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big boned: what every large breed dog parent needs to know

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


When it comes to huge, sloppy kisses, large and giant breed dogs have got you covered—literally! Large breed dogs are often intimidating (yet somehow stately and elegant at the same time), but they didn’t start out that way. Like all of us, they were once clumsy youngsters going through their own awkward adolescence fraught with growing pains. You see, large and giant breed dogs are particularly prone to developmental bone diseases, which can be a bump in the road of their early life.

 

Large breed dogs are typically between 50 to 100 pounds when they are full grown and include family favorites like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. Giant breed dogs are over 100 pounds at adulthood and boast breeds such as the Great Dane, Mastiffs and the Newfoundland. While some developmental bone diseases are more prone to occur in specific breeds, the large size of these dogs certainly contributes to their occurrence. For this reason, any large or giant dog can be affected by developmental bone diseases—even mixed breeds.

 

We’ve already talked extensively about two conditions common in large dogs: hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Today, I’ll introduce you to three other common bone conditions we see in growing large and giant breed dogs.

 

Panosteitis

Panosteitis is often referred to as “growing pains” by veterinarians. It is a disease of the fatty bone marrow, causing pain in the long bones of a growing puppy’s body. Its exact cause is unknown, but we typically see it in large and giant breed dogs between 5 and 18 months of age.

 

Clinical signs of panosteitis include shifting leg lameness, pain and fever. The symptoms are cyclic, waxing and waning over time. It is easy to attribute lameness in clumsy pups to injury, but pain from panosteitis is persistent. Generally, clinical signs last for about two weeks before resolving, only to return three or four weeks later.

 

Your veterinarian will be able to detect pain on palpation of the long bones, particularly mid-shaft along the bone. Panosteitis should be confirmed with radiographs. The disease is self-limiting, so there’s no need for medication to resolve it, but because panosteitis is a painful condition, you will more than likely be sent home with pain medications for your painful pup.

Though it’s hard to watch your furry friend in discomfort, rest assured that he will outgrow this condition eventually.

 

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)

Unlike panosteitis, which affects the middle of long bones, hypertrophic osteodystrophy occurs at the ends of bones adjacent to their growth plates. We see this condition in very young large breed dogs, typically between the ages of 3 and 7 months. Lameness and swelling in the limbs near the joint occur most often in the radius, ulna (the bones of the lower forelimbs) and tibia. This pain is often accompanied by fever and loss of appetite.

 

Your veterinarian will be able to see changes on your pet’s x-ray that are consistent with HOD, and will also be able to detect pain and swelling at the growth plates. HOD is self-limiting, and symptoms typically resolve within a week or so, though bony changes will take longer to resolve or may persist for life.

 

Just as with panosteitis, medications for pain control will help you and your pet through to resolution.

 

Osteochondrosis dessicans (OCD)

OCD is a developmental disease of cartilage in the joints of some large and giant breed dogs. Cartilage defects result in cysts or cartilage flaps where there should be smooth surfaces. These flaps cause pain in the joints of young, growing dogs between the ages of 4 and 10 months old.

 

Your vet may be able to see OCD lesions on an x-ray, or may suggest arthroscopy for both diagnostic and therapeutic reasons. While medical management is possible, it is generally not recommended if a cartilage flap is present. Typically surgical management is preferred for most cases of OCD.

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Pippa ElliottGuest Blogger of Petplan
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Visit your vet at least once a year to keep your pet protected from preventable diseases.