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Common Bone Diseases in Dogs That You Must Know

Common Bone Diseases in Dogs That You Must Know

Puppies of large-breed dogs are routinely affected by bone ailments like growing pains and elbow dysplasia. This DogAppy article will inform you about the common bone diseases in dogs, and also what you can do about it.
DogAppy Staff
Did You Know?
It's a common myth that dogs will let you know when they are sick. On the contrary, they are good at hiding their disease, as a primitive survival instinct. So it may be quite a while before you notice your dog's illness.
Dogs are affected by a range of bone diseases. Most of these will cause lameness from a slight to severe degree, while some may even be degenerative in nature, causing permanent debilitation. These diseases are also specific to a particular age group, generally in the infant stage, though some affect only middle-aged or older animals. Large-breed dogs like German Shepherds, Dobermans, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Basset Hounds are the most susceptible, owing to their large-boned structures, heavy weight, and rapid-growth phases, along with a genetic predisposition to bone diseases. Fingers are also being pointed at the rampant use of pet food and lack of natural food items in the diet of pet dogs. Pet food is high in proteins, calcium, and phosphorous, which causes growth at unnaturally fast rates than the body is suited to, leading to bone abnormalities.
One of the factors contributing to the large incidence of canine bone diseases is a sedentary lifestyle. This causes obesity, which makes the joints of the animal bear heavy loads. Another cause is the performance of unnatural exercises that dogs are not designed for, like making them jump high on their hind legs while standing on hard ground, or repetitive jogging exercises done with puppies, etc. When sharing your life and home with your dog, it's crucial to know the common bone diseases that make them suffer, as are given here.
Growing Pains
Growing pains, also called Panosteitis in medical terminology, is a spontaneously occurring disease in puppies of large dog breeds. This inflammatory disorder is characterized by pain, especially when shifting the weight from one limb to another.
Age Range
This disease commonly occurs in dogs between the age of 5 to 18 months, though in most cases, it stops by 14 months of age. However, it is more common in males than females, and some recurring cases have even been seen in dogs that are 2 years old. The first symptoms may start showing even at 2 months of age.
Causes
Though the exact cause of growing pains has not been identified yet, various theories have been given. Since the disease occurs during phases of growth of large dog breeds such as German Shepherds, genetics is said to be one of the reasons, along with protein and calcium-rich diets. Bacterial and viral infections have also been linked to this disease, but most experts disagree on this. Other factors that have been thought to contribute to the disorder include autoimmune disorders, allergies, internal and external parasites, metabolism, stress, and increased pressure in the bones.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
There is intermittent pain which shifts from leg to leg. It occurs mostly on the front legs, but may affect the hind legs as well. The bones commonly affected are humerus, femur, tibia, ulna, etc. Other symptoms shown are fever, anorexia, depression, weight loss, lethargy, high white blood cell count, and tonsillitis. The dog may dislike walking or exercising. Squeezing the affected area will elicit a painful response from the animal.

X-Ray and blood tests may be used to diagnose the condition. Radiographs of the affected bone will show cloudy bone cavities.
Treatment
There is no specific treatment for panosteitis, since the condition is self-limiting and resolves by itself with time. However, painkillers are commonly prescribed. In rare cases, steroids are administered, but this is generally avoided due to their side effects. Exercise and walks are to be kept to a minimum. Antibiotics are not given unless there is a concurrent infection. Panosteitis should clear up on its own within a few weeks. If the symptoms persist, further tests need to be carried out, since various other bone diseases show symptoms similar to panosteitis.
Skeletal Scurvy
Skeletal scurvy, also called Hypertrophic osteodystrophy and Moller-Barlow's disease, is a skeletal disorder affecting young dogs of large breeds. It affects long bones, especially the ones that grow rapidly, and causes quite a lot of pain, sometimes even permanently disabling the puppy or causing death.
Age Range
Puppies whose age is between 2 and 7 months are the most common victims. Sometimes, the symptoms manifest themselves as early as 8 to 16 weeks. Rarely, dogs who are 2 or even 3 years old have been affected by this disorder.
Causes
Though the chief cause of this disease is not known, there are various speculations. It is thought that it is an adverse reaction shown by the bone centers in response to vaccination. Vitamin C deficiency is also regarded as one of the culprits, since puppies affected by this disease show symptoms similar to scurvy (vit. C deficiency). But this is unlikely, because dogs produce their own vitamin C, and do not need supplementation. Nutrition rich in proteins and fat is also thought to play a role, as is bacterial infections, since the bone changes brought on by the disorder can also be caused by an infection. Imbalance regarding hormonal control of phosphorus and calcium absorption and mineral imbalances are other suspected causes.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The main symptom is lameness, which may be slight to severe. The bones commonly affected are the radius, ulna, and tibia. The dog may have a fever, which may even be as high as 106 degrees, swollen joints which are warm to the touch, reluctance to get up and eat, bent spine, depression, tonsillitis, diarrhea, pneumonia, irregular tooth enamel, and ocular discharge. The disease may show 'waxing' and 'waning' periods, and many dogs recover from it, though some puppies show permanent disability, such as cow's hocks and angular deformities of the front legs.

The disease is diagnosed by observing the clinical signs, urine analysis, and taking X-Rays. The X-Rays will show a dark line at the ends of the affected bones, where there should be none. This indicates death of the bone.
Treatment
Treatment mostly involves pain relief medications such as NSAIDS. If the dog shows symptoms of acute disease and fever, then an IV drip is administered. Steroid administration is done in advanced cases. Vitamin C supplementation may be done, but this is controversial, as it increases the serum calcium concentration. The dog must be allowed to rest on a soft bed.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)
Osteochondritis dissecans is a disease in which the normal process of bone formation is disturbed. Under ordinary circumstances, a cartilage is first produced which gets converted to bone. But with this disease, the cartilage is produced in excess amounts, which may break off or form a flap, obstructing normal movement at the joints between the bones, and causing pain.
Age Range
This disease affects juveniles of large dog breeds in the age range of 4 to 10 months, though it may be seen in puppies 12 months old or even older.
Causes
OCD is said to be caused by a variety of factors, though any one of them cannot be called the most important. Trauma to the cartilage which affects the blood supply, fast growth phases, and interference of the blood supply to the bones are suspected to be some of the causes. Since large dog breeds are more susceptible, a certain degree of genetic predisposition cannot be ruled out. Despite this, some medium-sized dog breeds are also prone to this disease. Since it occurs during phases of rapid growth, food very high in proteins, calcium, or fats are also pointed out as possible causes.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Typical symptoms include lameness, which may be intermittent or constant, favoring one limb over the other while walking or even resting, crying out when the affected part is squeezed, and warm and swollen joints. The puppy may be reluctant to stand up, eat, and will be depressed and lethargic. The lameness worsens after exercise, and the affected arts will show loss of muscle. The animal may show a shortened forelimb stride if the shoulder joint is affected so as to avoid extending the aching joint.

Diagnosis involves studying the animal's history, physical tests, and taking X-Rays. The animal may show a painful response during physical tests. Radiographs will show lesions and abnormalities in the affected area.
Treatment
There are two common treatment methods for OCD. The conservative approach involves administering painkillers like carprofen and allowing the animal to rest for extended periods. This eliminates the discomfort and allows the cartilage to heal by itself. The other method is by surgical treatment, which is carried out when the conservative approach fails to yield results. In this technique, the affected area is cut and the 'joint mice' or the improper cartilage flap is removed. Following this, the animal is allowed to rest. Recovery rates with this method are high, especially when the shoulder is affected. Chances of recurrence of the disease are low.
Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is a painful condition in which the cartilage at the joints between bones gets worn out, either due to age, or congenital diseases like osteochondrosis, hip dysplasia, or joint trauma.
Age Range
Can affect dogs of all age groups, with older dogs at a higher risk. It may be seen in younger dogs that have a history of joint injury.
Causes
Old age, past joint trauma, side effects of previous orthopedic surgeries, obesity, improper development of hip and elbow joints, and even genetic predisposition are some of the causes of canine osteoarthritis. Large-sized dogs may be at a risk. Animals that undergo a high amount of physical stress are also susceptible to osteoarthritis.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The disease causes pain on movement, so dogs may be reluctant to get up and exercise. Other symptoms include stiff movements, cracking noises from affected joints, swollen joints, intermittent lameness, and improper gait. There will be loss of muscle mass at the affected part, as the dog will use it less to avoid discomfort. Inability to ascend or descend from stairs, or reluctance to jump up may be observed. It will lick at the affected places and seek out soft surfaces to rest on. These symptoms may worsen with exercise, long periods of rest, and low temperatures. There may be character changes like irritability, depression, or appetite loss.

Osteoarthritis is generally diagnosed by taking X-Rays of the affected parts. The radiographs will show bone 'spurs' at the joints where cartilage should have been present. The veterinarian may also study the dog's previous medical history, carry out physical examinations, and even suggest blood tests.
Treatment
Osteoarthritis is incurable, but medications can improve the life of the pet. The commonly prescribed medications include anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and bone supplements like glucosamine. The dog should be put on a weight-loss program as prescribed to reduce burden on the joints. Specially designed exercises to improve joint mobility and tone the muscles are recommended. Treatment of the joints using cold and hot packs will reduce discomfort. There are surgical alternatives like hip replacement, but the rate of success varies. An emerging technique is the use of stem cells, though it is at a nascent stage.
Elbow Dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia is a disease caused due to the improper development of the elbow joint because of various abnormalities of the bones that articulate in the joint. These abnormalities include osteochondrosis dissecans of the humerus head, fragmented medial coronoid process, and unequal growth of the radius and ulna bones which cause the radius to become curved. This disease causes debilitating lameness of the forelimbs in affected dogs.
Age Range
Most affected dogs show symptoms between 4 to 10 months of age, and definitely before 2 years. Some dogs only start showing symptoms in adulthood at the onset of degenerative joint diseases.
Causes
The common causes for this disease include osteochondrosis, which causes disruption in blood flow to the affected part. Nutrition, environmental conditions, obesity during infancy, and genetic predisposition are other factors that play a role. In fact, more than 100 genes have been identified in dogs that are related to elbow dysplasia.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The dog will show a slight to severe lameness in one or both forelegs. Sometimes, the symptoms are not visible and will appear later. The animal will display an improper gait while walking, with a 'flipping' motion in the paws. It will not be interested in play, which may be mistaken as laziness, or it will tire easily. It may show an awkward movement while descending staircases due to pain in the elbows. Also, the affected joints will be rotated inwards, causing the elbows to flare out outwards. Arthritis will affect the joint in later stages.

The diagnosis of this condition is done by a physical examination of the joint, arthroscopy, and by taking X-Rays of the affected part in a position of extreme flexion to observe the anconeal process of the ulna bone. A CT scan may also be required to check a fragmented coronoid process.
Treatment
Non-surgical treatment involves physiotherapy, weight management, pain medication, anti-inflammatory medications, and rest, to ensure an active, normal life in future. Weight is kept in check to reduce the load on the affected joints. Surgery can be done to remove the improper cartilage flap and repair an un-united anconeal process (UAP). Before the age of 6 months, the UAP is repaired, and after that it is removed.
Hip Dysplasia
Just like elbow dysplasia causes lameness of the forelegs, hip dysplasia is one of the leading causes of hindleg-lameness. Under normal circumstances, the bones in the hip joint fit snugly into each other. But in this case, the hip joint is loose, which causes the ends of the bone to grind over each other, causing pain and arthritis.
Age Range
The symptoms of the disorder begin to show at an age of 4 to 12 months, and almost always by 18 months, though in some cases there are no signs of the disease until the dog reaches middle or old age.
Causes
Hip dysplasia may be caused by several factors. Genetics is said to be an important factor, as it has been found that parents with this disease are likely to give birth to susceptible puppies. Very large breeds of dogs have also shown more incidences of the disease, though it affects dogs of all sizes. Diet and nutrition also play an important role. A diet which promotes calcium and phosphorus imbalance is likely to promote hip dysplasia. Improper exercise of puppies during phases of rapid growth is to be avoided. Examples of such activities are making puppies jump up on their hind legs on hard surfaces or jogging with them.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Common symptoms include difficulty sitting up on the hind legs, narrowing of the hips, reluctance to exercise, pain which worsens after any activity, thinning of the hind legs as the dog avoids using them, enlargement of the shoulder muscles due to more work done by them, walking with an improper gait, running with a bunny-hopping gait, difficulty in climbing stairs, scraping of hind leg toenails while walking, pain in hip joints, grating sounds, and loss in range of motion of joints.

Diagnosis of this condition is done by observing clinical signs of arthritis, taking physical tests (hip-scoring tests), and X-Rays.
Treatment
Though there is no 'complete' cure for this disease, since it is mostly an inherited disorder, there are some surgical and non-surgical treatment techniques available. Managing the weight of the dog, frequent massage of the joints, rehabilitative exercises to strengthen the joints, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), painkillers, and supplements will alleviate the symptoms to a large extent. Surgical methods include a complete hip replacement, triple pelvic osteotomy, juvenile pubic symphiodesis surgery, etc., in cases of chronic pain or when conservative medication techniques do not work.
Floating Kneecaps
Floating kneecaps, also called luxating patella, is one of the five most common genetic disorders in dogs. In this disease, the kneecap or patella pops out of the socket, causing lameness in the hind legs.
Age Range
The most susceptible dogs are young ones of small breeds in the age range of 4 to 6 months, but sometimes, dogs as young as 8 to 10 weeks may start showing the symptoms.
Causes
Though this disease is said to caused by genetic factors, it is affected by several other factors too. Obesity and trauma to the region, along with genetic malformation are some of them.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most common observation is that the puppy, while playing, suddenly lifts its hind leg and begins limping. After some time, the limp is gone and the dog is back playing as if nothing happened at all. It may also make painful sounds from time to time. Besides this, a luxating patella shows different symptoms depending on the stage of the disorder. Puppies in the Grade I stage of the disease show intermittent limping whenever the kneecap pops out, and a normal gait as soon as it fits in. In the Grade II stage, the kneecap pops out on its own, and can be gently squeezed back in place by the owner, but almost always pops back out as soon as the puppy takes a few steps. In Grade III, there is more pain, and arthritic symptoms may be visible. Despite this, the kneecap can be massaged back in place. In grade IV, the kneecap dislocation is permanent, and cannot be massaged back in place. The animal has trouble even when getting up, and is unable to walk normally.

Diagnosis of this disease is done by observation of the kneecap and X-Ray tests.
Treatment
Grade I to II dogs generally do not need surgical intervention, and can be treated using conservative methods. This includes managing the weight of the dog to reduce load on the affected joints, anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDS, pain medications, supplements like glucoseaminoglycans, joint support medications, massage, and rehabilitative exercises. Grade III and IV dogs need surgery to realign the femur and tibia.
Spondylosis
Spondylosis deformans is a degenerative disease of the spine in dogs. In this disease, bony spurs grow on the edges of the spine, which may cause pain in some cases, and no symptoms in most. The most common regions where these lesions develop are where the ribcage meets the abdomen, the lower back, and near the hips and hind legs. Sometimes, the spurs may even grow large enough to form bridges between vertebrae.
Age Range
This condition is common in middle-aged and older dogs, and the symptoms will generally start appearing by the age of 10 years, though experts believe that almost every dog will develop this disorder if it lives to a specific age.
Causes
No single specific reason for this disease has yet been identified, but repetitive trauma to certain parts of the spine due to improper exercises done regularly, major injury to the spine, and previous degenerative diseases are all to blame. Other factors like diet, genetics, and lack of physical activity can also play a role. However, age is an important factor, since almost all dogs will be affected by this disease if they live long enough.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Spondylosis generally does not show any symptoms, but if seen, the signs may include stiffness around certain areas of the spine, reluctance to play or climb stairs, a bony spur felt on touching the spine, pain when the spur starts impinging on a nerve, swollen joints, etc.

This disease is mostly noticed when X-Rays taken for other ailments reveal bony spurs on the spine, though multiple X-Rays will be required for confirmation. MRI and CT scans are also done, along with checking the past medical history, biochemical profile, blood test, and urine analysis.
Treatment
Treatment is unnecessary in most cases. Pain medication and non-inflammatory drugs may be administered after meals. Acupuncture will also alleviate the pain. When the condition becomes chronic, the dog may have to hospitalized. Surgical methods may be used to compress the bone spur or to remove it altogether. One promising method of treatment is the use of RVI (Rubeola Virus Immunomodulator) injections to treat spondylosis.
These were some of the most common bone diseases that affect dogs. You will realize that most of these affect larger breed dogs like German Shepherds, though some diseases affect dogs of all sizes. Also, most vets advise a shift from pet food, as it causes very rapid growth in dogs, to more natural food sources. If your dog suffers from any of these diseases, it can almost always be managed by pain medications, rehabilitative exercises, and massage programs. However, if your canine friend is in deep anguish, then you may have to opt for a surgical method of treatment.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only. Always consult a veterinarian if you see symptoms of any disease in your dog.