A common feature of dogs with hind limb problems (e.g. hip dysplasia, old cruciate injuries, spondylosis) is that the front half of the body is much bigger than the back half. At times it can almost look like two separate dogs that have been stuck together. Many owners have said their dogs have always been that shape whilst others have never really noticed the slow change in their dog.
In the picture above we have Zeus, a 17 month old German Shepherd who was referred for physiotherapy because of lameness due to panosteitis (inflammation and remodelling of the bones). As you can see, the front half of the body is more developed than the back half. Later on Zeus was also diagnosed with hip dysplasia.
Skeletal development is dependent on the structure of the parents and how the dogs are cared for in their first year. If the parents have genetic issues such as elbow and hip dysplasia then there is a good possibility that some of the offspring will also have similar conditions.
A dog can have good conformation but how it is reared in it’s first year can have profound consequences. In the first year the bones are soft and open to change until the growth plates seal at around 13-14 months of age. If pressure is excessively applied to the bones during this developmental stage then it is possible that bony changes will occur early on in life. The problem is puppies look cute and because they look cute most people’s idea is that they should be running and playing all the time.
Over thousands of years dogs have been domesticated and bred by us and we have interfered (sometimes dramatically) with size, shape and structure. In addition the habits / activities of what a dog does or is meant to do has also been altered. You might ask ‘where is the evidence to support this theory?’ I believe there is supporting evidence just through observing wild animals in their natural habitat.
I would like to share with you some of my observations of animals from the national parks of Kenya. In terms of their physique whether small (dick dicks) or large (the mighty elephant) most of the animals seem to be in proportion (that is the front half and the back half seem to match up).
When you watch these animals they all seem to take their time to graze and move slowly from area to area. The only time that this is different is during activities of play, hunting, danger and mating. Other than that they all seem to take their time (no different to the slow WitsEnd walk). The animals don’t seem to be running up and down chasing things unless hunting, as we do with our own dogs by throwing toys for them, or going for runs up to 5-10 miles per day just for the fun of it. Perhaps we do too much with our pets rather than what nature intended.
For 3 – 4 month old puppies we would recommend walking slowly on-lead (that means walking not trotting or running) 3 – 4 times per day for 15 minutes, with a few minutes off lead to help with re-call training. As the puppy gets older we would suggest building up the walks by 5 minutes per month until the puppy is doing 30 – 40 minutes per walk with 5 – 10 minutes off-lead to help with socialisation and recall. With larger breeds the walks should not be more than 30 minutes. Once the growth plates have sealed (13 – 14 months of age) the dog’s exercise can be increased. In this early period we would suggest minimal throwing of balls and sticks as the twisting on the turn exerts enormous pressures on the hips and knees.
The Africans have a saying ‘poli poli’ (slowly slowly) – perhaps this could be applied to our pets particularly when they are young and the bones are growing so we minimise the changes to their joints.
At WitsEnd this is our expertise and appointments can be booked with our veterinary physiotherapist Dr Shahad Mohammed. Shahad has 8 years of physiotherapy experience and 12 years of hydrotherapy experience and is registered with the National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists and works on veterinary referral with the majority of the veterinary practices in Leicester.
Zeus, 8 weeks after commencing physiotherapy, the back half is more developed.