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Joint Problems in German Shephards

German shepherd, also known as Alsatians, is a name used by The Kennel Club for a breed of dog normally originated in 1890’s in Germany. This breed was developed from shepherding dogs. They are classified as Herding group, Pastoral group and Working group etc in breed standards. Due to its strength, courage, intelligence and trainability this breed has been preferred for various works that include guide dogs, personal protection, acting, search and rescue, police and military. German shepherds are currently the second most popular dogs in USA and fourth in UK.

The breed has sturdy muscular and slightly elongated body with solid bony structure. Head is in proportion to the body with forehead being slightly rounded. Teeth meet in a strong scissor bite. Front legs are muscular and thighs are thick and sturdy. German shepherds have three qualities i.e. double coat, plush coat and long hair coat. They are relatively inactive indoors and can perform best in open places.

Joint problems in German Shepherd

German shepherds are amazing dogs and seem to glide over ground while running. However these amazing and loyal companions are prone to joint problems like Hip dysplasia and Arthritis. German shepherds are mostly prone to following types of joint problems.

(i) Panostetisis:-

Risk of Panostetisis is higher in German shepherd puppies than in adults. The condition refers to abnormal and quick growth of long leg bones that cause severe pain. The condition is most common in puppies under 12 months of age. However the condition can also affect up to two years of age dogs after this it is extremely rare. Panostetisis is also known as Pano. It is largely incurable. The puppies seem to outgrow it in a month or two.

Suffering from Pano puppy seems to be in pain. It may not feel up like running and playing and might also limp. Pups suffering with Pano can be normal one day but might suffer from growing pains the next day. The condition comes and goes but it is normally tend to disappear after 18 months of age.

(ii) Hip/Elbow dysplasia:-

Like other large breeds the condition with which German shepherds suffer the most is Elbow/Hip Dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease. The disease causes the bones in hips to not fit perfectly i.e. a leg bone may be misaligned or sit outside of the hip joint. This causes the bones to rub wrong in joints resulting in cushioning of joints to wear off. The same condition occurs in elbow and causes a lot of pain.

As the condition progresses the dog feel pain in simple activities like walking, getting up and also while lying down.

(iii) Osteochrondrosis Dissecans (OCD):-

One of the problems found in other breeds and also German shepherd is Osteochrondrosis Dissecans also simply called OCD. This is a developmental bone disease. The disorder is characterized by defective cartilage in different joints. The main problem is increased thickness of cartilage with time. Cartilage having no direct blood supply lives on nutrition from joint fluid and underlying bones. Thick cartilage causes blood loss resulting in Necrosis (death) of lower layer of cartilage. All this results in contact of joint fluid with underlying bones that causes inflammatory responses and pain.

It is most common in puppies between 6 to 9 months of age. OCD affects dog’s performance. The pup may frolic like normal for some time but will end up limping upon slowing and notices pain. OCD further puts the dog to other joint injuries or cartilage damages.

(iv) Arthritis:-      

Arthritis is degenerative joint problem also common in German shepherds. In this condition joints become stiff, painful and inflamed. Pure bred dogs are generally more prone to Arthritis. If young dogs sustain an injury they can also suffer from Arthritis. Dogs suffering from Hip/Elbow Dysplasia are more likely to suffer from Arthritis later in life.

Symptoms of joint problems in German Shepherds:

Most of the time people notice that their dog is not that athletic anymore or is having difficulties in common activities. The dog has problems in simple activities like moving from couch, going upstairs or getting in back of car. They don’t want to run as long with their owner or also don’t want to play long in park. Other symptoms expressing joint problems are as follows.

  • Overt lameness i.e. holding the limb up or holding it funny.
  • Change in moods like aggression and irritation
  • Lethargy
  • Severe pain in joints
  • Lack of Coordination
  • Hind limb weakness
  • Dragging of rear feet
  • Fever
  • Inability to stand or function
  • Disturbance in diet
  • Moaning or groaning
  • Due to lack of muscle usage some dogs may suffer with Atrophy (loss of muscle mass).

Prevention and treatments:

(i) Aggressive Surgical treatment:-

Surgical treatments include the arthroscopic cleaning of a joint all the way to total joint replacement. Suffering with Hip dysplasia surgical interventions are necessary. There are few Dysplasia surgeries depending on severity of dysplasia and importance of Arthritis. Surgery requires a recovery time of 6-8 weeks and is quite expensive.

(ii) Non operative treatment:-

Non surgical procedure includes weight management and improvement of body condition. The monitoring of dog’s weight is very important because increased weight means more stress on the joints. Keeping the weight of the dog in check not only decreases stress but also decreases the harmful effects of fat cells on the joints.

(iii)  Medications:-

If surgery is not an option you can use different medications prescribed by vet. There are various types of food additives and medications. Drugs include anti-inflammatory, analgesics and pain relievers. Some of the medications include Rimadyl, Metacam and Tramadol etc.  A tablet of the joint health supplement P&B Hip and Joint Support is recommended to the dogs suffering from Arthritis.

(iv) Therapy:-

Other than surgical procedures and treatments there are physical therapy programs; professional scientific base programs with aid of a rehabilitationist. Therapies include are as follows.

  • Underwater treadmills
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Electric stimulation

(v) Natural relief:-

Two supplements which are most popular for joint support are as follows.

  • Glucosamine
  • Chndroitin Sulfate

Although these supplements don’t cure the damage caused by dysplasia or arthritis but they do help in repairing damaged tissues in joints. Other natural supplements include Omega-3 and Vitamin E supplements.