We’ve all heard the term “growing pains”, and we usually apply it in a casual sense—maybe to describe a gawky adolescent who won’t clean his room, or a fledgeling start-up business that makes one rookie mistake after another.
But “growing pains” is a non-scientific term for an actual physical phenomenon, one which may be causing your dog pain.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF “OCD”
When we think of “OCD” these days, we generally think of a neurological/psychological disorder which leads to repetitive behaviors like washing hands hundreds of times a day, or being unable to leave the house because the front door lock and key must be checked and re-checked exhaustively.
But for dog-lovers, OCD means something quite different: Osteochondritis Dissecans, sometimes spelled “Dessecans”. What’s important to understand is the first part of the word, “osteo”, meaning “bone”. This painful condition is basically a disorder of immature long bones. And it may affect your growing dog.
Is your dog experiencing joint pain? Before you turn to potentially toxic painkilling drugs for your canine, check out the natural alternatives.
GROWING BONE-TISSUE MAY BE AT RISK
What exactly is this condition called Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)?
It’s a condition of immature long bones—meaning the bones of mammalian limbs. Creatures with long legs, namely humans, horses and dogs, are especially prone to this condition, especially in the first years of life. The condition is, in simple terms, cracks which form in the cartilage of the weight-bearing surface of the bone, generally in a dog’s front legs. Untreated, the condition is painful, and can lead to inflammation, scarring and other permanent damage which may leave your growing dog unable to run, or even walk.
Joint pain in dogs often causes—pardon the expression—a knee-jerk reaction in their humans. We just want the pain to stop, now.
We recognize that our cherished pet is in pain through changes in the dog’s movement, such as:
- favouring one side
- movements seem stiff
- difficulty getting up from the dog-bed
- avoiding stairs
- unwillingness to jump up to or off a deck or landing
- unwillingness to run, or tiring out mid-run
- holding up or “pointing” out a front paw
- losing interest in favorite walks
- not even wanting to chase a ball (or a neighbourhood cat!)
What causes the condition?
OCD may affect the shoulder, ankle or elbow joint, and the condition generally starts to show itself within the first 6 – 9 months of a young dog’s life. Unless the condition is recognized and treated, the damage may severely diminish the health and happiness of your dog.
Let’s start with a few facts: large dog breeds, including mixed-breeds, are more prone to this condition, though it may affect any dog. Retrievers, Shepherds, Setters, Rottweillers and other big breeds may begin to evidence signs of OCD early in the puppy’s life.
Contributing factors may include:
- Genetics—Certain breeds pass on a predisposition to OCD. If your dog is a purebred Shepherd, Retriever, Rottweiller, Setter or other large dog, chances of this condition being present in the first year of life are increased. Large, mixed-breed dogs also are prone to OCD.
- Trauma—Injuries, including activities which many dog-owners take for granted as safe and normal, such as requiring that a dog frequently (as in, daily) jump from a truck-bed or deck onto a hard surface. These constant impacts to the joints of the front limbs can lead to pain and bone/cartilage damage, especially in a dog which is prone to the OCD condition.
- Anthropomorphized nutritional choices—In other words, thinking that your dog is human, and has the same needs that humans do.
Many dog-lovers are gentle souls who want to live in harmony with the planet. This desire may lead to incorrect decisions regarding dog nutrition.
Dogs are carnivores, Dogs are hunters, Dogs are predators, often the “apex predator” in their ecosystem! These are irrevocable facts of nature, evolution and metabolism.
Have a good look at those “eye teeth” which form the fierce, fang-silhouette of your dog’s dental bite—even if your dog is a darling Pomeranian who loves to cuddle, or well-groomed toy poodle with a hair-bow in her pompadour.
There is a reason that these two elongated front-side teeth are called “canines”. They are meant for grabbing and gripping moving prey, and we’re not talking about an apple or an ear of corn here. Canine teeth have been engineered over millennia of hunting specifically for piercing skin, shearing through muscle, and tearing flesh from the bone.
To the vegetarians and vegans who may be reading, we have to consider our dog’s ancestral nature—not our own– when selecting the dog’s menu.
While caring, compassionate human beings often choose a meatless diet for their own table, this regimen does not suit dogs. Simply, dogs are not designed to live on a high-carbohydrate diet of corn, wheat and soy. In fact, these products often produce allergic reactions and inflammation in dogs. Dogs crave high-quality protein and fat, and depriving them of these species-correct nutrients may result in many health problems for your dog, including bone and joint weakness.
Apart from the specific foods you choose for your dog, obesity antagonizes the condition, because extra weight places more stress on all of the joints, especially when jumping, landing and climbing. Monitor your pet’s weight carefully.
In many cases, all of these factors come into play. The result: growing pain and permanent damage, including scarring and erosion of the bone and limited mobility, if the condition is left unchecked.
Can OCD Be Prevented or Cured?
Preventing OCD may not be entirely possible, with the understanding that a strong element in the condition is a genetic or inherited predisposition. Bear in mind that if your dog is a large breed, there may be a tendency toward OCD and that symptoms could appear in the first several months of life as the long limb-bones grow dramatically.
Preventive measures may reduce this risk, although there is no absolute medical proof.
- Feeding your dog a canine-correct diet—high in protein and quality, with zero to no corn, wheat or soy—may allow new bone and cartilage to mature in such a way that splitting and lifting are less likely.
- And just as feeding your dog correctly, and adequately, are important to health and growth, don’t overfeed your pet. Watch the midsection – dogs show belly-fat just as humans do. Excess weight puts the joints, and the rest of the dog, at risk.
- Also, reducing trauma, injury and impact may be factors. While dogs, especially puppies, will naturally bound up and down stairs and fearlessly leap from high places, do not make these actions necessary in your dog’s daily life. Provide easy access to food, water, shelter and fun! –toys, activities, other dogs, and humans—which do not require hard-landings and lots of jumping-down which may traumatize joints.
- Provide a thick, resilient, cushioned dog-bed for your pet. A thin mat on an unforgiving cement floor or asphalt surface is not sufficient. The best possible insulation is the high-tech gel bed, which supports your dog’s weights at key pressure-points, cushions bones and joints, and will keep your dog comfortable.
Once OCD has been identified in your dog, several approaches to treatment may help, although strictly speaking, there is no cure.