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Dysplasia – A Vet Shares Ways to Ease the Pain

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Dysplasia is a common condition in dogs. Some dogs start showing signs as puppies, while others live a fairly normal, pain-free life until they become seniors. Regardless of when your dog starts exhibiting signs, it is truly painful and for some dogs it marks the beginning of the end.

Dr. Frank Borostyankoi DVM, DACVS (Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons), is a board certified veterinary surgeon specializing in orthopedics including joint replacements, corrective and traumatic bone, joint and spinal surgeriesarthroscopy and post-surgical physical rehabilitation. He serves as a Veterinary Advisor to Bio-Rep Animal Health, the makers of Boneo Canine, an all natural and innovative bone and joint supplement for dogs.

Dr. Borostyankoi answered our questions about dysplasia and how to help ease the pain of this torturous condition.

We always hear about hip dysplasia, but can dogs get it in other places?

The word “dysplasia” refers to a condition where the joint has developed incorrectly. When a dog has this condition, it usually leads to a remodeling of the joint that then changes in shape and tightness. This can lead to mechanical loads that are excessive in different areas of the joint triggering a cascade of changes in the joint surface covering cartilage, the joint fluid producing joint capsule, and the other structural elements of joint and surrounding tissues. All of these this together is what causes arthritis and pain.

Overtime, a dysplastic joint will get worse, but by definition, hip dysplasia has to be present already in the young, not fully developed pet.

Dysplasia is not limited to the hip, other joints are susceptible to dysplasia as well. The most common and understood is the elbow. In fact, there are probably more dogs with elbow dysplasia than hip dysplasia. However, it is harder to recognize the signs of front leg pain, so a lot of dogs never get diagnosed and the condition often goes undetected.

Though other joints (besides the hip and elbows) may get affected with the same principle of incorrect development, they are often not recognized as dysplastic. Nonetheless, the term “dysplastic” can be used for any joint.

What is it caused by?

Our general understanding today is that hip dysplasia is a genetically influenced, inheritable developmental condition. What that means is that the dysplastic pet’s family tree has a history of individuals with hip dysplasia. The condition depends on multiple genes, therefore it is not possible yet to do genetic testing to avoid it. Because of the potential for recessive genes, this also means that there can be dysplastic offsprings in a litter coming from two perfectly normal non-dysplastic parents. Similarly, two dysplastic parents can still have a normal offspring though it’s likely the genes would express themselves down in future generations.

What are some ways to alleviate the pain?

Stretches/execises

The effects of activity on dogs with dysplasia, arthritis or any other joint condition are very similar to a human patient. The joint function and pain generation is very similar – too much and too little can all be painful. Specifically, the hip joint is the most comfortable in a neutral position; twisting the joint forward or backward can increase the pain. However if the patient is immobilized, chronic arthritic joints have a tendency to stiffen up and become more painful.

Supplements

There are a large array of supplements that are intended to help with arthritis, including hip dysplasia. Most of these supplements target the fluid production of the joint capsule; essentially they are believed to generate a better quality, thicker, lubricating joint fluid while also reducing inflammation. There are some cutting-edge supplements out there like protein-based BONEO Canine that are delivering bone and joint support in new and innovative ways. This all natural product addresses more than one deteriorating effect of aging, which can be especially beneficial for dogs with arthritic joints. We have a tendency to forget that a joint is part of the bone and the health and durability of the joint’s cartilage also greatly depends of the health of the underlying bone. BONEO Canine helps with bone health by up-regulating bone remodeling, stimulating the production of new cartilage tissue, all while helping down regulate the inflammatory moderators in the affected joints.

Pain Medicines

Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are used widely with good success of controlling mild or moderate pain from arthritis. They work by interfering with the various steps of the Arthritis Cascade and limiting excessive joint fluid production and inflammation. General painkillers (without any effect against the joint inflammation) can also have supplemental value.

Therapies

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Therapies, like massage, may help ease the pain. Photo Credit: @jespahjoy via Flickr

Some of the alternative therapies that are believed to be helping canine patients include Stem Cell Therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP). We are still learning the mechanism of action and the reliability of response for these, though they have been around for years. Unfortunately, some of these options are still quite expensive and not all pets are a good candidate for these 21st century treatment modalities.

Some other alternative therapy options may have to be chosen carefully by evaluating the patient’s general condition and other limiting factors. Some geriatric patients with very little activity show quite an improvement in their activity level and quality of life with hydro-therapy or other physical therapy modalities. Some patients may also improve with the use of Cold Laser Therapy. If you are considering alternative therapies for your dog, you should ask your veterinarian what would they recommend for your pet specifically or if they have no orthopedic experience than they can refer you to a specialist.

Surgery

Surgery is one of the best options for treating hip dysplasia. Some young dogs, if they are not very severe and were diagnosed on time, can benefit from surgical procedures like the Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO) or Double Pelvic Osteotomy (DPO). These procedures alter the angular relationship of the hip joint components to stop the dysplastic process.

On the other hand, fully developed dogs of any age can receive a Total Hip Replacement (THR) just like people can. In this case, the entire joint is discarded and replaced with an artificial implant. Joint replacements are usually quite expensive but a successful surgery can keep the patient active to his or her full potential.

Femoral Head and neck Ostectomy (FHO) is a permanent salvage procedure that is used to discard the painful joint and have the soft tissue structure to keep the connection between the leg and the hip. It is a permanent procedure that can serve some patients well to keep them out of pain. Small dogs are generally better candidates than large ones for this procedure and it is definitely not for mild cases.

None of these procedures are completely risk free and they not for every dog, so you should consult with your veterinarian about your best options. None of these procedures can alter the genes of these dogs, so dogs with these conditions should not be bred.

Final Note

As with anything vet-related, Dr. Borostyankoi recommends you talk with your vet and create a plan that fits your dog’s condition and overall health. Be sure to talk to them before continuing or starting any activity as well since, as he mentions, it too much or too little can cause more pain.

About the Author

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She is the founder of, A Fairytail House, a unique all-positive all-sport dog training facility that helps rescue dogs in her area and provides free seminars and training classes for the community. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.

Written by Kristina Lotz
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