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The Most Common Bone and Joint Issues in Young Dogs

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Bone and joints problems are not something unique to senior dogs. In fact, dogs of all ages can develop orthopedic issues, though the causes behind them are often different. 

“Orthopedic diseases are often hereditary, so they are typically seen more often in purebred dogs, and larger breeds are also more predisposed to them,” explains Dr. Jamie Richardson, DVM, Medical Chief of Staff for Small Door Veterinary. “Orthopedic diseases and injuries result in joints that deviate from the anatomical norm. This means that the bones will likely rub together more, and so the joint suffers from more wear and tear than a healthy joint, leading to arthritis developing at a much faster rate – which is why we see it in younger dogs.”

In young dogs, limping and lameness can sometimes be connected to minor issues and can resolve on their own with some rest time. However, this isn’t always the case, and many times it can be a sign of something more serious lurking underneath.

Related: The Top Ingredients to Look for in Joint and Hip Supplements to Help with Arthritis

Here are some bone and joint issues that can affect young dogs    

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint does not grow uniformly during puppyhood, and so depending on the severity of their condition, some dogs may begin to show signs when they are still very young, according to Richardson. 

“While hip dysplasia is a genetic condition found predominantly in large breed dogs, it may be worsened by diet and growth rate,” explains Richardson. “It’s very important to keep puppies at a normal weight while they grow; if they are overfed, they are more likely to grow non-uniformly and put more stress on their joints, and consequently develop hip dysplasia.”

In addition, it is very important to feed large dogs food that has been specifically formulated for large breed puppies to help keep their growth controlled. This allows for proper bone growth and formation, as these diets contain fewer calories and a specific amount of calcium suitable for large breeds. “Excess calcium in the diet has also been associated with a higher incidence of orthopedic abnormalities in large and giant breeds,” Richardson says.

She adds that the recommended treatment for hip dysplasia may vary depending on the severity of the condition, the age at which it is diagnosed, and the degree to which it responds to medical intervention. “Surgery is often only recommended when other medical interventions are not adequate,” explains Richardson.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is a syndrome that encompasses several inherited conditions, causing developmental abnormalities of the elbow joint. Again Richardson says that elbow dysplasia tends to be more common in large and giant breeds and can lead to degenerative joint disease.

Early surgical intervention combined with physiotherapy provide the best outcomes, according to Richardson. However, she explains that the exact recommendations will vary greatly depending on the age of diagnosis, specific joint abnormalities found, and degree of pre-existing joint disease. 

Osteoarthritis

While often considered an older dog issue, young dogs can also develop osteoarthritis. “In younger dogs, arthritis is typically caused by orthopedic diseases or injuries, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, luxating patella, or a cranial cruciate ligament rupture,” says Richardson.

On the other hand, arthritis in older dogs is typically caused by age-associated wear and tear, obesity, and lack of exercise.

Related: Making a Dog Comfortable Who Suffers From Hip Dysplasia

Shifting Leg Lameness 

One of the less known symptoms of Lyme disease is a shifting leg lameness due to painful or swollen joints that may come and go, recurring in either the same or other legs. “However, of dogs exposed to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, 90-95% remain asymptomatic and clinical symptoms only occur in 5-10% of dogs infected,” Richardson explains of what she tends to see.

This is part of the reason why it’s so difficult to detect Lyme disease early on – by the time most dogs are diagnosed, the window for early, easier treatment has likely closed. “Once clinical Lyme disease is diagnosed, however, response to treatment is often rapidly successful (including resolving any joint inflammation),” adds Richardson.

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Tearing of the Cranial Cruciate Ligament  

Dogs may develop cranial cruciate ligament (a knee ligament that connects the femur bone to the shin bone) for several reasons.

“Dogs may develop cranial cruciate ligament tears for several reasons. “Unlike in people, most cranial cruciate ligament injuries are not acute, and instead tear over time due to chronic wear and tear; however, trauma and or acute injury also can cause a CCL tear,” Richardson explains. She adds that most dogs are over four years old at time of diagnosis, and this is more likely to happen in larger breeds, including Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Staffordshire Terriers, Akitas, Mastiffs, Saint Bernards, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

Poor physical condition and being overweight puts more stress on the joints and ligaments and can also cause a CCL tear, says Richardson, so it’s important that your keep your dog’s weight under control.

Young dogs can also develop other bone or joint problems, according to Richardson. These include Panosteitis (inflammation of the outer surface of the long bones in the leg), Osteochondritis Dissecans (a defect on the smooth cartilage surface within one or more joints), Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (inflammation in the growth plates of the long bones), and Luxating Patella (a condition that affects the knee joint where the kneecap slips in/out of the joint).

Dealing With Bone and Joint Problems

Joint diseases can affect the joint membranes themselves, the tendons around it, or the cartilage. In the case of bones, the problems can be the result of an injury, deterioration, or congenital. Just as there are many causes behind these issues, there are also many potential ways to treat them.

Surgery is always a possibility, but Richardson says some issues can be treated with anti-inflammatories and pain medication, weight loss in overweight pets to reduce stress on the joints, or supplements such as omega fatty acids and glucosamine/chondroitin.

She adds that lifestyle changes, including avoiding high impact exercise and exercise on hard surfaces and adapting the house with ramps to avoid stress on the joints from steps/jumping is also important for many dogs. Physical therapy, such as hydrotherapy, can help in many cases as well.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Dealing With Joint Issues in Your Dogs

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

By Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and dog lover. She's certified in pet CPR, used to run a dog rescue group in Thailand, and currently shares her home with two rescue dogs. Her work has been published on PetMD, Animal Wellness, the Discovery Channel, and more. Find more on her website at www.dianabocco.com

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