Virginia Simpson and Chance

Joint Disease in Dogs

by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center

Joint disease, while commonly thought of as a problem in mainly older pets, is a very common condition in all ages of dogs.  Research shows that thirty percent of dogs over the age of one have some type of joint disease.  Joint disease can cause lameness, unwillingness to rise or walk, and difficulty navigating stairs. 

Young animals, particularly certain breeds, may be genetically predisposed to develop some types of joint disease.   Joint disease types seen in young animals include elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, and OCD (osteochondrosis dessicans).  Veterinarians now understand that many of these are much more common in certain breeds that others.  German Shepard dogs are an example of one of these breeds.  If you have a young predisposed breed with symptoms of lameness, it is important to pursue early diagnosis and treatment options. Elbow dysplasia is a term for a group of diseases of the elbow joint of the dog where the growth plates do not close properly.  This failure of closure leads to pain, arthritis, and chronic lameness.   Thankfully, there are surgical options available to treat elbow dysplasia with generally very good prognosis rates for resolution of lameness.  OCD (osteochondrosis dessicans) can also be treated surgically by removing the abnormal piece of cartilage with a good prognosis for resolution of lameness. 

Hip dysplasia is most common in large breeds, such as German Shepard Dogs and Labrador Retrievers.   Hip dysplasia refers to a malformation of the hip joint.  The hip joint is a ball and socket joint.  The ball should fit snugly on in the socket offering a wide range of motion.  With hip dysplasia, the ball will not sit in the socket the way it should, and may even rub the edge of the socket (called the acetabulum).  This can cause pain, inflammation, and lead to osteoarthritis of the joint.  There are varying degrees of hip dysplasia.  Dogs with mild hip dysplasia may be managed my controlling body weight, using joint supplements such as glucosamines and giving pain medications as needed.  Studies have shown that these dogs also benefit from moderate exercise.  Exercise helps keeps weight down, strengthens bones, muscles, connective tissue, and helps synovial cells (the cells that line the joint) secrete fluid that lubricates and conditions the joint.  Dogs that develop hip dysplasia that is very severe as puppies may benefit from a surgery called a juvenile pelvic arthrodesis, where the pelvis is cut and rotated slightly outward, thus covering more of the head of the femur (the “ball” that sits in the socket). 

Older dogs with severe arthritis from hip dysplasia may also be candidates for a total hip replacement surgery, now routinely offered at many surgical centers by veterinary orthopedic surgeons.  Another option for smaller breeds with severe hip dysplasia is called and FHO, where the femoral head and neck are removed.  This eliminated the head from rubbing on the edge of the socket (acetabulum), thus eliminated the pain and inflammation that this causes.  The body will then form a fibrous joint.  This surgery is used for small to medium dogs, but is not a good option for large or giant breeds. 

Elizabeth Gigis, DVM
West Chester Veterinary Center
7330 Liberty Way, West Chester, OH 45069