Canine Musculoskeletal Disorders

Bernese Mountain DogMusculoskeletal disorders are a common problem in overall dog health.

They can make your pooch merely uncomfortable or make movement extremely painful.

They vary in severity and will affect each dog differently.

You may not even notice if your pup has a mild case that only causes a bit of discomfort.

But severe cases can seriously affect a dog's quality of life, putting an end to vigorous romps and games of fetch, and even causing complete lameness.

The majority of cases fall somewhere in between.

What is the Musculoskeletal System?

The musculoskeletal system consists of the bones, cartilage, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves of the body. That's a lot of stuff that can go wrong!

The bones and muscles support the body, allowing a dog to stand up and move around. They also protect the vital internal organs.

The bones are connected by ligaments and surrounded by muscles. Tendons act as bridging and attachment structures for the muscles.

What Causes Musculoskeletal Disorders?

These disorders may result from one specific event (such as a major fall or being hit by a car) or may develop more gradually over a period of time.

The gradual, chronic problems can be caused by chronic inflammation, infections, or developmental factors (like large breed puppies growing too fast).

They can also be caused by a congenital disorder such as elbow or hip dysplasia. They can even result from something as ordinary as a strained muscle or osteoarthritis.

What Symptoms Should I Watch For?

Here are some of the most common signs of these disorders:
    Golden Retriever
  • Limping or favoring a limb

  • Stiffness (particularly after sleeping or resting)

  • Being unable to stand up after sitting or lying down

  • Reluctance to jump or even climb stairs

  • Experiencing noticeable pain

If your dog is uncomfortable or in pain from one of the many musculoskeletal diseases, he probably won't want to run around as much as he used to.

You'll also notice that his lameness is worse after exercise.

If he avoids exercise entirely, he may end up with varying degrees of muscle atrophy.

How Can These Disorders Be Diagnosed?

To reach a diagnosis, your veterinarian will start by obtaining a thorough history, including any previous injuries, vaccinations, medicines, exposure to ticks, etc. He'll follow up with a thorough physical examination of your pup.

Common diagnostic tests for musculoskeletal disorders include radiographs (the animal equivalent of X-rays), analysis of joint fluid, complete blood tests, and blood tests for the major infectious diseases.

Your vet might also suggest an ultrasound, MRI or diagnostic anesthesia to help him figure out exactly what parts of the body are involved.

What's the Best Treatment?

Once your vet knows where your dog is hurting, he'll set up a treatment plan to help relieve your pup's joint pain and prevent progressive deterioration.

It's important to help your dog lose any excess weight he might be carrying around, limit the exercise he gets to gentle walks and swimming, and to rest as much as possible.

Your veterinarian may prescribe NSAIDs to reduce pain and inflammation. In some cases of cartilage degeneration, he may prescribe joint supplements or drugs that protect the cartilage.

Due to the relatively poor blood supply of both tendons and ligaments, healing for those areas is slow, requiring patience and careful long-term rehabilitation.

Golden Retriever on Underwater TreadmillMany dogs have gained great relief from pain and stiffness by using a canine underwater treadmill, as pictured here.

This form of treatment is especially helpful for arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and hip dysplasia.

Here are several benefits of hydrotherapy:

  • Shortens recovery time
  • Prevents muscular atrophy
  • Builds and maintains muscle mass
  • Improves range of motion and mobility

Your dog will appreciate anything you can do to help him feel more comfortable. For example, orthopedic dog beds often provide great relief for aching arthritic joints.

Follow your vet's advice for treating your pup's musculoskeletal disorders, and just keep showering your furry friend with the tender loving care he so richly deserves.

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