You might think of hip dysplasia as sore, arthritic hips. While it is true that arthritis inevitably develops, hip dysplasia means an unstable hip joint.
You can learn more about hip dysplasia and how to prevent it here.
Thank you, Angie Falcsik, for sharing Indy’s story.
Indy’s story began about four years ago when Indy was just six years old.
Indy, his canine siblings, and I were outside playing ball and Frisbee when I noticed Indy limping and favoring his right back leg after only about 10 minutes of playtime. I knew they liked digging little holes in the yard. So I figured I had missed filling one, and maybe he stepped in it. So I manipulated his leg a bit and, as he seemed fine, chalked it up to a little strain.
This continued here and there for the next few months but only occasionally, not every time we played.
I kept telling myself I needed to make sure I checked the yard before play.
I also noticed he would wince a bit when stretching and was stiff in the mornings.
Indy would not stretch as far as he used to and had trouble getting around for a bit each morning.
Then one day, as Indy was jumping off the bed, I heard him cry out with a sharp yelp.
I immediately jumped up to check on him, but again, manipulating his legs didn’t seem to bother him.
I did, however, notice that he was favoring his right hip/leg more and more. He also seemed to walk with a stiff gait.
When we would play in the backyard, I noticed he was taking more breaks. He wasn’t running to get the ball or the Frisbee with as much enthusiasm as before. Instead, he would allow his German Shepherd sister and Belgian Tervuren brother to do most of the playing. So I decided it was time to have this issue looked at.
Much to my surprise, the trip to the vet was much more involved than I had imagined.
I expected she would perform an examination, and tell me I was making more of a strain than I should. I thought I’d walk out of there with a prescription for NSAIDs.
Unfortunately, after an exam and x-rays, the veterinarian told me that Indy had early-onset hip dysplasia.
I instantly thought to myself, surgery? He’s so young! How could he suffer from this “old age” condition so early? The vet told me that all of Indy’s breeds (Collie, Shepherd, Golden Retriever) were prone to this condition. However, he assured me that surgery was not necessary at this time. I should prepare myself, though, as likely, in the future, this would be our fate.
She suggested that I start Indy on a daily regimen of Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM. In her opinion, this was a better (and less expensive) option than the typical arthritis medication, which has many other side effects.
After a few months, I did start to notice a difference. However, Indy still seemed to have days where he was uncomfortable.
Now, I know that animals tend to hide their pain. By the time we see it, it is usually worse than what they are letting on; the selfless soles they are! The vet assured me that a little more time was needed. By then, we were into the winter, so less active in our playtime/walks. But, I noticed an improvement in Indy’s walking and getting on/off the bed/couch. It appeared that we had finally turned the corner.
I decided to research some homeopathic methods to help Indy and began doing regular massages, light acupressure, and aromatherapy.
It became a nightly ritual with all the dogs. My work schedule went from one job, 40 hrs a week, to two jobs, working about 70 hrs a week. That meant I had less time to spend with the dogs each day.
Over the next couple of years, Indy had his good and bad days but seemed to do alright overall.
The occasional aspirin to assist with pain along with massage, ice packs, etc. However, when I considered the alternative – surgery – I felt he was much better off not going under the knife.
Our walks got shorter and shorter as Indy appeared not to handle long walks as well as he used to.
Indy would do the “bunny hop” gait after walking about a ½ mile, as well as when we were out playing. However, there were days that he would limp by the time we got home. Ice packs became a regular regimen. The vet said it was essential to keep Indy moving–shorten the walks but not allow him to become sedentary.
Indy was 9 when I heard a cry again, this time much worse than before.
Once again, we were outside playing. This time, I noticed Indy was limping on his right front leg and trying to figure out which back leg to put weight on. I hadn’t seen any issues with his right leg before, so I was very concerned, especially at this age. We made another trip to the vet, and he said it appears Indy had likely strained his right shoulder. However, in light of Indy’s history, the vet suggested we see an orthopedic specialist. As you can imagine, my heart sank again.
This time I was sure we were looking at surgery. But now Indy was nine years old, not his young 6 when this all started. I kept telling myself I would do what was best for him, no matter the cost. However, I also had to keep his quality of life a significant consideration.
We made the appointment, and while we waited for “the day,” he and I went out for a walk, just the two of us.
While on our walk (barely a 1/8 of a mile), Indy stopped. He looked up at me as if to say, “I can’t take another step.”
This is what it had come to; I could no longer go for a short walk. We were not that far from my house, and I picked up my 65-pound Collie/Golden/Shepherd and carried him most of the way home. We made a couple of stops, and he did manage to walk into the house himself. However, after ice and aspirin, I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and broke down.
I thought for sure we were looking at surgery, and/or the specialist was going to tell me it was too late to do anything.
This was my baby! His mom came to my rescue pregnant and eight days later had eleven puppies. I just happened to be there when she went into labor and watched Indy being born. I had had Indy literally since he took his first breath into this world. Now, I don’t have favorites, and I love all my dogs, but my relationship with Indy was unique, to say the least. I was not taking this well.
Visiting an orthopedic specialist
Well, the day came to see the specialist, and I was prepared for the worst but hoping for the best.
This was a good day for Indy; he pranced his way into the office and grabbed the heart of everyone there, as usual.
The vet came into the room and asked several questions.
He began to examine Indy, and I noticed how gentle his touch was. This man was not only a great “dog” vet but a great “people” vet. He explained everything he was doing, what he was looking for, what he was finding, etc. I felt so comfortable with him and knew we were in good hands. He then had Indy walk up and down the hallway.
At this time, he suggested that Indy undergo full-body x-rays to figure out exactly what was happening.
Of course, this meant I would have to leave him to spend the night so they could run a full blood screen and sedate him in the morning for the x-rays. I know it should have been easy for me to do, but for some reason, I did not want to leave him.
What was the specialist going to find?
What were we up against? I knew the best thing was to have these tests done, so I kissed him and left him in the good hands of this amazing staff!
It was so hard to sleep that night; my other two dogs could sense something was up. Trace, my Belgian Tervuren, Indy’s right-hand man, looked at me and wondered where his buddy was. These two are never apart and clean each other’s faces, eyes, and ears every night. He seemed as lost as I was.
I returned the following day to get the results and pick up Indy. The vet came in and showed me all the films.
It turned out it was worse than I thought.
Indy’s right hip dysplasia was still bad, but now his left hip was also labeled severe. He also said Indy had right elbow dysplasia and pointed to these little white things sticking out of his wrist on the x-ray. Bone spurs.
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I felt horrible that I had put him through dealing with this for so long and didn’t realize how bad it was.
I kept asking myself, why didn’t I pay more attention? Why did I take him for such long walks and not notice anything? The vet assured me that these changes are often subtle, and it is hard to pick up on the signs sometimes.
Indy’s treatment and prognosis
So, now for the prognosis and what we were going to do. Amazingly enough, Indy’s nine-year-old spine was perfect!
The veterinarian said Indy’s spine was as good as a one-year-old. Therefore, despite his hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and bone spurs, he felt that Indy could likely avoid surgery!
He told me that all my years of giving him the glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM and the ice packs, massages, and monitoring activity were the big reasons why he had done as well as he had for as long as he had and why surgery was not an option right now; if ever.
Further, he suggested that I switch him from the generic G/C/MSM to Osteo Bi-flex as the absorption into the system was better than the generic version.
The veterinarian also prescribed Fish Oil pills to help with inflammation and to add a pain medication: Rimadyl.
Not a fan of NSAIDs
That’s when I stopped. I had heard and read about all of the problems with Rimadyl and the dogs that had died after taking it. The vet explained that when Rimadyl first was being tested, he was one of about 30 vets in the country to help conduct the study.
They discovered that dogs were dying after taking this medication due to not checking their liver and kidney levels before starting the medication.
This medication required blood work to check the kidney and liver levels, and only after confirming normal levels could a dog begin taking this pain medicine.
Of course, the first 24 hours still needed to be monitored for signs of lethargy, throwing up, and not wanting to eat; these symptoms were rare when appropriately used.
Indy’s blood work was perfect; in light of his pain level, this was the best medicine to put him on. I decided to start this medication early on a Saturday morning, so I could be home, monitor him, and be ready to go to the emergency room at the slightest sign something was amiss. The vet assured me that would not happen because of his blood work.
After discussing everything, I asked about other medications for his pain, but the vet said this was the best option. The vet continued to assure me that the only dogs that had any problems whatsoever were dogs that were not tested before starting the medication.
Saturday came, we started the meds, and I never left his side for hours.
He looked at me as if to say, “mom, I’m fine; quit hovering.” We snuggled, watched movies, ate breakfast, and finally, dinner. Nothing. No symptoms. He was fine. I could breathe again.
A couple of days passed, and I started noticing Indy was up and around a bit more.
A week went by, and he now wanted to play more. Finally, two weeks passed, and he didn’t want to go home after short walks; he wanted to keep going!
At our one-month follow-up appointment, I was excited to share how well Indy was doing with the specialist.
He, of course, knew how well Indy would be doing but was humble and very supportive. So we only needed to have Indy’s blood work checked in a couple of weeks, every 3-4 months for the first year, and then every six months after that.
We are almost a year out from our first visit with the specialist, and Indy is not only back to his 1-2 mile walks, playing ball and Frisbee, but now also does nose work, all without pain!
He jumps onto the bed, couch, and into the car without any problems and is a much happier dog! And I am a grateful and thrilled mom. Everyone is on the Fish Oil and Osteo Bi-Flex regimen, as all three of my babies are ten, and it has made quite a difference in them as well.
I do keep Indy about 5 pounds underweight to keep the pressure off his joints, which has also made a big difference.
Editor’s note: For obvious reasons I am not a fan of NSAIDs, as Jasmine got quite sick when we tried putting her on them. And her liver and kidneys were fine. However, they are life-savers for many dogs and I am happy for every dog that benefits from them without harm. It is however important to monitor your dog closely when on these drugs.
The original signs I noticed were limping when playing, not wanting to play/walk as long, stiffness in the morning, trouble stretching, hesitating to do some activities he loved, hesitating to jump up or down off the bed/couch, and the “bunny hop” gait.
You will notice this when both back feet tend to hop together. But, of course, other medical issues also manifest these symptoms, so it is always best to have your dog checked by your vet to assess the problem.
Thankfully, what started as a limp, developed into what I thought would be a long and expensive treatment regimen, has had an excellent outcome. We could not be happier with how healthy and active everyone is especially Indy!
Hip Dysplasia in Dogs