Buzz was the picture of misery when I saw him yesterday. The nine-month-old German Shepherd puppy, usually so bouncy and happy, was laying at his owner’s feet with his head on his paws. He looked up at me with melancholy brown eyes but didn’t bother to get up. His tail thumped a quiet hello, and he let out a big sigh.
“Buzz has been limping and lethargic for the last two days,” his owner told me. “First I thought it was his back leg and then it seemed like it was one of his front legs.” We encouraged the puppy to his feet and he limped a few steps and sat down again. His temperature was elevated at 103 degrees.
I examined him, carefully manipulating his joints and feeling for heat and swelling. He winced when I squeezed along the shaft of his humerus – the long bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow – in both front legs. X-rays helped to confirm my suspicion – Buzz had panosteitis.
Panosteitis is a condition that generally occurs in young large and giant breed dogs. Buzz was a classic case, as panosteitis occurs most commonly in German Shepherds, and is somewhat more common in male dogs than female dogs. It is an inflammation of the “long” bones of the skeleton – bones like the humerus and femur. The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be related to rapid growth.
Classic symptoms of panosteitis include a shifting leg lameness, fever and lethargy. Pain occurs when pressure is exerted on the shaft of the bones rather than at the joints. Diagnosis is made based on physical signs and X-rays which typically show an increased density of the center of the bone (the medullary cavity).
Thankfully, panosteitis is easy to treat with anti-inflammatories and rest. It usually resolves fairly quickly, but can reoccur in some dogs (a point that will cause you less stress if you’re covered with pet insurance that covers chronic conditions – such as Petplan. Since higher protein diets have been implicated as an underlying cause, we usually advise feeding large and giant breed dogs a diet specially formulated for these big fast growing puppies.
Luckily for Buzz, he responded beautifully to treatment and I was greeted by a leaping, licking 60-pound puppy a week later when he came in for a follow-up visit. We will watch him for a recurrence, but hopefully he will finish his rapidly growing puppyhood pain free!