By Christie Long
One of the most upsetting situations a pet owner can experience is to look at your dog or cat and know that something is wrong, but not be able to figure out exactly what it is. It’s still difficult when you see distinct signs of illness such as vomiting or coughing. But at least those give you a place to start.
Generally, animals that have pain in more than one location appear to veterinarians as just unwell. They might be turning down meals, sleeping more and refusing to play but basically just hurt all over. A sore knee or elbow usually demonstrates itself as a pronounced lameness on the affected leg. But animals with pain in more then one limb present a diagnostic challenge.
A puppy that becomes acutely down and out with no specific signs causes extra concern because our expectation is that they are young, vibrant animals. There are two diseases that are only seen in puppies and young dogs that cause pain and lameness in multiple limbs and lethargy. They often have a fever and decreased appetite as well. Luckily, there are definite differences on physical examination and X-rays that help us to diagnose which disease the dog has.
Panosteitis is a disease of medium- and large-breed dogs less than 2 years old. It typically causes severe pain in the midsection of long bones such as the humerus, radius and femur.
Hypertrophic osteodystropy produces similar signs in even younger dogs, but the pain is localized in the region at the end of those bones and the joint itself. These animals often have joints that are very warm to the touch and swollen.
I remember the first time I diagnosed panosteitis in a normally friendly Great Dane puppy. I squeezed his upper forelimb and he quickly snapped his head around to bite me.
X-rays are imperative in differentiating these conditions from other more chronic developmental orthopedic conditions that can have long-term ramifications if left unaddressed. Fortunately, these conditions typically resolve on their own with supportive care.
Most dogs feel a lot better quickly with appropriate pain management, usually in the form of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications prescribed by a veterinarian. Occasionally, dogs with hypertrophic osteodystropy feel so poorly they are unable to walk and need hospitalization with more aggressive pain management.
While both diseases have been studied extensively, a definitive cause for neither disease has been established. We suspect that feeding a high-energy puppy food (i.e., one that is not formulated for large-breed dogs) might contribute to the development of hypertrophic osteodystropy.
It is important to note that relapses might occur with either disease until the dog reaches skeletal maturity, which might be as late as 2 years of age in giant-breed dogs.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted advisor to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their 5-year-old son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.