Ask the Vet with Mitch Robbins

Mitch RobbinsMitch Robbins
Veterinary Specialty Center

Q: I have a 3-year-old White Shepherd mix. We recently spent a day at a dog camp and tried a bunch of new activities. They had a lure course—where dogs chase a flying plastic bag tied to a string around in circles—which my dog loved. However, since then, we have noticed her limping, favoring one leg, and not running or walking normally. A few people at the dog park have mentioned a possible ACL injury, hip dysplasia, or arthritis. What are some treatments you can recommend for pain, and how do I get this properly diagnosed?

A: Sorry to hear about your dog’s lameness. As with people, the first treatment for mild lameness is rest. If your dog does not improve, seek veterinary advice. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination to identify the painful portion of her limb and may take some x-rays.

Soft tissue injuries can be treated with rest and pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). The use of veterinary specific pain medications is preferred, as those developed for human use can be toxic to pets. Pain meds, coupled with rehabilitation therapy, can be very beneficial for soft tissue injuries.

Arthritis is usually treated first using medications to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and support joint health. Rehabilitation techniques can prove helpful in the management of arthritis. In addition, there are therapies using adult stem cells that can benefit many patients. Ultimately, severe non-responsive arthritis can often be treated with surgery (joint replacement) with good outcomes in most dogs.

What humans refer to as “ACL injuries” are called cranial cruciate ligament (CrCl) injuries in dogs. This ligament is in the stifle (knee) joint and connects the femur to the tibia. Injury to the CrCl often requires surgical intervention in order to maximize recovery. There are many options, each with its own advantages and risks. Ultimately, however, prognosis for dogs with a CrCl injury treated with surgery is very good.

Since our pets can’t tell us exactly what hurts, the more information you can provide to your vet, the better. Take note when your dog seems to be in the most pain, if she only has trouble with specific actions (standing up, lying down, walking stairs, etc.), and if anything you are doing, such as using a warm or cold compress, seems to be helping. These are all excellent “clues” to help your vet make an accurate diagnosis.

ABOUT the Vet
Mitch Robbins, DVM, DACVS, is the Director of Surgery & Anesthesia/Pain Management at Veterinary Specialty Center in Buffalo Grove. He currently practices veterinary surgery at the VSC, along with mobile surgery around the Chicagoland area. He is a board-certified surgeon who has lectured on veterinary surgery at the ACVS Scientific Symposium and the Chicago Veterinary Conference. His teaching experience includes intensive postgraduate courses in hepatobiliary, neurological, and gastrointestinal surgery in dogs and cats at the Animal Medical Center in New York. Along with practicing veterinary surgery, he volunteers his time to provide surgical consultations for the Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, and numerous rescue organizations.

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