Image Credit: “Bella & Bear” Boyt Harness Company
Should I Be Concerned About Panosteitis?
“Growing pains” refers to a painful orthopedic condition in young dogs called panosteitis: a condition of the bone that often presents as lameness (limping) due to bone swelling. Panosteitis occurs in the leg bones of dogs and appears to affect only rapidly growing large or giant-breed dogs. Small dogs and cats are rarely affected. The male German Shepherd is considered the poster-dog for this condition, though many active sporting and working dog breeds including retrievers, pointers, hounds, setters, shepherds, and other large and giant breeds can be affected by it.
What causes this lameness?
An extensive list of possible causes of lameness exists for growing dogs. At this point in time, no infectious cause has been identified (ie it is not contagious between dogs nor is it preventable with vaccination) for panosteitis. This condition appears to occur spontaneously, though some breeds appear to have an high incidence, suggesting a genetic component. The disease occurs in the marrow of the leg bones (Radius, Ulna, Tibia, Humerus, or Femur). Local swelling accounts for the pain dogs experience. Pain is isolated to the bones and does not affect the joints. This helps differentiate panosteitis from other juvenile orthopedic conditions. Hormones, diet, and co-occurring disease or infections may also contribute to added stress and to the onset of symptoms.
What symptoms will I notice?
Typically owners describe a sudden onset of lameness in their puppy without any noted trauma. Lameness can be present in more than one leg at a time, or can appear to change location from one leg to a different leg as time progresses. During an episode, a dog may limp, appear lethargic, have a decreased appetite, and be overly sensitive to touch. Leg pain and episodes of lethargy usually begin around 4-6 months of age. A dog may be lame for only a few days if lucky, but some dogs are painful for weeks. The front legs are usually affected first.
Male and female dogs present symptoms of pain at different life stages: Males typically have cycles of pain that appears to coincides with growth, while females most often are painful near the onset of the first heat cycle. Males are diagnosed more frequently with panosteitis, though the condition can frequently be missed without diagnostic tests.
What does nutrition have to do with it?
It’s difficult to predict which dogs will experience this condition. You can take responsibility to support your pet’s healthy lean weight through regular exercise and proper nutrition on a high- quality large breed dog food. Balanced nutrition is encouraged even when a dog experiences a transient appetite reduction due to illness.
What testing will my vet likely do?
A physical exam by a veterinarian will help to determine where pain in located and what additional tests should be utilized. Blood work from dogs with panosteitis is usually normal, but is used to rule out other potential causes for lameness. Diagnostic imaging like radiographs are the most beneficial for diagnosis. Both the lame and the non-lame legs will be viewed for comparison of leg anatomy. Radiographs can take time to show abnormalities in cases if panosteitis- sometimes several weeks after lameness has begun. Repeat radiographs are helpful for diagnosis confirmation.
How can I help my pet?
Pain meds are the only medication warranted for management of symptoms Exercise and rough play (running, jumping and wrestling) needs to be restricted while a pet is in an active episode of lameness. Even during “normal” time between episodes exercise should be controlled and not intense. Flare-ups of lameness can be contributed to periods of stress in the dog’s life. Severity of symptoms vary, but pain control and/or anti-inflammatory medication will most likely be necessary. Other modalities for pain and inflammation management may also be helpful.
Will my dog recover?
Usually the condition resolves for a few weeks or months only to return. This cycle continues as the dog’s skeleton grows. Fortunately, long term prognosis is excellent. By 18 months of age the majority of dogs have completely recovered with no permanent deficits. Resolution of symptoms is not based on treatment. Once juvenile dogs reach skeletal maturity they are unlikely to have continued symptoms.
Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.