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My puppy has a hurt leg

Q: I bought a three month old puppy recently that was very malnourished, dehydrated and generally in poor shape. A month later she had tripled in size and seemed to be doing fine. Then her ankles became too weak to support her weight and look for all the world like they are broken, even though her x-rays are fine. My vet thinks with the right balance of calcium she will outgrow the problem. But it's so severe, I'm afraid she may always be crippled if something isn't done. Do you have any advice?

A: Skeletal growth problems are common to puppies of large breeds fed an inappropriate diet. Joints require a perfect fit to work properly. Bones also grow at their ends, close to the joint. When a bone growth problem is present, it usually shows first at the joints. Hocks and carpi become deformed and enlarged. An affected puppy may have an odd angle to the leg, such as being over or under at the carpus. It may be obvious in only one leg, or all legs.

If the problem is identified early, fixing the diet is often sufficient for a complete recovery. Sometimes supportive splints are necessary for a few weeks. After nine months of age, the problem is correctable for normal function, but the dog may have knobby joints for the rest of it's life.

Both under-nutrition and over-nutrition are problems for the large breed pups. Feeding a diet too high in protein and calcium causes the bones to grow too rapidly, not allowing the joints to form correctly. Feeding a diet too low in protein or calcium causes weak bones and deformities, even fractures. Rather than trying to calculate specific nutrient levels and balancing the diet yourself, the solution is much easier. Feed one of the top name brand puppy foods; these companies have done the work for you. Do not automatically supplement with vitamins or minerals, unless your veterinarian instructs you to do so. Treats are OK, as long as the main diet is the commercial puppy food. In general, the foods available in super markets and pet shops with familiar brands, from companies that have been around for years are safer to try than new, unfamiliar brands.


What can I use to treat my pet's arthritis?

Q: What should I do about the pain my dog suffers from arthritis? Is there anything I can do that doesn't include surgery?

A: As with humans, dogs suffer from various forms of arthritic pain. Arthritis is inflammation in the joints caused by age related cartilage deterioration, infections, trauma, and toxic reactions. A common arthritis of older, large breed dogs is hip dysplasia.

Many medications are available through your veterinarian to help combat arthritis. Anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and phenylbutazone help reduce arthritic pain and swelling. Some of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are available over the counter, and others require prescription. Many forms are available, from pills administered several times a day, to weekly injections. They can be used safely, and vary in effectiveness. Stomach upset is the most common side effect. You should follow the guidance of your veterinarian even when using the over the counter products.

Steroids can be used, and are generally more powerful, thus more effective than the NSAIDs at reducing pain and inflammation. They are only available by prescription, due to the potential harmful side effects if not used properly. Prednisolone is a common example.

Glycosamino glycan products, such as Synoflex, Glycoflex and others, help the body's natural production of joint lubricating fluid. They are often used in conjunction with other arthritis treatments. Condroitin Sulfate, msm, shark cartilage and other natural supplements may help joints, but have not been thoroughly scientifically proven.

Topical anti-inflammatory agents, such as DMSO, are helpful for very localized problems. Some medications can be added to the DMSO to penetrate the affected joint directly for maximum effectiveness.

Physical therapy is often beneficial in keeping the dog up and active. Swimming pool activities, leg massages, and range of motion exercises can help keep the joints flexible and functional. Magnetic, vibration and heat therapy also have applications in veterinary medicine.

Your veterinarian should visit you and your dog. I think you will be pleased at the progress you can make together.


My dog's wrist bends backward. Normal?

Q: I have a five month old German Shepherd puppy that has very loose ligaments on his front feet, causing his legs to bend forward. Should I worry?

A: Hyperextension of the carpus causes the lower foreleg to bend abnormally, bringing the dog's palms closer to the ground. It is a common transient deformity in young, growing puppies. The growth rate of the bones, ligaments, tendons and joints may not be in perfect harmony in fast growing animals, causing the crooked joints. Large breed dogs fed high calorie, high protein growth diets experience these problems most often. In addition to breed and diet, genetic predisposition also plays a major role. Most mild cases are self limiting, and resolve when the other parts of the growing leg catch up. In more severe cases, meta splints applied to the legs for a few weeks provide the needed support while the carpi straighten. The opposing factors of the body's tendency to grow out of such a problem, and the rising dog's weight increasing the angulation can take weeks to months to either resolve the problem, or to destroy the joints. Early attention is important to produce a favorable outcome. A veterinarian's physical examination, which may or may not include x-rays, is your best bet to insure proper growth.


Can puppies have arthritis?

Q: Yesterday I went to look at two Great Dane puppies. The breeder mentioned before I arrived that the black pup had water on her knees and was under vet care. I noticed that the pup also had swelling near her rear end. He said that the problems were caused by the puppies being very active and bumping into the ground too hard. The second pup had a small bump on her rear similar to the swollen knees and rear of the black pup. Is this a common Dane problem? The breeder seems to think that this will cause no future problems for the pup and will clear up within two weeks. What really has caused this problem and should these pups be considered a good investment (a good healthy addition to our family)? Or are these pups going to need long term care?

A: Large breed puppies normally do have proportionally larger feet and joints than adult conformation. I have heard many times, "he's going to be a big dog; just look at his feet!" However, large breed dogs are also more prone to joint deformities, related to rapid growth on improper diets. If the puppy's joints are swollen, knobby, puffy, or crooked, he or she may have skeletal growth problems. Diets too high in protein, or diets without the proper calcium to phosphorus ratios commonly contribute to bone and joint growth abnormalities. Since the top brand, commercial puppy foods have been tested and proven, likely causes occur when one strays from the dog foods made for puppies. The breeder may be using adult food, a new or unusual brand, or too many supplements are being added to the diet. If the problems are identified early enough, diet correction is usually sufficient to normalize the joints within a few months. More severe cases require corrective diet supplementation, leg splints and even corrective surgery. It is best not to purchase puppies with joint problems. You can help your breeder by pointing out your observations.


My dog hurt his back

Q: My dog hurt his back a couple months ago. He used to be able to just fly up and jump on the bed in a cinch. Now, he struggles to climb up the side of the bed, and sometimes, we have to help him get up. Please give me some advice on this.

A: Hurt backs can be serious, and if not properly cared for, they can become much worse. A dog doesn't realize limitations and carefulness. If he has a sprain, a slipped disk, or other injury, he may exacerbate the problem while climbing onto the bed, and end up paralyzed.

You really do need to have a veterinarian examine your dog. Express your financial limitations when you make your appointment. This way, the doctor will know x-rays and special procedures are not possible, and formulate the best treatment plan to suit your dog's needs and your budget.

Many types of injuries cause the symptoms you describe. A slipped disk may respond to anti-inflammatory medications, exercise restrictions and weight management. A pulled muscle may need physical therapy, muscle relaxants, heat packs and special exercise. A fracture may need surgery. Proper diagnosis is essential. While waiting for your appointment, limit exercise, and prevent back motion as much as possible. For instance, you may need to build steps or a ramp for the bed access.


What are my options for treating arthritis?

Q: My dear Sheltie injured his right front ankle joint when jumping on some rocks over a year ago. It has become arthritic and swollen and vets say that they really cannot do anything but fuse together his bones, an act that neither they nor I want to see happen.

A: Even though we have developed hip joint replacements which work great in dogs, the ankle joint has yet to be replaceable. Many medications are available to address the arthritis, including topical lineaments, DMSO, systemic anti-inflammatory medications, nutritional supplements, and joint fluid supplements (glycosaminoglycans).

An orthopedic specialist may be able to more thoroughly address your problem. Many such specialists are available throughout the United States. Your veterinarian can best refer you to an orthopedist in your area.


What should I do for my dog in back pain?

Q: My Cocker Spaniel is an eleven year old neutered male. He suddenly developed a swollen body and cried constantly, not able to walk. I took him to the local vet and they did a urine check and blood work everything looked fine. He was sent home undiagnosed but with anti-inflammatory. When the medicine wears off he's miserable and crying and panting for breath. Could this be arthritis? Can he live on pain medicine forever? What is a Cocker's approximate life span? He is a little over weight according to the vet and his cholesterol was very high. His kidneys and liver functions checked out fine. Any info would be helpful. I spent a lot of money on him and didn't get any answers.

A: Your dog is seriously ill and needs an accurate diagnosis, and appropriate treatment. If your veterinarian is unable to tell you what is ailing your Cocker Spaniel, ask for a referral to a specialist in your area. With the information you have given, and familiarity with senior spaniels, he may have a slipped disk in his spine. A dog's vertebral is a series of many bones which surround and protect the spinal nerves. Intervertebral disks separate the bones to aid in flexibility and keep them from knocking against each other. Trauma to the back or neck can cause a disk to be squeezed out from between two vertebrae, putting painful pressure on the spinal column. The disk may shift in position, and vary in pain with different body positions. Anti-inflammatory medications are usually a tremendous help in reducing the swelling, and thus the pain. Your veterinarian may consider performing a myelogram, or referring to a veterinary neurologist. Cocker Spaniels can live as long as fifteen to seventeen, and even older. However, they average between twelve and fourteen years in life span. High cholesterol blood levels is very common, due to the meat based diet.


My dog loses control over his legs. What should I do?

Q: I have a 15 year old neutered male that has been in good health up until two weeks ago. He has lost control of his motor function. His doctor has run blood tests, thyroid and potassium tests as well as x-rays to no avail. He was put on prednisone 5mg/twice a day for the first three days and then weaned to 5mg once a day. His symptoms returned and appeared to have worsened. He is back on the 5mg twice a day. He had a similar spell seven years ago that his first doctor attributed to the recent immunizations he received. Since that time, I no longer have him immunized. His current doctor states the next step is a neurological work up that includes an MRI. He did not feel optimistic that this would identify this problem. Any suggestions I can pass on to him? Also, what are the effects of long term usage of prednisone? Thank you so much.

A: His problems sound severe, and definitely deserve a thorough investigation. A precise physical and complete neurological examination by your veterinarian will be able to pin point the areas of his nervous system originating the problem. The cause of the problem is more difficult to determine than the location. For each possible location, there is a set of possible causes. For instance, a peripheral motor neuron disease may be due to a severe allergic reaction, whereas a central nervous system problem can be caused by a tumor or stroke. Of course, many other diseases are possible. An MRI should only be considered once the general location of the lesion is known, it is in the central nervous system, and you need to determine the precise location. MRI technology is also beneficial in identifying the cause of the lesion, i.e. differentiating between a stroke and a tumor.


Should I take my limping cat to the vet?

Q: My 10 year old Siamese cat recently (a day ago) started limping, and favoring one leg. She can still get around, eat, jump up on the bed, etc. She doesn't appear to be in any pain, just looks a little discomforted. Someone mentioned cats having arthritis and that this may be the cause? Since she wasn't in any pain, I didn't know whether or not to run her off the vet hospital or watch her for a few days and see if it gets any better. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

A: Your cat likely avoids using the leg to avoid pain. You may not be able to determine the cause and severity of the pain, but your veterinarian can. It may be a simple sprain that will go away on it's own, or it can be an abscess, a thorn, arthritis or one of many other possible causes. Arthritis usually starts subtly and increases gradually. Abscesses, fractures, thorns and sprains occur suddenly. Since it could be something needing medical attention, I recommend taking your cat to the doctor immediately. If it is much better in less than 24 hours, then you may be OK just waiting and watching.


My shepherd pup has sore legs. Why?

Q: We have a four month old German shepherd puppy that weighs 42 lbs. He was the largest puppy in the litter. We have been giving him calcium supplements and feeding him a premium puppy food four times a day. He walks on his hocks and doesn't want to run and prefers to laying down a lot. Dog was x-rayed, hips and elbows show no sign of dysplasia. Help!

A: Fast growing, large breed dogs are prone to a developmental disease called panosteitis. Due to the high protein, high calcium diet and the genetic predisposition to grow big fast, the bones outgrow their blood supply. The long bones become weak and painful. With nutritional modifications, puppies with panosteitis are able to outgrow the disease to lead a normal life in the future. Panosteitis is diagnosed by a thorough musculoskeletal examination and x-rays. Of course, other neurological and musculoskeletal diseases are possible, to be investigated by your veterinarian.


How can I tell if my dog's tail is broken?

Q: I have a six month old beagle who just recently started hanging her tail between her legs. At first we thought it might be broken but she can still wag it and move it. It just looks very limp when she use to carry it straight up most of the time. She also used to wag her whole tail and now she just wags the tip. Could it possibly be broken near the base of the tail? How would we be able to tell if it was or not?

A: Tail dipping can be caused by damage to the nerves, skeleton or muscles of the tail, or psychological intentional actions of the dog. A thorough examination of the tail can determine the vitality of the nerves and the condition of the muscles and bones. You may want to check to see if she has any sore spots along her tail by gently squeezing each segment from base to tip. You should also check that your dog has a touch sensation and good motion from base to tip. If the tail has lost nerve control, she can still wag it if the base nerves are still intact.

A dog's tail is quite expressive, for they use it as a mood and attitude signal. You may want to try various stimulating situations, such as playing fetch with a ball, to see if the tail wakes up. If you find deficits, your veterinarian can help with fine tuning the diagnosis and treatment.


Hip dysplasia in Rottweilers

Q: My 11 month old female Rottweiler (and loved member of my family) has just been diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia. She has two options: immediate surgery or to be put to sleep. I was informed of this by my vet and got a second opinion, who agreed. Here's my problem: I cannot afford this. I have been told there may be ways to get donations or other assistance. The second doctor I saw also performs the surgeries and told me instead of a complete hip replacement there is a less expensive surgery, which will still run about $1000 because both hips and so severe they both should be done. Can you help me? I need a direction to turn. Obviously, putting her to sleep is my LAST alternative. My heart is breaking for my Sierra because she is in such pain and discomfort.

A: Hip dysplasia is a severe, often crippling disease of large breed dogs. It is genetically based, and modified by diet, weight, exercise and age. It is a form of arthritis, caused by size and shape mismatch of the ball of the femur and the acetabulum of the hip.

Older dogs with hip dysplasia can be managed with anti-inflammatory medications, padded beds, physical therapy and supportive therapy. Because of their older age, major surgery is not possible due to the risks involved.

Younger dogs have several surgical options. The opinions over which surgery is best do differ from doctor to doctor. My recommendations depend on the specific type and severity of the problem. In general, a total hip replacement is preferred. Surgery is really the only option for most young Rottweilers with severe hip dysplasia. All surgical options are relatively expensive, into thousands of dollars.

You can appeal to special interest groups or individuals for financial aid. The amount you get really depends on your own soliciting ability. I recommend you approach your surgical veterinarian with your financial situation. Your veterinarian may be able to work out a payment plan that suits your budget.


Should my dog's broken leg be plated or splinted?

Q: My dog has broken the larger bone in his right leg (the bone between the elbow and paw). The vet gave me two options and I wanted to get your opinion. Option one: a splint for four weeks. This is the method I chose, but the vet insists the dog be left in his crate for 4 weeks, only to let out to pee and eat. Is this too extreme, will it not heel if he is out a few hours each day? It just so hard to keep him in 24 hours a day. Option two: surgery for a metal plate. Any suggestions or comments would be helpful. My dog is an eight months old terrier mix that weighs 20 pounds.

A: Many fractures require surgical repair. Some fractures can be stabilized externally with a splint, a cast or pins and braces. Every fracture requires an independent evaluation with many considerations. Plating can provide the best end results, with the straightest, strongest leg. However, bone plating is an expensive and invasive surgery. External fixation with the splint will stabilize the leg adequately, but may result in a healed, crooked leg. Smaller breeds may not have a problem with a slight crookedness to one leg.


Fur mites cause my rabbit to have dry, flaky skin

Q: My rabbit has dry skin on the back of his ears and the fur is getting patchy back there. He doesn't scratch them excessively or shake his head or anything. In fact he acts totally normal. He doesn't mind if I touch them; they don't seem to be scabby or anything. I took him to my vet and he was tested for parasites, fleas, and fungus. Everything came back negative. I tried anti-fungal solution and flea powder for cats and nothing seemed to improve. I feel like the dryness is now spreading to the front of his ears and I'm afraid that the hair will thin out and he will look funny like he has bald ears. Could he have some kind of nutritional deficiency? I've tried everything. Any suggestions?

A: Rabbits get mange, caused by fur mites. Rabbit mange is not at itchy as we see in dogs and cats. Fur mites usually first show up around the ears, for they also are ear mites. They cause the skin to look flaky and dry, and the hair is easily pulled out.

Treatment is both topical and systemic. I use injectible ivermectin for the systemic treatment. Ivermectin enters the blood stream, infiltrates the skin, and kills the deep skin mites. Topically, I prefer lime sulfur dip, however other topical mitacides are available. In general, external mite treatments made for cats are ok to use in rabbits. Some dog only topicals are too harsh for rabbits.

Be sure to clean and disinfect the cage, for the mites also live in the environment. You may need to repeat treatment and cage cleaning at weekly intervals until the problem resolves. Outside rabbitries are vulnerable to reinfestation from the wild animals' mites.

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