There can be many reasons for a dog to show trouble while walking.
In the young dog, there is a condition known as hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is most common in large breed dogs such as German shepherds, Great Danes and Labrador retrievers. It is related to the abnormal growth of the hip joint. The hip is a ball and socket joint. If the ball and socket do not form properly when the puppy is growing, permanent changes can occur that result in arthritis.
Symptoms of hip dysplasia in the young dog include standing with the toes turned out and the hocks turned in on the back legs so that from the back the pet looks splay footed. These dogs also “bunny hop” when they run, their back legs coming off the ground together and landing together in a distinctive way. Owners also say they notice their pet is slow to get up from a resting position.
Treatment for these pets includes joint supplements to reduce inflammation, slow joint damage, and encourage healthy cartilage. These dogs also benefit from steady daily walks to keep the hip muscles strong and supportive. Swimming is an especially good exercise because it does not involve extra weight on the hips.
In general, keeping the pet’s weight down is very helpful in minimizing the stress on the joints.
Another source of distress and limping in the dog is injury to the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee joint. The word “cruciate” means to cross over or the form of a cross. The cruciate ligament is called this because it is one of two ligaments found in the knee known as the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments. These ligaments are buried deep inside the knee joint, and cross over each other. When they are intact and healthy, they stabilize the knee, keeping it from sliding backward and forward. It is the anterior cruciate ligament that is in danger of tearing. The posterior ligament is stable in its location.
The anterior ligament will sometimes tear because the pet experiences trauma to the knee. This would involve some form of twisting, undue pressure to the knee. The more common cause is a chronic weakening of the ligament due to arthritis and repetitive trauma. It can be a combination of the two.
A cruciate ligament weakened by years of supporting an overweight dog will suddenly tear when the dog takes off running and pushes off with its back legs. In these cases, the pet can just be playing in the backyard and suddenly become lame.
The initial injury is often very painful. The dog will become “leg carrying lame,” not wanting to put the foot down. Cruciate tears can occur in small breed dogs as well as large breed. Not all dogs that tear their cruciate ligament are overweight. Some dogs seem to be genetically prone to this injury. It is also not uncommon for dogs that tear one knee’s cruciate to have the other knee develop the same injury in the future.
In dogs that are less than 30 pounds, the knee can often stabilize without surgery. It will take time, at least four to six weeks. During this time, keeping the pet on anti-inflammatories is helpful. These dogs also should be started on joint supplement medicine and they should be kept on joint supplements for the rest of their lives to reduce arthritis in the knee. Keeping the pet’s weight down is very important, too.
In dogs more than 30 pounds, surgery is indicated. Without surgery these dogs have a difficult time supporting their weight. Surgery for this condition is orthopedic surgery. It requires quite a bit of after care, but will be worth it to stabilize the knee. This is especially true for really large dogs that are more than 70 pounds.
All dogs that experience this injury should start on joint supplements and stay on these for the rest of their lives.