Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Don't Fear the Hips

by User Not Found | Aug 06, 2013

Four hip dogs in one week is too many.  It’s downright exhausting but mostly because of the two most feared words by any dog owner on the planet, Hip Dysplasia…..Dun dun duhhhhh.  I’m going to call it HD, look its already less intimidating.  HD is not really that scary and can be managed, sometimes easily, sometimes not as easily, but all you have to do is utter those words to send people running for the cat shelter.  It’s an all too common problem because of all the overbreeding, but the biggest problem we face is the fear that these words caused many years ago still existing today.  Limited treatment options, both surgically and medically meant a shortened life-span for our beloved pets back then.  But it’s time to educate ourselves and get over that!  Millions of wonderful dogs are being overlooked because we have forgotten that the medical field and veterinary field change all the time.  Today we take a step in the right direction and learn about what HD is and is not, then it won’t be so scary, right? Right!  Come on people, with enthusiasm.  This is a big one so you might as well sit back and get comfortable.  But I can promise it will be fun!

Hip Dysplasia is not just for laboradors and golden retrievers.  Did you know that on a frequency scale, Goldens are actually 9th?  That’s right, there are 8 other breeds that more frequently have HD.  Wow, already I feel better.  HD is a catch all term used to describe problems with the way the hip fits together and there are a few things you should know, starting with breeders.  You can have some fancy papers that say your dog’s hips have been certified, but do you know what that means?  Hips are certified as excellent, good, fair and poor when a dogs is 2 years old based on x-rays, this is known as OFA certification.  However, the breeders are not required to do it again even if the dog is bred for years.  Hips change over time so just because a dog has excellent hips at 2 years old, doesn’t mean they will at 3, 4 or 5 years old.  In fact, they might not even be able to pass.  And even if both parents have excellent hips, there is still a 25% chance that at least some of the puppies will have HD.  Dog hips are similar to a ball and socket.  The large bone in the thigh, the femur, has a head (the ball) which fits into the pelvic bone at the acetabulum (socket).  The entire arrangement is held in place by muscles and ligaments.  Improper alignment, loose ligaments, funny shaped femoral heads or sockets that are too shallow, etc can all be complicated by environmental influences as a dog grows up.  All dogs bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments grow at different rates, so even if both parents have excellent hips, that does not mean your dog isn’t at risk. The rate of growth, level of nutrition, type of diet and exercise can all contribute to HD.  So you can show me your fancy papers that say your dog’s hips were “certified” but for many reasons listed above, that really doesn’t mean much. 

So your dog has been diagnosed with HD (this can only be done with x-rays).  Our first instinct is to look for someone to blame, especially when we feel guilty or betrayed, but that is neither productive nor appropriate.  Our job is to develop a treatment program for your dog, which you can do!  Ginormous myth: Dogs with hip dysplasia are crippled.  Think about this, many dogs that you see playing, running, and walking every day have HD.  In fact, only 50% of dogs with HD will eventually require treatment.  AND some dogs with HD on x-ray don’t exhibit any signs or symptoms at all!  The bottom line is, dogs with HD can live long, happy pain-free lives and it is very treatable, even in advanced stages. 

For dogs that need it, surgery is an option.  There are several types of surgery, depending on your dog’s degree and type of problem, which include FHO (femoral head osteotomy), total hip replacement, and TPO (triple pelvic osteotomy).  They are all expensive and all have their pros and cons.  Realize with all these surgeries, you are treating the RESULTS of HD not the cause.  If either the femoral head or the acetabulum doesn’t form properly or the ligaments aren’t tight and secure or the muscle is degenerated or atrophied, the result is the hip joints rattling around.  Surgery can fix the improperly shaped hip, but the cause of HD is looseness and weakness of the ligaments and muscles that hold the hip together.  Therefore the best case scenario is to medically manage for as long as possible building strong muscle foundation.  A dog with no muscle mass because they have been kept in a cage isn’t a good surgical candidate, at least not until they can build up more muscle to support what will be surgically managed.  And if you can build muscle to get them ready for surgery, maybe you’ll see such great improvement that they won’t need surgery at all.

Drug therapies can help deal with pain.  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) (never steroids for arthritis), glucosamine, fish oils, etc can help especially when given before exercise.  You know this feeling, after you’ve returned from the gym on January 4th because once again you’ve resolved to work out more in the new year, the next morning you wake up feeling sore in muscles you didn’t even know you had.  You’ll have to discuss with your vet the best choice, because as you know with medications come side effects.  But medications should be given to dogs that need them.   Ideally, with the ability to exercise regularly pain-free, the meds could eventually be tapered or maybe even eliminated.  Do not under estimate the power of a thin dog!

Alternative veterinary medicine is making its way to being more accessible to pet owners as well as new developments in pain management.  Acupuncture, although not measured thru scientific studies, can be used to manage HD.  The information we do have shows it has the potential to relieve pain and promote natural healing.  Laser therapy may also have these positive effects, but keep in mind that every dog is different and what may work for one may not work for another. 

Now it’s time to talk about one of my kicks again.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your dog at a healthy weight.  In fact, I’ve come up with a new term, painfully thin.  Dogs with HD should really be on the extra light side of the scale.  Extra pressure and weight on the hips are even more likely to cause faster development of arthritis, muscle loss and ligament laxity.  What may appear “too thin” is actually spot on for these guys.  I don’t want to be able to count their ribs of course, but make sure you understand how to determine the right weight for your dog.  A moderate exercise plan and a good diet/nutrition will be needed no matter what.  Swimming is a fantastic and essential part of exercise, especially for dogs with HD.  It can strengthen the muscles around the hips without putting weight on the hips, which is what usually causes pain.  Even just 15-20 minutes of swimming a few times a week can provide relief.  It’s hard but dogs who are in pain still need to exercise.  The old way of thinking was to rest, but that’s changed.  Joints are made to move! Just ask the tin man.  The more sedentary they are, the more they degrade (or rust as it were).  You can help your pup after exercise with things like warm compresses, massage and passive range of motion exercises.  For hardwood floors, use rugs or boots to help with traction and no exercise session is complete without a nice soft orthopedic bed to sleep on afterwards.  With all that, I really hope I come back as one of my dogs in my next life! 

The decision about what to do for your dog if he/she has HD should be based on his/her age, the damage that is present and how fast it’s progressing as well as general health.

The simple fact is that no matter how good your dog’s hips are you’ll have to be ready with this information.  As dogs age, just as humans do, arthritis can and will be a problem, but working on a preventative program of diet, supplements and exercise will keep your dog more comfortable for much longer.  So get out there, take a walk and feel empowered now that hip dysplasia (see, no frightening music) isn’t such a scary place.  And take care of your pup like they take care of you.



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