A recent event made me realize that a puppy’s body is made up of lots of complicated and fragile parts. And it only takes one small anomaly to change their future. We usually talk about the major diseases that turn a healthy dog into a disabled pet, but did you know there are little-known conditions that keep puppies from walking? Those diseases inspired me to share the story below.
A puppy with an unusual problem
A few weeks ago, I was contacted about a 9-week-old Labrador retriever puppy who is being trained for the Lucky Dog television show. Animal trainer Brandon McMillan noticed the puppy’s hind legs locked in place when he tried to walk. McMillan took the dog to several veterinary specialists for answers, but was coming up short. An acquaintance of McMillan reached out to Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog.
I contacted Cathy Erwin of Walkabout Harnesses to see if she had any ideas. Cathy is the brainy creator of the famous Walkabout lifting harness for paralyzed dogs. She is also one of the first canine physical therapists in the country. Cathy thought the puppy might have a condition called Straight Leg Shepherds. She explained how the deformity started in German shepherds, but was now being diagnosed other breeds and in mixed breed dogs. We sent the potential diagnosis to Lucky Dog.
I’ve never heard of Straight Leg Shepherds so I decided to investigate the condition. Here is what I found about the syndrome and other little-known conditions that keep puppies from walking.
Straight Leg (Legged) Shepherd
According to the Straight Leg Shepherds Association, puppies born with the problem have rigid hind legs that are unable to bend normally. The reason for the condition is unknown, but researchers at North Carolina State University refer to it as a “neurologic mutation deformity.” They think the condition starts in the nervous system of the body.
Affected dogs have stiff and restricted movement in their muscles. They also have deformities in the bones of their hind legs and hips.
The good news is that puppies adapt well to the condition and benefit from rehab therapy. Specialists work with the dogs to build up their core strength and balance. It makes it easier for them to stand on their own.
The SLS Association reported that symptoms were being reported over the last few years in breeds other than German shepherds.
Swimmer Puppy Syndrome
Puppies born with this condition have a very distinct look. Their chests and abdomens are flat and their legs are splayed. They hold their limbs out to the side like a turtle. Dogs have to paddle their limbs in order to move around. It looks like a swimming puppy.
Puppies with this syndrome have weak adductor muscles which are responsible for pulling their legs together. The condition can affect the front limbs, hind legs, or all four.
The cause of Swimmer Puppy Syndrome is unknown, but certain breeds are predisposed: Dachshunds, Yorkshire Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, English Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Pekinese, Cavalier King Charles, French and English bulldogs.
With treatment, most puppies recover from the condition. Owners are taught to massage their dog in a way that rounds out their flat chest and a harness is used to maintain the shape. The dogs also benefit from exercises to strengthen their limbs. Bands are placed on each pair of limbs to keep them from splaying and help the puppy stand.
While Swimmer puppies have the advantage of outgrowing the abnormality, they are also at risk for complications. Pressure from lying flat on their bellies predisposes them to breathing problems. Some of the dogs can’t get enough air into their lungs. Their flat stomachs also make them prone to spitting up milk and not getting enough nutrition. Other puppies can aspirate liquids and develop pneumonia.
Myasthenia Gravis is a disease that interrupts the way nerves communicate with muscles in the body. The condition occurs when a neurotransmitter compound called acetycholine or ACh, stops working. This prevents muscles in the body from contracting which in turn causes general muscle weakness that gets worse with time. Eventually dogs lose the ability to hold themselves upright.
Puppies can be born with a congenital form of MG that appears during the first 6-8 weeks of life. Or Acquired Myasthenia Gravis can develop later. Dogs are affected between the ages of 2-4 years-old and 9-13 years-old. Early symptoms of the condition involve weakness in the esophagus and muscles in the face.
Like Swimmer puppy syndrome, dogs with MG can suffer secondary complications that hamper their ability to get enough nutrition. Their inability to swallow can lead to regurgitation of food and pneumonia. Many develop Megaesophagus.
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is studying MG. They conducted a small clinical trial where dogs were given series of plasma exchanges. All of the dogs improved during the course of the treatment.
Read more about conditions that keep puppies from walking.
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