Bone Growth Disorders

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy
Osteochondritis dissecans
Elbow dysplasia
Hip dysplasia
Cervical Spondylopathy (Wobblers)
Spinal disease

Nutritional treatment of these disorders is detailed under Nutritional Therapy, while alternative therapies (where relevant) are detailed under that heading.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)

This is a condition that occurs in young hounds (and pups of other breeds, particularly the Boxer) that is extremely painful. The pup appears to have agonising pain everywhere. In Boxers the common name for the condition is skeletal scurvy as it is considered to be caused by a deficiency in vitamin C.

Dogs, like most animals, make their own vitamin C but they are at the lower end of the list in the amounts they can make. As this condition is also known as hypovitaminosis, it is probable that some dogs do not make enough or cannot utilise it. Also, since vitamin C is a stress vitamin and required in much larger quantities during periods of stress, it is possible that fast growing youngsters of the large and giant breeds just cannot make enough for their needs during growth spurts or other stressful situations. Certainly affected dogs respond well to supplementation with vitamin C, but it does have to be in very large quantities. A wolfhound can easily require 25 grams (25,000 mg.) of vitamin C daily to control HOD, and the dosage does need to be kept up for quite some time - weeks, if not months. Dogs can usually utilise vitamin C best as either Ascorbic acid or Sodium ascorbate and not the Calcium ascorbate which is the most commonly found form.

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Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

This is a condition where the cartilage in the growing youngster fails to calcify correctly and breaks down, fractures, and areas of bone beneath the fracture die and flaps of cartilage are raised and sometimes pieces of cartilage break off and cause problems in the joint capsule. Where pieces break off an ulcer can be left, which in time fills in with fibrous tissue but can be very painful. The condition affects the joints of shoulder, elbow, hock, stifle, hip and occasionally the spine.

When the condition first appeared, it was usual only to operate if there was a major problem but it was found that later on there were severe arthritic changes in the affected joint/s, so it became the usual practice to operate in any but the very slightest cases. The operation involves scraping down to healthy bone and removing any pieces in the joint capsule. The hound then has to have strict rest and absolutely no exercise except for toileting and that must be on leash. Most affected dogs are kept crated to prevent their moving about, as, of course, the age at which the condition occurs (4-9 months) is the age at which they are likely to be most energetic.

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Elbow Dysplasia

This title covers three conditions occurring in the elbow joint of growing youngsters. One is ununited anconeal process, which is a condition in which the anconeal process (the bone at the back of the elbow joint which prevents the foreleg bending backwards at the elbow), which in large and giant breeds starts off in two pieces which should fuse together, fails to knit causing pain and lameness. Pain is felt on extension of the elbow joint. However, if it occurs equally in both elbows the condition may not be apparent until later when arthritic symptoms occur. The usual treatment is to remove the fragment.

Another condition is ununited/fragmented coronoid process. The coronoid process is on the ulna (the inner of the two bones of the foreleg) and cannot be seen on x-ray, so it is only possible to look for changes in the elbow joint which would point to ununited or fragmented coronoid process. Pain is felt on flexion of the elbow joint. Treatment is usually conservative, with rest, pain killers, etc., or surgery can be carried out, but arthritis occurs whatever treatment is given.

The third condition is Osteochrondrosis, which is a condition in which the cartilage is thickened with fissure formation, but the term is sometimes used as a generic term to cover Osteochondritis (where fissures extend into the synovial joint) and Osteochondritis dissecans [OCD] (where flaps form) (which see). The clinical signs are forelimb lameness in puppies of 4 to 9 months. Sometimes the elbow will be swollen. Lameness is usually worse after rest and improves on movement. The condition is often bilateral so the affected puppy may not appear lame and will just have an odd gait, but, when sitting, will tuck its elbows in and turn its feet out. With lack of extension of the shoulder joint, the shoulder muscles atrophy and the spine of the scapula becomes very prominent.

These conditions seem to be related to speed of growth and can be helped/avoided by nutrition.

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Hip Dysplasia

This is the most common condition affecting the hip and the most common cause of osteoarthritis in the hip. All the thrust from the hind limb is propelled through the hip joint. HD is an abnormality of growth, causing instability in the hip joint so that every time the dog moves the bones move and get increased wear so that the body lays down new bone to prevent increased joint mobility. The condition has been recorded in all breeds except the Greyhound but is only a problem in dogs which weigh more than eleven kilograms. HD is an important condition because dogs that are affected are in pain and also because a fair proportion of the condition is inherited.

Diagnosis depends on radiography because clinical signs and radiography do not necessarily show the same. You can have a dog which is never lame but has severe HD but also a dog which is badly lame but does not have HD. Many causes of the condition have been put forward at one time or another. In the US they think of it as a disparity in bone and muscle growth but also implicated are the conditions in which the dog is kept, diet, exercise, etc.

Clinical signs are much loss of muscle mass in affected dogs. When both legs are affected the dog throws itself forward to take the weight on the forelegs. Other signs are decreased exercise tolerance; reluctance to jump in or out of a car; the joints may be heard clicking as the dog moves; a swaying walk.

Young dogs with HD should not be completely rested because it is important to build up muscle, which is best done through frequent walks. Five or six walks during the day of a few minutes each are far better than one walk of twenty minutes. Correct the dog's environment by avoiding slippery floors; do not let the dog go up and down stairs (anyway not a good idea), nor jump in or out of cars. Slow down growth by diet (see Nutrition section) and do not allow the dog to carry too much weight. Analgesics are often given to control the pain, but see the Alternative Therapy section for other suggestions. There are various forms of surgery carried out, ranging from removing the pectineus muscle to total hip replacement (for which the dog has to be at least three years old and skeletally mature).

The BVA/KC hip scheme has been in place for many years and the suggestion is that only those dogs whose score is better than the breed average should be used for breeding. However, attempting to control HD by breeding has so far not worked, since it is quite possible for two parents with good hips to produce puppies with bad hips. At one time it was considered that only thirty to fifty per cent of the condition was inherited (at present there seems to have been a swing towards deciding it is all or mostly inherited), the rest being environmental, so it is hardly surprising that breeding practices do not have better results.

In the U.S. good results are said to have been achieved by feeding pregnant bitches and their puppies following birth with highish doses of vitamin C.

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This condition is also known as Infectious Arthritis, and Joint Ill or Joint Evil. It is quite common in farm livestock such as calves but does also occur in puppies, especially those of the giant breeds. It can start at any age after birth, as it is caused by an infection entering the body through the umbilicus at birth. However, the three cases we had started at around six weeks of age with one puppy, twelve weeks with another, and not until six months with a third. The last mentioned died from it, the other two survived and led normal healthy lives.

The first obvious signs are a puppy that is not nursing or is off its food if at a more advanced age. One leg will be held up against the body and the puppy will have a fever. The infection starts in one joint and then moves diagonally across the body, so that there may be the left stifle affected first and then the right knee or shoulder joint, possibly with the vertebrae in the spine being infected as well. The affected joints will be hot, swollen, and painful. One of the problems with dealing with the condition is that there is so little blood supply to the joints that antibiotics cannot reach the site of infection. With the puppy that developed the condition at twelve weeks (our second case), the vet injected antibiotics directly into the joint, as only one was infected at the time. This did work very quickly and no other joints were affected, nor did the condition return.

In the first case, the puppy was affected in three legs even though antibiotics were started when the infection first started, when only one leg was affected. The infection recurred in this puppy at twelve weeks but to a lesser degree, but possibly the original infection had never been completely removed and it could have been triggered off again by vaccination.

Why it occurred is a mystery, because we were very careful about cleanliness and sprayed the umbilicus of puppies with iodine as we did with lambs, but it occurred in two different litters at two different locations.

This is one condition that I would still treat with antibiotics, although I would now be giving vitamin C and homeopathic remedies as well. For more information on alternative treatment click here.

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This is a degenerative disorder which can affect any joint in the body. It can start where there has been obvious early damage to the joint/s, such as through hip dysplasia, or Osteochondritis dissecans, or it can just occur in what were presumed healthy joints. One cause of osteoarthritis is intolerances, especially to foods. Foods that commonly affect joints are the Solanum family (potatoes, tomatoes, sweet (Bell) peppers, aubergines and paprika), and wheat and yeast (don't forget to check on vitamin B complex supplements to make sure they are yeast-free), although any food to which a dog is sensitive could be a cause of joint pain.

Nutritional supplements such as MSM (methylsulfonylmethane or organic sulfur), shark or bovine cartilage, green lipped mussel, etc. can help with osteoarthritis but this condition is very individual and what will help in one case may not help at all in another case. Homeopathy has very good results with the condition, as does Animal Links, acupuncture, and other alternative therapies.

Magnetic therapy, in particular the Bio-Flow collar, can work wonders in cases of osteo-arthritis and is definitely well worth trying, especially since, if the Bio-flow does not work, you can claim your money back. For further information on treating osteoarthritis, click here.

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Cervical Spondylopathy

This name covers cervical vertebral instability, vertebral subluxation, and vertebral malformation. Commonly known as "Wobblers syndrome". The symptoms are unsteady, wobbly gait; difficulty in rising; most instability being in the hind legs but with some foreleg involvement. The position of the faulty vertebrae governs whether the forelegs or hindlegs are mainly affected - in the upper part of the neck, the forelegs; the lower part of the neck, the hindlegs. The first tests for this condition are usually to walk the hound round in a circle, as affected hounds will cross their hind legs on this move, and to turn the feet over one by one so that the top of the toes rests on the ground. Affected hounds do not realise this has happened because of the faulty communication between brain and body and will leave their feet turned over. Mostly seen in wolfhounds at around 3-6 years of age.

The condition in wolfhounds is usually due to vertebral malformation, but it can be caused by disc protusion. Not all cases are treatable, but the treatment for those that are is usually to put a bolt or screws through the faulty vertebrae to stabilise them (possibly in conjunction with a bone graft), or to deal with the faulty discs by surgical means. Long term prognosis is not good in the first case - about four years is the average. Acupuncture has been successful in treating the condition.

It is also important to change methods of restraining affected hounds, as collars and halters put too much strain on the neck vertebrae. A harness is best.

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Spinal Disease

In the dog the spinal cord goes on to the end of the spine, which is why disc lesions cause paralysis. In man the cord stops in the lower back. If there is weakness in the forelegs, one knows that the damage is in the neck or upper part of the spine. If only the hind limbs are affected, the damage is in the lumbar region. The spinal cord fits the canal very closely, which is why anything sticking up into the canal affects dogs so much. An intervertebral disc is very strong but the centre is soft and thus can be forced through holes into the canal. Through the ribcage there is a ligament crossing from rib to rib across the vertebral column, protecting the discs.

Clinical Symptoms - if central reflexes are normal, there is no brain involvement. If the front legs can be used, the problem is not in the cervical region. If paralysed in the hind legs, the problem must be between the second thoracic vertebra and tail. There is no sensation behind a lesion, so poking something like a biro into the spine from the base of the tail forward will show the area of the spine affected. Other methods of testing are to tap the patella for reaction, in the same way as the knee of a person is tapped to test for reflexes, or to prick the foot to see if there is any feeling in the foot. If the dog shows no response to stimuli, the prognosis is very poor.

An ordinary x-ray of the spine does not always show any damage to the spine, so it is necessary to do a myelogram using water soluble agents which do not produce irritation. However, there are risks in myelography. The agent is injected into the back of the neck just behind the head and the needle has to actually enter the spinal canal (spinal fluid dripping through the needle shows it is in the right place, and sometimes the fluid itself is tested as well). The dog is then tipped on an inclined plane so that the fluid flows down the spinal canal and its course is followed on x-ray so that it can be seen where the flow is checked.

Protuding discs can cause pain, a wobbling gait, or total paralysis. The onset is usually sudden. Treatment is usually to perform fenestration, going in from below and drilling a hole to relieve the pressure. Also to put in screws to fuse vertebrae together to give greater stability.

Fractures can occur in the spine. In the neck, C2 (the second cervical vertebra) is the usual site and this causes sudden death as it is the same sort of injury as is caused by hanging. However, sometimes dogs will survive such a fracture.

Infections give narrow, fluffy discs called discospondylitis. The affected dog often has a bladder infection. Spinal tumours can also occur, and osteosarcoma has occurred in the spine in wolfhounds, although no spinal problems are common in the breed.

However, some older hounds - from about six years on - have developed a problem that seems akin to CDRM (chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy, or spinal cord degeneration) and become progressively weaker on the hind legs, with muscle wastage, scraped toes often with nails worn down to the quick from dragging along the ground, and with difficulty getting up. A herbal tonic called ANIMA STRATH (made by a Swiss firm, Bio-Strath Ag) has proved effective at improving the condition in some dogs, as has the homeopathic remedy CONIUM MACULATUM (see homeopathy). Giving both together would be most beneficial. Orthomolecular medicine (nutritional therapy) can also be of benefit, and acupuncture has had good results, as it has in other spinal problems. The best therapy might be to utilise all of these together with Bowen Technique or McTimoney Chiropractic.

It has also been suggested that CDRM could be an auto-immune disease similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. Affected dogs have depressed cell-mediated immune responses associated with increased levels of circulating suppressor cells. However, glucocorticosteroids and other immunosuppressive agents have not had any long-term benefits. Giving immune boosting supplements and herbs could help. See Immune System page for more detailed information. And getting the spine into its proper alignment can also help the immune system function.

Not all back problems are due to damage to the vertebrae or discs, tumours, fractures, or infections. Many problems may not even be recognised as back problems, but chiropractors and other similar therapists often find that putting the vertebrae and pelvis (in particular) back into proper alignment can clear up such problems as diarrhoea/constipation, or bladder weakness. Any dog that has had a fall, or crashed into another dog/tree/fence/person or whatever, or has been hit by another dog/car or whatever, does agility, courses (whether live or lure coursing), goes up and down stairs or jumps on or off things a lot would benefit from regular chiropractic treatment (see under McTimoney Chiropractic in the alternative health section), and/or Tellington TTouch (particularly the exercises, which are also excellent for dogs whose gait is poor; for example, crabbing or pacing all or most of the time).


Panosteitis is a disorder in which pain and lameness occur, usually suddenly, in young dogs (generally within the range of five to fourteen months of age) of the large and giant breeds, more often in males than females. Usually one or other of the front legs is first affected but the condition can appear to shift from leg to leg and even to disappear and then return in a cyclic manner. The worst pain may persist on and off for as long as a year, but bouts of pain do not usually last longer than a few weeks at a time. The pain is in the long bones of the limbs rather than the joints.

Therapies that might help would be Bowen Technique, acupuncture, and acupressure. In homeopathy Arnica montana would be the best remedy, as it covers the pain all over and the fear of being touched that hurting all over brings. Give in the 200c potency but not in frequent doses - one dose a day at most. It will often be of most benefit to follow the Arnica with Rhus tox (Rhus toxicodendron) in the 30c potency, but not on the same day as giving Arnica. Wait until the Arnica has reached a plateau and then use the Rhus. For more on this form of treatment (albeit in humans), see (Lectures on Homeopathic Materia Medica by James Tyler Kent). The page on elbow and hip dysplasia
Elbow Scheme BVA article on elbow dysplasia (in .pdf format) The page on hip and elbow dysplasia information
cervical spondylopathy Article on the PetMD website, entitled Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs
spinal problems in dogs Article on the PetMD website, entitled Slipped Disc, Bad Back, and Muscle Spasms in Dogs The WebMD page on arthritis in dogs The 2ndchanceinfo page on dealing with Arthritis, Joint and Back Pain in your Older Dog
osteochondrosis Article on the PetMD website on Osteochondritis Dissecans in Dogs Encyclopedia of Canine Veterinary Medical Information article on Panosteitis Canine Inherited Disorders Database

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Updated 8/9/2015