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The Bigger They Are
by Nathan Orme
May 10, 2011 | 2045 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy Image/Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine - An X-ray shows a dog with advanced hip dysplasia (left), where the ball joint no longer properly fits with the socket. This condition is caused by several factors, including genetics, weight, diet and exercise. There are surgical, drug and therapeutic ways of dealing with it.
Courtesy Image/Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine - An X-ray shows a dog with advanced hip dysplasia (left), where the ball joint no longer properly fits with the socket. This condition is caused by several factors, including genetics, weight, diet and exercise. There are surgical, drug and therapeutic ways of dealing with it.
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RENO — Watching Layla stand up can make any dog lover’s heart break. She has no problem getting her front end up, but then she will strain to get her rear off the ground, pulling with her front legs as she elevates her back end on weak hips.

The 11-year-old Saint Bernard has had difficulty getting up for a few years now, but it was really bad after her recent trip to the groomer. I knew she struggled, but never wanting to give up on a loyal companion I figured she’d be fine to go get pampered for a few hours.

When I picked her up she seemed sore but otherwise fine. But when I got her home she struggled more than usual to move her back legs and when she laid down for the first time, she couldn’t get up. I had to run an errand so I left her in the garage for an hour and when I returned she had dragged herself out and through 30 feet of rocks trying to reach the backyard lawn.

I truly thought that in wanting her to get clean I had signed her death sentence.

Saint Bernards and other large-breed dogs are prone to a condition called hip dysplasia. Generally this occurs when dogs get older and the ball socket of the leg no longer fits smoothly in the hip bone. Cartilage is damaged and it can be very painful for the animal.

Wisconsin-based veterinarians Race Foster and Marty Smith write on their website, www.peteducation.com, that genetics, exercise and nutrition are the three primary factors in causing hip dysplasia. The genetic prevalence of the condition is perpetuated by new breeders entering the profession every five years or so who are uninformed about it and do not look for it when selecting their animals, according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).

Foster and Smith write that diets with too little or too much calcium can have a detrimental effect on the hip joint, though today’s “all in one” dog foods have made this a rare occurrence. When it comes to exercise, they write, too much activity at a young age can be a risk factor though strong, healthy muscle mass can cut down on the disease. Maintaining a healthy weight — which involves both diet and exercise — can cut down the stress on the hip joint, according to the OFA.

My first concern when Layla came home from the groomer was to try to get her up and moving on her own. A veterinarian at North Hills Veterinary Hospital told me it was OK to put buffered aspirin in her food to help with the pain. I made sure she stayed off her leg as much as possible and each time she wanted to get up I helped her. Luckily, after about a week she was able to get up on her own again, though she walked on her back legs more stiffly than ever.

Though I still keep a constant eye on her to make sure she doesn’t fall and break a leg, I try to make sure Layla gets a short walk each day, even if it is just to the mailbox and back. OFA says the keys to management are exercise and weight control.

“Studies have shown that up to 76 percent of severely dysplastic dogs with arthritis secondary to HD are able to function and live comfortable quality lives with conservative management,” the website states.

Layla hasn’t been formally diagnosed but who shows all the signs of hip dysplasia, but I have been paying attention to treatment options associated with the condition. The doctor at North Hills Animal Hospital also told me to give her food or pills containing glucosamine, a natural compound found in healthy cartilage. I thought for a time that she had torn a muscle or tendon and would never be able to walk again, but it appears she was just really sore and tired.

Considering just a few weeks ago I was wondering how I’d deal with burying or cremating a 130-pound dog, Layla it doing remarkably well. My girlfriend and I lovingly refer to her as “Big Mama Machine,” and it seems the machine is up and running again.

For more information on hip dysplasia, visit www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+1569&aid=444 or www.offa.org/hd_info.html.
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