Leg Problems in Dogs


Temperature differences between two limbs

Question: Dr. Richards, It has come to my attention that my 14 year old Lab seems to have a temperature difference in her front paws. While the left one seems to be normal temperature the right one seems to be cold to the touch. Is this significant of anything? Thanks, Laurie

Answer: Laurie- Differences in temperature between two limbs, when one limb seems cold, are usually caused by circulatory problems. This is more commonly a problem in cats, who are prone to having thrombi (blood clots) from cardiomyopathy, which can lodge in one limb only. It is conceivable that there could be a problem in an older dog due to heart disease, Cushing's disease, cancer or diabetes interfering with circulation. Differences in temperature between two limbs, when one limb seems hot, are most commonly due to inflammation or infection. Inflammation can occur due to injuries, allergic reactions, skin cancers (mast cell tumors can do this) and sometimes self-trauma. Infections usually become obvious at some point but can be difficult to detect early on. With both inflammation and infections there is often swelling of the affected area. If this difference is obvious and continues to be obvious it would probably be best to ask your vet to examine your dog to determine if any of the above problems, or some other problem, is causing the temperature difference. If there is no lameness, no other disease symptoms and no obvious inflammation or infection this is probably a minor problem but there is no reason not to be cautious and have it checked out. Mike Richards, DVM 12/10/02

Weak pasterns in German Shepherd pup

Question: Dear Dr Richards - My 6 month old German shepherd male, Tashi, has weak pasterns. These are moderate in degree, not extyensive; he does not walk on his ankles, nor is he "hare-footed" - yet. I can send a photo by e-mail if that would help.

I've been told by the breeder and by one veterinarian that this is not a significant problem, and that it will self-correct some time within the first two years of life.

Tashi is slender, and we keep him that way. His frame is a bit large for his age, and at 6 months' age he weighs 58 lbs. His food is 1.5 cups of Diamond premium adult dog food twice daily. Usually, but not always, he eats it all. His only dietary supplement is about 1.5 tablespoon of vanilla yogurt with his food twice daily.

Tashi comes from American show lines, but he will not be a show dog. He is currently in the early stages of getting his CGC and (I hope and expect) on his way toward a CD. He will also do some "no impact" agility, just for his fun.

He also has a clinical diagnosis of panosteitis, only because of migratory soreness in one front leg or the other. There has been no long bone tenderness or joint tenderness, and radiographs have not been done of either the long bones or the pasterns.

I know that this problem is seen in most large breeds of dogs, and that German shepherds are particularly prone (no pun intended) to it. However, the only other gsd's I've had close acquaintance with have not had the problem.

Questions (1) can you tell me just how likely it is that the problem will resolve - certain, very likely, 50-50, or unlikely? (2) are there any supplements or other treatments which are **proven** to be of help? (3) how much exercise is permissible with this problem? We've been told to be sure he gets plenty of exercise, that he should never run, that he must never jump, and that it doesn't make much difference. (from the practical point of view, it's virtually impossible to keep him from running unless I confine him to the house and never let him outside unless he's leashed. Otherwise, he gets plenty of walking exercise, and enough running around with his "little sister" who is a golden retriever.) (4) perhaps as much for the panosteitis as for the pasterns - is there any harm in giving him an occasional Bufferin or carprofen (Rimadyl) on days when he's especially sore, assuming I don't let him increase his exercise just because pain is masked my the med?

It would be very helpful to me if you can reply to the e-mail address above, though I will be sure to check the Vetinfo web site as well.

Thanks for your help - Bill

Answer: Bill-

I have tried to find information for you but there isn't a lot of it in my textbooks and in speaking with other veterinarians about this in the past, the suggestions have tended to run towards what you are doing.

Prior to the introduction of the large breed puppy foods, the recommendations tended to run towards using an adult dog food. There is sometimes a problem with increased intake of calcium taking this approach, though. So currently, the recommendations seem to be running towards using one of the large breed puppy foods. There are several on the market, so I think you'd be able to find one. In addition, it is a good idea to keep the puppy from becoming obese, which doesn't sound like it is a problem.

The second common piece of advice is to encourage moderate exercise consistently, in the hope that increased muscle strength will decrease the laxity in the tendon and muscle structure.

I can't say what percentage of German shepherds outgrow this condition but in our practice I think it is near 50%. Almost all improve some, but many continue to walk with the hocks down, or the carpus down, depending on which is affected, into their adult lives. If this is really severe arthrodesis of the hock might offer some relief but I can't recall ever having a patient in which that seemed absolutely necessary.

There is a condition in German shepherd dogs in which draining tracts develop around the hocks, that is thought to be due to an immunologic problem in which there is a reaction to the collagen around the joint (I am not sure why just this joint, though). This seems to occur in young adult GSDs and some of the clinical case reports also mention a history of postural problems with the hocks. This disorder is referred to as focal metatarsal fistulation of the German shepherd dog in "Small Animal Dermatology" by Scott, et. al.

At the present time, some vets seem to think that supplementation with antioxidants or essential fatty acids may be helpful (note the uncertainty). It is pretty safe to supplement with DermCaps (tm), 3V Capsules (tm), OmegaDerm (tm) or something similar and to add Vitamin E (usually around 400 to 1000 IU daily) as an antioxidant. There are no supplements, no dietary changes and no exercise programs that I am aware of that have been documented to make a difference in this condition.

If he continues to have soreness from the panosteitis I definitely think it is OK, and advisable, to use pain relievers. Carprofen (Rimadyl Rx) is a good pain reliever, as is etodolac (Etogesic Rx) and I like aspirin, as well. Some dogs have really severe pain from this condition and I think it is OK to use opioid medications, such as codeine or even morphine, if the pain is severe enough.

I wish that I did have a way to help with his pastern laxity problem that I knew was effective.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/7/2001

Narrowing of stance at hocks in young Lab

Question: Dear Dr. Mike,

Thanks as always for the newsletter and the great website. I have an 11 month old Lab female weighing 65 pounds that was spayed at 5 months. I have fed her Eukanuba Large Breed puppy chow for most of her life (except during a bout with diarrhea) and have kept her slim. Both her parents had Excellent ratings on their OFA. During the diarrhea, I did give her some other medications.

I have noticed something unusual in the last 4 weeks (It may have been around longer but I don't know). When she stands (most of the time), her back legs do not go straight down at her sides. Instead, her ankles (tarsals?) come close together under her body and her back feet point out at an angle. This seems to happen on both legs. Is this something to be concerned about? If it is a problem that can be helped, I want to take care of it as soon as possible. Thanks for your help. Gladys

Answer: Gladys-

When there are changes in posture it is usually worth checking for the possibility of an orthopedic problem. This would be a good age to consider taking X-rays to check for hip dypslasia, since it will show up in most cases by now, if it is going to be a problem later in life. Some dogs with hip dysplasia will compensate by adopting a different posture or gait.

I have seen two or three Labs in the last couple of years who developed lateral luxations of the patellae (knee caps) and these were all labs who had a narrow stance at the hocks. This causes lameness or pain in most cases, though.

Your vet may be able to make more specific recommendations after an examination, too.

Hopefully there will not be a significant problem. Choosing a puppy from OFA Excellent parents is a good way to avoid hip dypslasia problems but doesn't totally eliminate the possibility of the disorder developing. There are lots of dogs who have posture similar to what you describe who have no discernible problems and do well all their life.

Mike Richards, DVM 4/3/2001


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...