Browsing tag: dogs

Ask a vet online: ‘ anything I can do to help hip dysplasia?’

Question from Erin Taylor:

Anything i can do to help my bm’s hip dysplasia? She’s only 1

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Erin and thank you for your question regarding your dogs hip dysplasia, to answer your question I will discuss what hip dysplasia is, how it is diagnosed and then treatment options.

So what is hip dysplasia?

The hip joint is made up of the head of the femur (the top part of the upper leg bone) and the acetabulum (the socket in the pelvis).  The hip joint also includes cartilage (smooth strong and cushioning substance), ligaments (strong fibrous tissue connections) and joint fluid (liquid which lubricates the joint).

Dysplasia means that this part of the body has not formed properly, in the case of hip dysplasia it can involve some or all parts of the hip joint not being the correct shape, size or working correctly.  Hip dysplasia is more common in certain breeds of dog such as the Labrador and the German shepherd dog but can be found in any breed or cross breed of dog.

Hip dysplasia is a congenital disease, which means it is present from birth; it can also be hereditary which means it can be passed on from parent dogs to their puppies.  The kennel club has a scheme for measuring and recording the extent of hip dysplasia in certain breeds of dog, this is to help people decide which dogs to use for breeding so as to try and reduce the risk of producing puppies with severe hip dysplasia.

In general when your vet talks about hip dysplasia they mean that the femoral head is either abnormal in shape and or not adequately covered by its socket, this results in extra wear and tear on the hip joints which in the long term can lead to arthritic changes plus or minus lameness/pain.

How can I find out if my dog has hip dysplasia?

Usually a pet owner would bring their dog in due to lameness or an unusual gait (way in which the dog moves).  Your vet will then ask you questions to help form a history of what has been going on with your dog.  The questions will include e.g.  when did you first notice the problem, how long has it been going on, how quickly has is progressed, has the condition improved with rest and or medication as well as general health questions regarding eating, drinking and toileting.

Your vet will want to observe your dog moving; usually this can be done on the lead in the vet practice building or carpark area.  It is always important to remember that when at the vets your pet may not show its lameness the same as at home or straight after rest.  It can sometimes be helpful to bring in a video clip of your dog’s movement.

The next step will be for your vet to perform a full clinical examination of your dog, all major body systems will be checked with extra attention being paid to the joints in this case specifically the hip joints.  Your vet will gently feel along your dog’s legs and move all the joints through a normal range of movements.  While doing this examination your vet will watch for any reactions suggesting that your dog is uncomfortable, decreases or increases in how much a joint moves and also any clicks or grating sensations.

All the above information will help your vet to decide what is the next step, which might include rest, further monitoring, use of pain relief or x-rays.

It is important to be aware that x-ray findings do not always match the signs that a dog is showing.  Some dog’s hips will appear almost normal in appearance on an x-ray yet they can be very lame and vice versa.  X-rays can be useful to make a diagnosis of hip dysplasia and also to monitor how the disease is progressing.  In the case of the kennel club scheme, very specifically positioned x-rays need t be taken, these are then sent off to be analysed and a number or hip score will be given for your pet.

What can be done to help/treat dogs with hip dysplasia?


Your vet may suggest putting your dog onto a specific diet; this may be a weight control diet or one that is designed to support joints.  The reason for weight control is to reduce the amount of strain put on your dog’s joints so as to allow the best function possible for the longest time possible.  Joint support diets are designed to contain specific ingredients which help keep your dog’s joints in good working condition (will go into more detail under joint supplements).

Exercise plan

This is to make sure that your dog is having enough exercise and of an appropriate type to keep their joints working at their best for as long as possible.  In cases of hip dysplasia where your pet has started to show arthritic signs it is important to do little and often exercise rather than sudden long bursts.  Exercise is important to keep your dog’s weight down, to maintain muscle strength and unsure your dog can move.

Some pets may be referred for physiotherapy, this is where a specially trained therapist will show you how to move your pets joints, in some cases his may be in water ( hydrotherapy) as this reduces the weight and strain on the joints.  Some physiotherapy exercises are ones that you will be asked to do with your dog at home.

Weight control

As already mentioned it is important that your dog does not become overweight, as this added weight will put more strain on your dog’s joints and lead to faster progression of any arthritic changes.  Diets and exercise as the main way to regulate your dog’s weight.  Many vet practices run weight clinics where your dog’s weight can be monitored and help given to choose the best diet and how much of this your dog should be fed.


There are a range of anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medications available for dogs which need them.  Your vet will advise you on which product or combination is best suited to your pet.  In generally we try to get you pet onto the lowest effective dose of any given medication.  At times a combination of medications may be necessary and the doses or specific medications used might be changed to meet your dog’s needs.

Anti inflammatories

These are available as injections, tablets and liquids and include carprofen, meloxicam and firocoxib.  These are usually administered with or after food, any your vet may advise monitoring your dog’s kidney function as this can be affected by some of these medications.


These are strong pain relieving medications available in tablet, injectable and patch form.  They include morphine, buprenorphine and tramadol.  This type of drug is not usually sent home and strict licensing rules exist around their use.

Joint supplements

These tend to contain combinations of chondroitin, glucosamine (can be from green lipped mussel) and various minerals.  These chemicals are thought to help maintain a healthy joint.  Some of these chemicals are also used for human joint disease.  It is important to use products designed for dogs and at the correct dose.

Surgical interventions

There are a few surgical procedures which might be suggested for dogs with hip dysplasia.  Removal of damaged cartilage and or loose fragments can be performed.  Excision of the femoral head if it is very severely abnormal can sometimes be performed; this is more common in smaller dogs and cats.  Total hip replacement, this is something we are more used to hearing as a procedure to be carried out on elderly people.  Hip replacement s a specialist procedure, it can only be performed on certain dogs after careful consideration by a specialist vet.

I hope that my answer has helped to explain how complex a disease hip dysplasia is, how it is detected and that there are a wide variety of ways to help your dog.  It is definitely best to tackle the problem of hip dysplasia with the help of your veterinary team who can advise you on the best treatment plan specifically designed for your dog.  Your dog will need careful monitoring which may include regular checkups with your vet, veterinary nurse and or physiotherapist.  I hope that your dog has a comfortable good quality life.

Shanika Winter MRCVS (online vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

The unnecessary death of the Ebola dog

Ebola virus hysteria is taking hold of the northern hemisphere. The latest victim was a cross-bred dog called Excalibur, who was euthanased by the Spanish authorities even though he showed no signs of being infected with the virus, and despite the fact that there is no evidence that dogs can transmit Ebola to humans.

The twelve year old rescued dog had the misfortune to belong to a Spanish nurse who became the first person to become infected with Ebola in Europe after nursing a Spanish missionary priest who had been repatriated from Sierra Leone to Madrid for intensive treatment. The priest died of the virus on September 25th,, and the nurse is thought to have picked up the virus after touching her face with a contaminated glove as she removed her protective suit after finishing her shift.

Excalibur was a much loved pet in perfect health, and after Madrid’s regional government obtained a court order to euthanase him, the nurse’s husband put out a call for his life to be saved. An online  petition rapidly gathered over 400000 signatures, and crowds of angry animal-loving protestors had to be restrained by police outside the apartment where the dog lived. Despite the protests, Excalibur was euthanased. The deed has been done. But was it really necessary? Did the animal present a risk, or was he just a scapegoat sacrificed to give the authorities a sense that they were doing something?

There is scanty evidence to support killing a dog in a situation like this. Bats are thought to be the natural reservoir for the Ebola virus in central Africa, carrying the virus without showing signs of illness. Monkeys and apes become infected and fall seriously ill, like humans. But despite extensive research, there’s been almost no evidence of other animals becoming infected or carrying the virus.

There is one study that casts a cloud over the innocence of dogs: researchers investigating the 2001-2002 outbreak of Ebola in Gabon found low levels of antibodies in blood samples from dogs in areas where there had been cases of Ebola in humans and apes. This confirmed that the dogs had been infected with the virus, but it was impossible to know the source of their contact: from bats, apes, or from humans? It was also not possible to determine whether the dogs could have been infectious to humans at some point. In theory, the fact that they had been infected with the virus implies that at some point they may have shed the virus in their secretions, in the same way as infected humans pass on the infection.

Some researchers believe that it would have been wiser to have kept Excalibur alive, not for sentimental reasons, but to learn more about the spread of the disease. If he had been kept in quarantine, serial blood samples could have been taken, monitoring his immune status. The question of whether or not dogs need to be included in Ebola virus control schemes could have been definitively answered in a safe environment. And if he had been clear of any sign of the virus after several months, he could have been released from quarantine to resume a normal happy doggy life.

Sorry, Excalibur: the precautionary principle and the political need for action seized the initiative: we still don’t know much about Ebola in dogs, and you’ll never enjoy another happy walk with your owners.

Ask a vet online-‘I have shih pooh bitch shes 16 months she always asks out for pee pee but on the other hand the pooh side shes not good’

Question from : Anne Docherty

‘I have shih pooh bitch shes 16 months she always asks out for pee pee but on the other hand the pooh side shes not good at all i do take her out a lot and she gets into trouble when dirting carpet i never hit her but when she does it she knows ots wrong’

Answer from: Shanika Winters

Thank you for your question regarding toilet training your 16 month old bitch.  Toilet training dogs can sometimes be a challenge, some dogs just get the idea and others take longer.  It is good that your dog is able to hold her urine (wee) and ask to go out for this but a shame that she is struggling with faeces (poos).  Most dogs will be toilet trained for both urine and faeces somewhere between 6 and 12 months of age but some are quicker and others slower.  It is really important to always be positive and reward good behaviour rather than punishing them for bad behaviour or mistakes.

What do we expect our dogs to do once toilet trained?

By the time an owner would consider their dog to be toilet trained we would expect them to not pass urine or faeces in the house, to ask to be let out to toilet when we are there and to hold their urine and faeces when we are not there.  When you list what we expect of our dogs then you can see that toilet training involves our pet learning a lot, and it is our responsibility to help them and give then the correct cues as to what we want form them.

How do we start the toilet training process?

In most cases the toilet training process has begun before we collect our pet from the breeder, in the case of puppies they may be trained to go on shavings, newspaper and then outside.  With older dogs toilet training will be affected by the type of accommodation the dog is used to, some are kept in kennels and will not toilet inside them or may have a designated area in which to toilet in their kennel.  So it is really important to ask where your dog is up to and what toilet training has been achieved upon collection.

We then need to carry on from this in our homes and gardens.  The most basic thing to remember is that when food and water go in to your pet then urine and faeces are likely to need to be passed.  So we should let our dogs out as soon as we can in the mornings, after a meal or drink and before they are going to be left in the day or night.  Try and encourage your dog to toilet in a specific area of your garden (corner away from play areas) or on your walk (ideally close to a dog poo bin) as this will make cleaning up much easier and helps build up a routine.

When asking your dog to go to the toilet use a command such as ‘go toilet’ or ‘be clean’, which ever command you use be consistent and make sure all members of your family/household use the same command and routine.  When your dog toilets in the correct place reward them, this can be with a small treat initially and positive words and eventually you should be able to just tell them in words that they have been good.

Initially you will have to let your dog out very frequently as they will not be great at holding onto their urine/faeces and also they are still learning.  It is also very important to remember that if your dog is suffering from a urine or gut infection this will affect their urgency to toilet.  Make sure that the area in which you expect your dog to toilet is kept clean and that your dog does not feel threatened there by other animals.

What cues do dogs and humans use in toilet training?

As the dog owner we can use words or signals to let our dog know we want them to go out and toilet.  Signals can include pointing to the door, getting hold of your dog’s lead if they toilet out on their walks, picking up the poo bags etc.  It is really important to give our dog clear simple cues then they have a much better chance of knowing what we expect of them.

Cues that our dog might give us indicating that they need to go out to the toilet can include vocalisation (barking or whining), scratching at the ground and pacing around near the door through which they go out to toilet.  We as owners need to observe our dog and learn their toilet cues.

How to reinforce the behaviour we want?

I am a strong believer in positive reinforcement that means we praise/ reward for positive behaviour and try not to make too much fuss over mistakes/bad behaviours.  I know that it gets very frustrating when lots of toilet training mistakes happen; cleaning up urine and faeces from carpets/floors/furniture is no fun at all.  But we need to remember that we choose to keep dogs as companion animals and are asking them to adapt to our home/lifestyle and even the best trained animal at times will have an accident.

So I would advise using treats, kind words and physical contact to praise your dog for good behaviour, try and make things easy for your dog by letting them out frequently and not leaving them alone for extended periods of time.. If however your dog is left for longer amounts of time it is worth seeing if a neighbour or pet sitter can let your dog out to toilet.

Try to avoid negative reinforcement, which involves shouting or hitting your dog when they have had a toilet training accident.  Unfortunately negative reinforcement can keep the unwanted behaviour from happening as you are still giving your dog attention for the mistake.  As humans we assume that dogs feel the same range of emotions that we do and ‘guilt’ for having done the wrong thing is one such emotion.  It is really important to remember that however ‘guilty’ your dog may look for having made a mistake they are not thought to express this emotion (and certainly not sometime after the incident occurred).

So in conclusion my advice would be that providing your dog is fit and well and not suffering from any infections or parasites that may be affecting her faeces that going back to basics as if she were a much younger puppy would be a good starting point to get her to pass faeces outside.  I hope that this answer will help you and your dog.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment to see your vet – or try our online Symptom Guide.

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