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What Causes a Puppy to Stop Growing?

By Sarah Wooten, DVM

Puppies that are not growing at a normal rate or who are too small for their age are stunted; that is, something has prevented them from growing naturally or at a normal rate.

There are several things that can cause stunted growth in puppies, ranging from intestinal worm infections to genetics. In this article, we will address the most common concerns associated with stunting, and whether or not these concerns actually cause stunted growth in dogs.

Does Worm Infection Cause Stunting?

The most common reason why a puppy’s growth becomes stunted is because they are infected with hookworms or roundworms. Intestinal worms are extremely common in puppies in the United States — they either contract worms from their mother or from the environment around them. If a puppy has an extremely heavy worm infestation, the worms can steal enough calories from the puppy to slow down her growth. Puppies that have a heavy worm burden typically look unthrifty: they have a poor haircoat, diarrhea, a big pot belly, and are small and thin despite a voracious appetite.

The good news is that once the puppy is free of worms, the body can heal itself and regain normal growth and development.

To prevent worms in your puppy, follow the deworming schedule set forth by your breeder and/or veterinarian. If the schedules differ, follow the worming schedule set forth by your veterinarian.

Does Malnutrition Cause Stunting?

A common question puppy parents ask is whether a puppy’s growth can be stunted by taking him off puppy food too soon. The short answer is no, you will not stunt your puppy’s growth by switching to adult food too soon or by mildly under-feeding. Puppy food is formulated to support normal growth and development, and, while it is not ideal, there are millions of dogs out there that do just fine on a diet that is formulated for all life stages, and which are fine to feed to a puppy.

On the contrary, you can do much more damage to your puppy’s long term joint health by over-feeding or giving supplements while the pup is still growing. According to the lifetime studies conducted by Purina on Labrador Retrievers, dogs will live on average two years longer and have much less chronic disease if you keep them slim their whole life. Ask your veterinarian about what the right body condition is for your puppy, and for tips on how much to feed to keep your puppy in his ideal condition.

Just like a human child, your puppy will go through growth spurts during the first year. There will be days when she may need to eat more than the amount she will need as an adult. My 75-pound Goldendoodle, for example, eats two cups a day of dry dog food, but when she was growing (about eight months of age) she would eat up to four cups of food a day. You will need to be flexible about the amount you are feeding her sometimes in order to support her growth and development.

Another common question is whether malnutrition itself will cause stunting. To be sure, puppies that suffer under extreme situations like starvation are at risk for stunted growth. But most puppies that are in caring, loving homes with pet parents who measure the appropriate amount they feed to their puppies — food that is adequate for supporting bones, muscles, and other tissues as they grow — will not have stunting from malnutrition, even if they keep the puppies slim.

Does Spaying or Neutering Cause Stunting?

Having your dog spayed or neutered early will not stunt your puppy’s growth, but it might affect the joints of large breed dogs. Studies show that early spay/neuter does affect the growth plate, delaying its closure and causing dogs to grow taller than they should have. This can predispose the dog to later joint problems. 

This is an excellent topic to discuss with your veterinarian. For small or medium sized dogs, the standard recommendation is still to spay/neuter the dogs between 6-8 months of age. For large breed dogs, however, the recommendation is to hold off until the dog is older to lower the risk of joint disease. For females, spaying should wait until after the first heat cycle, and for males, neutering can be scheduled when the dog is around two years old.

Ask your dog’s doctor for her or his recommendations on when to spay or neuter your dog, and ask them for their reasons behind their recommendations.

Does Strenuous Exercise Cause Stunting?

Engaging in strenuous exercise with your puppy will not stunt his growth, but the excessive impact associated with running may damage the growth plates of the long bones and cause them to develop abnormally, predisposing your puppy to joint issues later in life. Again, this is more a problem for large breed dogs because they simply weigh more.

Playing fetch and allowing your puppy the space to run around until she is tired is fine, but don’t take her jogging or running until she is done growing. For clients who want their medium or large breed dog to be their jogging partner, my standard recommendation is to wait until after 15 months to allow for the bones to grow properly.

Are Certain Breeds at Risk for Stunting?

Is there any one breed that is more predisposed to stunting than another? There is a rare disease called pituitary dwarfism in German Shepherds and in some Labrador Retrievers that has a genetic component, but these conditions are very rare and not generally seen in companion animals.

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Verterbral Disc Inflammation in Dogs

Diskspondylitis in Dogs

Diskspondylitis is the inflammation of vertebral disks due to an infection caused by the invasion of bacteria or fungus. In dogs, as with other vertebrates, the vertebral column is composed of a series of vertebral bones. These bones maintain the structure of the body and protect the spinal cord, which is nested within the vertebral column. Between each vertebrae are structures called disks. These round, cartilaginous shock absorbers hold a nucleus of fibrous gel, which allows for normal movement of the vertebrae without the vertebral bones grinding against each other.

The infections most commonly reach the intervertebral disks through the blood. Less common is infection due to fractures or local abscesses. Due to the proximity of the spinal cord many of the symptoms seen in affected animals are related to the nervous system.

Large and giant breed dogs, including German shepherds and great Danes, are at higher risk than other breeds. In addition, males dogs have double the chances of developing this condition than female dogs.

Symptoms and Types

Paralysis may occur in some dogs, especially for those that have gone untreated. Other common symptoms seen in dogs suffering from diskspondylitis include:

  • Back pain
  • Difficulty in standing and jumping
  • Stiff gait
  • Uncoordinated walk
  • Weakness in limbs
  • Lameness
  • Fever

Causes

  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Surgery
  • Bite wounds
  • Fracture
  • Injury to back or spine
  • Abscess near site of inflammation

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have led to this condition. After the initial physical examination, your veterinarian will order routine laboratory tests, including a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. These tests can be of value in determining the presence of any infections that might be primary causes of this disease. Your veterinarian will also take blood and urine samples for laboratory culturing in order to identify the causative bacteria or fungus. Drug sensitivity testing may also help your veterinarian to select the most effective drug(s) for your dog so that the underlying infection is appropriately treated.

Radiographic studies will help your veterinarian to determine the location of the inflamed disc, as well as the extent of the problem in your dog. Spinal X-rays will usually reveal damage to the vertebra and adjacent structures that have occurred due to infection. Displacement and collapse of intervertebral (between the vertebral bones) disks will also be evident in spinal X-rays. More specific radiographic studies, such as myelography, computed tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used for a more detailed and concise evaluation.

Myelography is a type of radiographic technique that uses an injectable substance that will contrast suitably on an X-ray device, in effect, “lighting” the internal area that is to be examined. This minimally invasive technique may allow your doctor to detect abnormalities of the spinal cord, making visible any compressions in the spinal cord, especially in those cases in which surgery may be required. Your veterinarian may also use CT or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans if normal X-rays and myelography imaging does not provide the needed details.

vertebrates

Term used to refer to animals that have a spine or backbone, including fish and mammals

vertebra

A bone in the spinal column

myelography

The study of the spine after dye has been injected

gait

The term used to describe the movement of an animal

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

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Umbilical Hernia in Dogs

Umbilical Dog Hernia

An umbilical hernia is an opening in the muscle wall where the umbilicus (belly button) is located. The hernia allows the abdominal contents to pass through the opening.

Symptoms and Types

Umbilical hernias may be complicated or uncomplicated. A complicated hernia is one in which contents of the abdominal cavity, such as a loop of intestine, have passed through the opening and become entrapped.

An uncomplicated umbilical hernia is associated with a soft swelling in the umbilical area. This swelling may be variable in size and may come and go. Otherwise, the dog will appear health.

Symptoms seen with a complicated umbilical hernia may include:

  • Pain and warmth, especially at the site of the umbilical swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Depression

Causes

Most umbilical hernias in dogs are probably inherited although trauma can also be a cause. Some breeds of dogs, including Airedales, Pekingese, and basenji are predisposed to umbilical hernias.

Diagnosis

Umbilical hernias can usually be diagnosed by finding the swelling caused by the hernia on a physical examination. However, sometimes contrast radiographs (x-rays) or an abdominal ultrasound are needed to determine which abdominal contents, if any, are entrapped.

umbilicus

The spot in the wall of the abdomen in which the umbilical cord connects with the fetus; may also be referred to as the navel.

hernia

The condition of having a part of a body part protruding through the tissue that would normally cover it

abdominal cavity

The space in the abdomen that holds the major digestive organs in an animal. Normally referred to as the area between the diaphragm and the pelvis. Also referred to as the peritoneal cavity.

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Torn Knee Ligament in Dogs

Cranial Cruciate Ligament and Anterior Cruciate Ligament Disease in Dogs

The stifle joint is the joint between the thigh bone (the femur) and the two lower leg bones (tibia and fibula). It is the quadruped equivalent of the knee in bipeds (i.e., humans).

A ligament is a band of connective or fibrous tissue that connects two bones, or cartilage, at a joint; the cranial cruciate ligament is the ligament that connects the thigh bone with the lower leg bone – it helps to stabilize the stifle joint. Cranial cruciate ligament disease , also referred to as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), is the sudden (acute) or progressive failure of the cranial cruciate ligament, which results in partial to complete instability of the stifle joint. Cranial cruciate rupture is the tearing of the cranial cruciate ligament; it is the most common cause of rear-leg lameness in dogs and a major cause of degenerative joint disease (progressive and permanent deterioration of joint cartilage) in the stifle joint; rupture may be partial or complete.

The possibility of a genetic link is unknown. An understanding of the role genetics might play may be important in increasing the likelihood of actively restraining stifle deficiencies and/or structural (conformation) abnormalities. What is currently known is that all breeds are susceptible. Specifically, the incidence of cranial cruciate ligament disease increases for rottweilers and Labrador retrievers younger than four years of age, dogs older than five years of age, and in large-breed dogs from one to two years of age. The predominant gender this affects is the spayed female.

Symptoms and Types

The severity of this condition is related to the degree of rupture: whether it is a partial rupture, or a complete rupture. The manner of rupture is also indicative of the severity, based on whether it presented suddenly, or has been a long-term (chronic) degenerative condition. Degeneration is the decline or loss of function or structure. Sudden (acute) front ligament (cranial cruciate) rupture results in non-weight bearing lameness, and fluid build-up in the joint (known as joint effusion). The dog will hold the affected leg in a partial bent position (flexion) while standing. A subtle to marked intermittent lameness, that may last from weeks to months, is consistent with partial tears in the cruciate; tears that are degenerating and progressing to complete rupture. Normal activity resulting in sudden (acute) lameness would suggest degenerative rupture.

A decrease in muscle mass and weakening of muscles (known as muscle atrophy) in the rear leg – especially the quadriceps muscle group, would be an indication that the leg is not being used properly and the muscles are suffering as a result. Progressive and permanent deterioration of joint cartilage will result if the condition is left untreated, due to ongoing inflammation, and to conditions that will encourage the degeneration of the ligament and surrounding muscles.

Causes

The causes for cranial cruciate ligament disease are most frequently caused by repetitive micro-injury to the cranial cruciate ligament, that is, putting pressure on the ligament in the same way, repeatedly. This action causes slight stretching of the ligament each time, altering the structure, and eventually causing the ligament to tear. Symmetrical or structural abnormalities that occur in the formation, or growth process (conformation abnormalities) are also suspected in the majority of cases. If the bones that make up the stifle were abnormally formed, the cruciate ligament will be unduly stressed and traumatized. Obesity also plays a role in cruciate ligament disease, when it is present, as the weight increases the incidence of repetitious injury to the same part of the leg.

Some of the incidents which may bring about deterioration of the cruciate are injury to the stifle joint; a history of athletics, where repetitive movement can cause stress to the ligaments; a specific traumatic event, as from jumping badly, or any accident that causes the ligament to tear; a knee injury, such as dislocation of the kneecap (medically referred to as patellar luxation).

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will have several diagnostic procedures to follow when looking for the source of the injury. A diagnostic evaluation for cranial cruciate rupture will include a cranial drawer test, which involves specific manipulation to assess the status of the cranial cruciate ligament; puncturing the joint so that fluid can be removed from the point of origin (arthrocentesis), in order to study the cells for toxins, invasions of microorganisms, or immune mediated diseases; and arthroscopy, which uses an arthroscopic tool to directly visualize the interior ligaments, cartilage, and other structures inside and around the joint, as well as to treat abnormalities in the joint.

luxation

The dislocation of a bone from the joint

lameness

Any type of pain or tenderness or lack of soundness in the feet or legs of animals

meniscus

The curved cartilage that is located inside some of the synovial joints in the body

quadruped

An animal having four feet

stifle

The term for the joint between the femur and tibia (knee cap)

implant

Anything that is grafted into the body

effusion

The escape of fluid or blood into tissues or body spaces or cavities

arthrocentesis

A medical procedure in which the joints are punctured in order to remove fluid.

anterior

In veterinary terms, used to refer to the front of the body.

arthroscopy

The endoscopic method of examining the inside of a joint.

atrophy

The wasting away of certain tissues; a medical condition that occurs when tissues fail to grow.

acute

Term used to imply that a situation or condition is more severe than usual; also used to refer to a disease having run a short course or come on suddenly.

genetics

The study of the laws of inheritance n living things; may also be referred to as breeding

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Spine Degeneration in Dogs

Spondylosis Deformans in Dogs

Spondylosis deformans is a degenerative, noninflammatory condition of the spinal column characterized by the production of bone spurs along the bottom, sides, and upper aspects of the vertebrae of the spine. These bone spurs are simply projected growths of bone, usually grown in response to aging, or injury.

In dogs, spondylosis deformans occurs most often along the spine, in the area behind the chest, and on the upper section of the vertebrae of the lower back. Older, large-breed dogs are at highest risk for developing spondylosis deformans. In cats it tends to occur more often in the vertebrae of the chest.

Symptoms and Types

  • Patients are typically asymptomatic, the growth of bone can be felt when touching your pet before you will notice any behavioral changes a result of the growth
  • Pain may follow fracture of bony spurs or bridges
  • Stiffness
  • Restricted motion
  • Pain

Causes

  • Repeated microtrauma – repetitive pressure on the same joints, or bones, as through certain exercises or other activities
  • Major trauma – the body responds by attempting to grow new bone
  • Inherited predisposition to spurs

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, including a biochemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel, in order to rule out or confirm other diseases, like cancer. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, including a background history of symptoms, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition.

X-ray images of the chest and abdomen (side view) are essential for diagnosing spondylosis deformans. X-rays will reveal osteophytes (small, bony growths) on the vertebrae, or in more advanced cases an osteophyte may be found as a bridge in the space between the vertebrae.

Your doctor may choose from several other types of tests in order to arrive at a definitive conclusion. A myelography, which uses injection of a radiopaque substance for internal imaging; computed tomography (CT); or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They can assist your veterinarian in finding where a bony spur might be pressing on your dog’s spinal cord or on the nerves (causing neurological reactions).

spondylosis

A condition in which the vertebrae degenerate; usually has to do with more than one vertebrae

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

radiopaque

Something that appears white or light grey on a radiograph

osteophyte

A projection that can be found at the area where cartilage has begun to degenerate; sometimes they are free floating

myelography

The study of the spine after dye has been injected

asymptomatic

Term used to refer to a condition of having a disease or affliction but not displaying symptoms of it.

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Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs

Congenital Spinal and Vertebral Malformations in Dogs

Dogs most often genetically inherit congenital spinal and vertebral malformations (as opposed to adverse conditions during fetal development). Specifically, sacrococcygeal dysgenesis (defective development) is a dominant trait, while thoracic hemivertebra (chest half-vertebra) of German shorthaired pointers is a recessive trait.

Spinal malformations are usually evident at birth or in the first few weeks of life. On the other hand, vertebral malformations can be latent until the dog undergoes a growth spurt around five to nine months of age. Visible signs of a distorted spinal column are lordosis (curvature of the spine at the lower back) and kyphosis (a posterior curvature of the spine).

Scoliosis (a lateral curvature of the spine) is also an easily visible form of vertebral malformation. If the malformations lead to secondary spinal cord compression and trauma, the affected dog will display ataxia and paresis. Medicine often does not resolve neurological manifestations of spinal and vertebral malformations. If the condition is severe and untreatable, euthanasia should be considered.

Symptoms and Types

  • Malformation of the occipital bones – atlas and axis (the first and second cervical vertebrae at the base of the skull):
    • Causes compression of the upper spinal cord, which can lead to paralysis, sudden death
    • More common in small-breed dogs
  • Hemivertebra (half a vertebra)
    • Kyphosis, scoliosis, lordosis
    • Wedge shaped vertebrae, causes angle in the spine
    • Most likely to affect the neurological system
    • Rear limb weakness (paraparesis), paralysis
    • May remain without symptoms
    • Affects breeds with a short skull, and “screw-tailed” breeds (may be desired in some breeds)
    • Pugs, Boston terriers, French and English bulldogs
  • Transitional vertebra
    • Has characteristics of two types of vertebrae
    • May result in cord compression, disc changes
  • Block vertebra
    • Fused vertebrae due to improper segmentation of vertebrae
    • Animal may live normally without symptoms
  • Butterfly vertebra (vertebra with a cleft through the body and a funnel shape at the ends):
    • Vertebra with a cleft through the body and a funnel shape at the ends (giving appearance of butterfly on X-ray examination)
    • Causes instability of the vertebral canal, and rarely, compression of the spinal cord with paralysis
  • Sacrococcygeal dysgenesis
    • Defective formation of lowest vertebrae in the spine
    • Associated with spina bifida (lack of vertebral arches in the spinal column)
  • Spina bifida
    • Variable spinal dysplasia (abnormal development); dysraphism (defective spinal fusion); syringomyelia (cyst in the spinal cord); hydromyelia (enlarged central canal in the spinal cord where excess cerebrospinal fluid builds up); and myelodysplasia (defective development of the bone marrow)
    • Dog may not show symptoms
    • Bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers
  • Myelodysplasia
    • Defective development of the bone marrow
    • Weimaraners
  • Congenital spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal – malformation from birth, hereditary)
    • Chondrodystrophic (dwarf) breeds
    • Basset hound, beagle, dachshunds, lhasa apso, shih tzu, Pekingese
    • Doberman pinschers are also genetically disposed

Causes

  • Genetic inheritance
  • Possibly, exposure of pregnant bitches to:
    • Compounds causing birth defects during fetal development
    • Toxins
    • Nutritional deficiencies
    • Stress

Diagnosis

You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog’s health and onset of symptoms. A full physical exam will be performed. X-rays of the spinal column (including all vertebrae) can often reveal the exact malformation. If neurological signs (paralysis) are present, a myelography can be used to indicate with precision at which level the spinal cord is compressed. This imaging technique uses a radiopaque substance that is injected into the spine, or into the membranous space that surrounds the spinal cord so that the defects in the spine will be visible on X-ray projections.

Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be helpful, and are in some cases much more sensitive than X-rays. However, myelography is generally the diagnostic imaging technique of choice.

radiopaque

Something that appears white or light grey on a radiograph

paresis

A type of paralysis that may be only slight; affects the way that an animal is able to move

myelography

The study of the spine after dye has been injected

stenosis

The act of making an opening narrower.

tailed

The term for an animal whose tail has been docked or removed

vertebra

A bone in the spinal column

thoracic

Pertaining to the chest

malformation

Any growth or organ on an animal that is not normal

lordosis

The curve in the spine, usually associated with an animal being in estrous

dysplasia

A condition in which growth and development are not up to normal standards

atlas

The number one cervical vertebrae.

euthanasia

Inducing death on an animal or putting them to sleep

inheritance

Transmitting genes from parent to child

lateral

Moving or located away from the midline; located along the side

latent

Term used to refer to an infection that is present but has not yet begun to spread

ataxia

A medical condition in which an animal is unable to control the movements of their muscles; may result in collapse or stumbling.

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Shoulder Joint Ligament and Tendon Conditions in Dogs

Bicipital Tenosynovitis, Brachii Muscle Rupture, and Supraspinatus Avulsion in Dogs

The shoulder joint is a “ball-and-socket” joint. In four legged animals it is made up of the scapula/shoulder blade bones, and the humerus/upper bone of the front leg. These bones are supported by ligaments and tendons. A ligament is a band of connective or fibrous tissue that connects two bones or cartilage at a joint, and a tendon is a band of connective or fibrous tissue that connects a muscle to a bone.

Shoulder-joint ligament and tendon conditions make up the majority of causes for lameness in the canine shoulder joint, excluding osteochondritis dissecans (a condition characterized by abnormal development of bone and cartilage, leading to a flap of cartilage within the joint). It is a disease that occurs in medium to large-breed dogs when they become skeletally mature, around one year of age or older. The average age for development of this condition is between 3 to 7 years of age.

Symptoms and Types

  • Symptoms will depend on the severity and long-term nature of the disease
  • A decrease in muscle mass is a consistent finding for all conditions
  • Bicipital tenosynovitis (an inflammation of the tendon and surrounding sheath of the biceps tendon – at the front of the shoulder blade)
    • Onset is usually subtle
    • Often of several months’ duration
    • Trauma to the limb or shoulder may be the inciting cause
    • Subtle, intermittent lameness that worsens with exercise
    • Short and limited swing-phase of gait owing to pain on extension and flexion of the shoulder
    • Pain inconsistently demonstrated on manipulation of shoulder
  • Rupture of the tendon of the biceps brachii muscle (upper limb)
    • Signs similar to bicipital tenosynovitis
    • May have sudden (acute) onset due to a known traumatic event
    • Usually subtle, long-term (chronic) lameness that worsens with exercise
    • Mineralization of the tendon of the supraspinatus (shoulder joint) muscle — onset is usually subtle

Long-term (chronic) lameness that worsens with activity

  • Forcible separation (known as an avulsion) or fracture of the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle (tendon that connects the scapula/bone of the shoulder blade with the humerus/bone of the upper limb)
    • Signs are similar to mineralization of the supraspinatus tendon.
    • Deterioration and scarring (known as fibrotic contracture) of the shoulder muscle — usually sudden (acute) onset, occurring during a period of intense outdoor exercise (such as hunting).
    • Shoulder lameness and tenderness gradually disappears within two weeks
    • Left untreated, condition results in long-term (chronic), persistent lameness, usually taking place 3 to 4 weeks later; may not be particularly painful to the dog
    • Decrease in muscle mass of the infraspinatus muscle (muscle atrophy)
    • When patient is walking, lower limb swings in an arc away from the body, as the paw is advanced

Causes

  • Indirect or direct trauma is a likely culprit
  • Repetitive strain injury (indirect trauma) is the most common cause
  • Overexertion and/or fatigue
  • Poor conditioning before performing athletic activities (i.e., lack of previous exercise, overweight, or inappropriate preparation)

Diagnosis

X-rays will be needed to determine what is wrong with the shoulder. Ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may help identify muscle injuries, bicipital tenosynovitis, and rupture of the biceps tendon. It is also useful for determining the location of calcium densities near the intertubercular groove, where the long head of the biceps meets the upper part of the humerus. A joint tap and analysis of fluid from the joint will help identify intra-articular (within the joint) disease. An arthroscopic exploration of the shoulder joint will help diagnose bicipital tenosynovitis, rupture of the biceps tendon, and will confirm or rule out intra-articular disease. This method of diagnostics is performed using an arthroscope, a specially equipped endoscope, which is a tubular device that can be inserted into the joint in order to remove fluid, tissue, or other material for analysis. It includes a camera for visual inspection, and can be outfitted with tools for removal of samples, and for treating the cavity or internal structure.

gait

The term used to describe the movement of an animal

lameness

Any type of pain or tenderness or lack of soundness in the feet or legs of animals

scapula

The bone in the pectoral that moves with the humerus; the shoulder blade

endoscope

A type of instrument that is used to look inside the body

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

biceps

Any muscle that has two heads.

arthroscope

A medical instrument used to look at the inside of a joint.

atrophy

The wasting away of certain tissues; a medical condition that occurs when tissues fail to grow.

avulsion

The tearing or breaking away of a part.

acute

Term used to imply that a situation or condition is more severe than usual; also used to refer to a disease having run a short course or come on suddenly.

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Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) in Dogs

Excess Cartilage and Deficient Bone Growth in Dogs

Endochondral ossification is a normal bone growth process by which cartilage is replaced by bone in the early development of the fetus. Osteochondrosis is a pathological condition in which normal endochondral ossification, the metamorphoses of cartilage to bone, is disturbed. The disturbance is often due to a disruption in the blood supply to the bone. The result is retention of excessive cartilage at the site as the process of endochondral ossification is halted, but cartilage continues to grow. The end result is abnormally thick regions of cartilage that are less resistant to mechanical stress, as opposed to the stronger and denser bone.

Large and giant breeds, including great Danes, Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, rottweilers, Bernese mountain dogs, English setters, and old English sheepdogs are predisposed to this condition.

Symptoms and Types

  • Lameness (most common symptom)
  • Onset of lameness may be sudden or gradual, and may involve one or more limbs
  • Lameness becomes worse after exercise
  • Unable to bear weight on affected limb
  • Swelling at joints
  • Pain in limb, especially on manipulation of joints involved
  • Wasting of muscles with chronic lameness

Causes

  • Unknown
  • Appears to be genetically acquired
  • Disruption in supply of blood to the bone or through the bone
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Diagnosis

You will need to give a thorough medical history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and any information you have about your dog’s parentage. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. The results of these tests are often within normal ranges in affected animals, but they are necessary for preliminary assumptions of your dog’s overall health condition.

Your veterinarian will examine your dog thoroughly, paying special attention to the limbs that are troubling your dog. Radiography imaging is the best tool for diagnosis of this problem; your veterinarian will take several x-rays of the affected joints and bones to best discern any abnormalities. The radiographs may show details of lesions and abnormalities related to this disease. Computed tomography (CT-scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are also valuable diagnostic tools for visualizing the extent of any internal lesions.

Your veterinarian will also take samples of fluid from the affected joints (synovial fluid) to confirm involvement of the joint and to rule out an infectious disease that may be the actual cause of the lameness. More advanced diagnostic and therapeutic tools like arthroscopy may also be used. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure which allows for examination and sometime treatment of damage inside the joint. This procedure is performed using an arthroscope, a type of endoscope inserted into the joint through a small incision.

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

ossification

The production of bone

endoscope

A type of instrument that is used to look inside the body

arthroscopy

The endoscopic method of examining the inside of a joint.

arthroscope

A medical instrument used to look at the inside of a joint.

lameness

Any type of pain or tenderness or lack of soundness in the feet or legs of animals

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Neck and Back Pain in Dogs

Unfortunately, your dog can not tell you where it hurts, and it can be difficult to determine the exact location when your dog has been injured and is in obvious pain. Your veterinarian may even have trouble determining the location. And because there are a number of causes for neck and back pain, zeroing in on the underlying cause may take some time.

Symptoms and Types

  • Change in posture
  • Abnormal spine alignment (i.e., back is curved upward)
  • Visible trauma to areas around the spine (e.g., bruises, discoloration)
  • Stiff neck
  • Unable or unwilling to turn or raise its head
  • Yelps or moans when its neck or back is touched
  • Yelps or moans when it moves its spine, or refuses to move at all
  • Lethargy, weakness
  • Fever
  • Wobbly, lack of coordination, inability to walk properly (ataxia)
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)

Causes

  • Diseases of the muscles surrounding the spine:
    • Soft tissue injuries
    • Bite wounds
    • Inflammation
    • Infection 
  • Disc disorders:
    • Degenerative discs
    • Infection of the discs
    • Instability of parts of the spine 
  • Trauma to the spine:
    • Fracture
    • Dislocation
    • Cancer
    • Vertebra
    • Roots of nerves
    • Tissues around the spine
    • Membrane disorders in the brain and spine
    • Kidney disease

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, taking into account the background history of symptoms and any possible incidents that might have led to this condition. You will need to provide as much detail as possible regarding your dog’s health history, the onset of the symptoms and what type of symptoms have been representing, and what might have been the cause of the injury. The doctor will perform baseline blood tests, including a chemical blood profile and a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and a spinal fluid analysis. Other diagnostic tests that may be used for conclusively identifying the origin of the back pain are computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and X-ray imaging of the abdominal and spinal areas. Other essential tests include a neurological exam, and a myelogram, whereby a radiopaque agent is injected into the subarachnoid space in the spine so that the spine and nerves of the spine are more clearly visible on an X-ray image.

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

radiopaque

Something that appears white or light grey on a radiograph

myelogram

A picture that is taken of the spinal cord after dye is injected; may also be used to take a count of white blood cells

ataxia

A medical condition in which an animal is unable to control the movements of their muscles; may result in collapse or stumbling.

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Muscle Tear in Dogs

Muscle Rupture in Dogs

A normal muscle can be stretched, pinched, or injured directly, resulting in fiber disruption, weakening, and immediate or delayed separation of the uninjured portions. Normal activity may cause muscle disruption. Alternatively, the muscle structure may be compromised by systemic or iatrogenic (physician-caused) conditions. The rupture may be complete or incomplete, and may be in the middle of the muscle or at the muscle-tendon junction. The acute (sudden and severe) stage is characterized by a typical inflammatory reaction that becomes chronic over time, with cross-linking, and adhesion development over time. Frequently, the acute phase is overlooked, as the signs may be temporary and respond well to rest. The chronic effects are often progressive and unresponsive to support therapies.

The muscles of the limbs, and the chewing muscles are the primary structures affected. Traumatic injury is indiscriminate, though certain activities may predispose because of exposure. The ruptures that are apparently unrelated to trauma seem to affect middle-aged to older working dogs, with no reported gender predilection.

Symptoms and Types

Acute injury

  • Immediate lameness that is characterized by the specific muscle affected
  • Localized swelling, heat, and pain
  • Generally present for a few days to a week
  • Chronic phase (if it develops)

Progressive

  • Painless
  • Usually associated with scar tissue that impedes normal function of an extremity

Causes

  • Trauma
  • Overextension
  • Myositis (inflammation)
  • Degenerative (unknown etiology)
  • Myopathy (a neuromuscular disease), secondary to medical conditions
  • Apparent risk factor for dogs is involvement in hunting, tracking, or similar activities in the outdoors that put stress on the muscles

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination, looking for evidence of neurologic dysfunction and tendon rupture. Diagnostic imaging will include X-rays to look for evidence of bone fragment defects and translocations, and ultrasound to look for swelling and disorientation of the normal muscle fiber at the site of injury in acute cases. Scar tissue and contracted areas of fibrous tissue can be seen in the muscle in chronic cases. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to look for edema and hemorrhage, and to achieve localization of the problem that will help to identify the type of problem.

Your doctor will also test your dog’s joints for evidence of joint instability or malalignment. Measurable differences between normal and abnormal sides may be useful in documenting the affected muscle site. Another thing your doctor can do is conduct a biopsy of the affected muscle to detect the presence of fibrous tissue and loss of muscle cells. Differentiating atrophy due to disuse from neurologic atrophy, and from injury-induced scarring, may be impossible without corroborating evidence.

lameness

Any type of pain or tenderness or lack of soundness in the feet or legs of animals

iatrogenic

Anything that is created through a method of treatment

neuromuscular

The area found between the muscles and the endings of the nerves

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

systemic

Something that is related to the whole body and not just one particular part or organ

hemorrhage

Extreme loss of blood

etiology

The study of the various causes of disease

atrophy

The wasting away of certain tissues; a medical condition that occurs when tissues fail to grow.

adhesion

Fibers that bond items together that would not normally be combined.

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

edema

The collection of fluid in the tissue

acute

Term used to imply that a situation or condition is more severe than usual; also used to refer to a disease having run a short course or come on suddenly.

gait

The term used to describe the movement of an animal