How you can prevent hip dysplasia in your Retriever
One of the most common degenerative diseases in dogs, especially large and retriever breeds, is canine hip dysplasia. It can appear at almost any time in a dog's life, from puppy to senior, and can be very distressing to dog and owner alike. Luckily, there are ways to help prevent hip dysplasia in dogs from occurring. Before we begin, however, a quick overview of what hip dysplasia is and how it occurs is important to the understanding of how to prevent or treat it.
What is Hip Dysplasia?
The joints of a dog are very similar to our own and function in much the same way. The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint in which the "ball" of the hip bone fits into the "socket" of the pelvic bone. Without getting into too much medical detail, this basic joint is surrounded by tissues such as sinew, muscle, and a joint capsule, while inside it is protected by cartilage.
When any of these is not healthy, then the joint is arthritic. Hip dysplasia happens when the bones themselves do not fit together properly, usually because the socket the ball is to fit inside is not defined well enough (too shallow, too ovoid, etc.).
Hip dysplasia is common in large breed dogs, especially in Laborador and Golden Retrievers. It is primarily a problem in purebreds because of the genetic links to the disease, but can happen in mixed breeds as well.
How To Tell If Your Dog Has Hip Dysplasia
If you suspect that your retriever may have this problem, there are a few ways to tell before you consult your veterinarian. Puppies as young as five months have shown symptoms, but usually the symptoms do not occur until the middle or later years of the dog's life. The symptoms are easy to spot to the conscientious dog owner, but are often confused with normal aging and arthritic symptoms, so the advice of your vet is important once you've determined that a problem does exist.
- Walking or running with an altered gait.
- Resistance to movements that require full extension of the rear legs.
- "Bunny hopping" gait rather than the usual leg-leg scissor movement.
- Stiffness or pain after exercise.
- Resistance to jumping, including getting in and out of vehicles.
- Resistance or refusal to climb stairs.
Many of these symptoms, of course, are also attributed to arthritis, bone diseases, and the normal aging process, which is why consultation with your vet is so important once you suspect a problem. As with most degenerative diseases, catching hip dysplasia early can mean all the difference.
How To Prevent Hip Dysplasia In Your Retriever
Prevention of the disease is all about lowering the chances your dog could develop it. This may require small alterations in how you feed, exercise, and care for your dog, but the changes are not huge and are easy to accomplish.
If you're starting from scratch, so to speak, and are going to get a new puppy from a breeder, ask for an OFA or PennHIP evaluation of the puppy's parents. If the parentage is of registered stock, then likely they are both already in the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) database and the results can be had quickly. The PennHIP (University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program) is newer and your breeder may not be participating, though you can have your puppy tested under this program. Either (or both) tests will give you a very good idea of your puppy's chances of developing hip dysplasia.
Keeping your retriever physically fit is also important, as overweight dogs are more likely to be diagnosed with hip dysplasia for several reasons, the most obvious being that a heavier dog puts more pressure on the joint. Exercising your dog, at all ages, is important.
Since retrievers love water and swimming is a great, low-impact exercise, this is one of the best ways to get your dog the exercise needed without putting undue strain on the joints. Playing fetch without requiring the dog to jump or make sudden directional changes is also a great lower-impact exercise. Hint: try rolling the ball or using a low-trajectory softball throw to keep it close to the ground.
Too-rapid growth during a puppy's formative time (3-10 months) can also greatly increase the risk of hip dysplasia. Some studies have shown that an increase in free-choice (eating as much as desired), high-protein/calorie diets (like most puppy foods) also raises the chances of a genetically-predisposed dog forming the disease. So moderation of your puppy's diet is important. This ties in with weight, as heavier dogs have a higher chance of forming dysplasia. Talk to your vet about the best way to feed your puppy.
The idea of low-impact exercise has already been mentioned, but ties in with development as well. Studies have shown that while heavier dogs are more susceptible to hip dysplasia, dogs with large, well-developed hip musculature are not as likely to succumb to the disease. So exercise is very important to prevent dysplasia from becoming an issue with your dog. Running and swimming are highly recommended exercises for your retriever at all ages. Simply giving your dog an orthopedic dog bed can also alleviate strain during rest.
Hip Dysplasia Can Be Curtailed
The incidence of hip dysplasia in the United States has begun to drop, according to OFA reports. Their statistics show that from 1989-90, over 60% of breeds showed lower instances of hip dysplasia than they did when the tests were first quantified in 1972. This is mainly the result of selective breeding and an increase in test acceptance and shows that the genetic portion of the disease can be curtailed.
At the same time, new advances in veterinary understanding of the disease has meant that more knowledge of how it can be minimized is available. As the education of dog owners increases, so will the number of cases caught early, when it's still treatable without surgery. By watching for the symptoms of dysplasia in your dog, you can keep it from degenerating into a real problem by making simple changes to your dog's diet and exercise and by following the advice of your veterinarian.