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Hip problems plague German shepherds, but helping an individual dog depends on his actual diagnosis. The two most common hip issues affecting the breed are hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy, which are very different conditions. Like many dogs, German shepherds are prone to arthritis as they age, which often afflicts the hips.
In German shepherds, hip dysplasia may become evident by the time the dog reaches middle age. It's a hereditary condition, resulting from a malformed hip joint. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty rising from a prone position
- Reluctance to climb stairs or into the car
- Limping or stiffness.
X-rays will confirm whether your dog suffers from hip dysplasia. Dogs with severe hip dysplasia require surgery, the equivalent of a hip replacement. Canines with milder forms of the condition may do well with supportive care and therapies. This includes:
- Joint supplements
- Orthopedic dog bed
- Pain medication, when necessary
- A customized exercise program, focusing on walking and swimming.
It's important that your dog maintain a healthy weight, as extra pounds stress his joints. Your vet will recommend a weight management program for your German shepherd, if needed, when putting together a management plan for your pet.
If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis rather than hip dysplasia per se, many of the same treatments apply, although surgery isn't generally an option.
Degenerative myelopathy occurs so often in the breed that it is often referred to as "German shepherd degenerative myelopathy." This genetic, progressive disease is similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in people. There's no cure for degenerative myelopathy, but treatment can extend the dog's quality of life. The disease usually appears in German shepherds around the age of 8 or 9. Early signs mimic those of hip dysplasia. Other symptoms include:
- Dragging the hind feet
- Swaying when walking
- Crossing the rear legs when walking or standing
As the disease progresses, the dog is no longer able to stand. Your vet diagnoses degenerative myelopathy via blood tests, X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging and spinal fluid testing. Management includes:
- Physical therapy
- Swimming or light walking for exercise and maintenance of muscle mass
- Medication and supplements, such as prednisone, various vitamins and aminocaproic acid, a lysine derivative.
Unfortunately, most dogs require euthanasia within a year of diagnosis.