training could increase the muscle tone and overall fitness of the dog which could lead to relatively sustained joint health. It has been my experience that dysplastic dogs that are exercised on a regular basis and kept at normal weights are slower to develop problems with pain than those dogs that are inactive and overweight.

Training dysplastic dogs requires good judgment in terms of avoiding or at least minimizing those actions that will stress the hip joints severely. Those actions would include high-speed turns as well as exercises that would require high levels of flexion and extension of the hip joints such as jumping. It is particularly important with these dogs to have a training plan so that you may get the most benefit from training with the least amount of activity. Fatigue increases the risk of problems dramatically.

Through the years I have witnessed a substantial number of dysplastic dogs work comfortably, enthusiastically, and over a suprisingly lengthy interval of time. It is our responsibility however, to enter a working program being conscious of the dog's comfort level as well as the fact that their working career could be cut short at any time. As handlers and owners, we have an obligation not to push the dog beyond the level at which the dog is comfortable.

Please also visit the
Working Dogs Canine Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Resources Page
featuring a comprehensive collection of links to informational materials.

Browse the entire collection of Dr. De Boer's articles
devoted to veterinary care of the sporting and working dog in the
Working Dogs DeBoer Archive.

Dr. Henry De Boer Jr. practices veterinary medicine at his Pioneer Valley Veterinary Hospital in western Massachusetts. An accomplished competitor in the sport of Schutzhund, his involvement with working dogs dates to the mid 1960's when he began training and handling hunting dogs. In 1984 he became involved with the sport of Schutzhund and has gradually risen to the level of national competitor. Known primarily as a motivational trainer, he also provides training assistance to others to help them achieve their training goals. His wide range of experience lends a unique understanding to the special veterinary problems of working canines and their handlers. Dr. De Boer provides specialized online veterinary services to working dogs and their owners on his innovative web site Working K9 Veterinary Consultation Services.

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