Health Archives

Hip Dysplasia: An Owners Fears and Views

(Published in Spaniels In The Field)

Hip dysplasia has certainly raised many concerns for owners and breeders. Much is available in terms of written “Technical Data.” My purpose here is to try to provide some relief to the anxiety that accompanies those fearsome words from the vet, “It looks like your dog has dysplasia.” I will relate to you my own frightening experience.

Last year I wrote an article that appeared in this magazine about how I use my springers for duck and goose hunting. There were some pictures of my dogs and wife. The older of the dogs pictured is named Sassafras. She has hip dysplasia. But let’s start from the beginning with Sassafras’ story.

sassafrasKathy and I were married about 6 years ago. As a wedding gift, I wanted to get Kathy a springer puppy, (really, this was supposed to be my wife’s dog.) So I began searching the newspaper ads in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, and Pueblo. As luck would have it there were some good prospects in Denver and we were planning a weekend honeymoon there. We made some calls, wrote down some directions and worked puppy seeking into our plans. When we arrived at the suburban address we were greeted and went directly to the backyard to play with the puppies. For my wife Kathy, it was love at first sight. All those puppies climbing on her and biting her shoe laces was pure irresistable affection. A deal was made and shipping arrange-ments worked out. The breeder provided us with health certificates which included hip certification by a reputable Denver Vet. We seemed “to hit it off right” with the breeder at the time of purchase and still have a good communication system with them.
Our puppy arrived a week later. The airline office called me and pleaded with me to come and pick up this little barking machine ASAP. I made the mistake of letting our puppy out of the shipping crate in the car and she promptly had her first little bowel movement on the floor. How sweet.

Our puppy got settled in at home and at 10 weeks of age we began our training sessions. She caught on to sit, come, stay and heel quickly. My hopes and dreams escalated.
At 7 months of age, Sassafras entered her first duck season and did well. She retrieved about 30 ducks that first season.

As the second hunting season rolled around, I was blessed with being laid-off. We hunted nearly 50 days that season! Sassafras retrieved many ducks and geese for me and my hunting partners. She got her first introduction to pheasant hunting and did well. We even managed to get in a few cottontail hunts.

My friends were really impressed with this 40 pound dog who could retrieve ducks, geese, and flush and retrieve rabbits. Thoughts started to enter my head; when should I breed her, who should I breed her to, how many puppies will she have, what kind of whelping box should I build, etc.

Sassafras reached about 21/2 years old and I decided to have the vet check her out to be sure she was “mom material.” We visited the vet and things looked good until we got to the x-ray part. Dr. Susan Mooreland D.V.M. informed me that. “It looks like early signs of hip dysplasia. I’d like to review these x-rays with another vet to be sure.” On my way home I was disturbed. Thoughts entered my mind and feelings entered my heart. A few days later, the second opinion matched the first. What should I do? Maybe the vets were wrong (denial feelings. Maybe next year the x-rays will look better (denial again.) Maybe I should get another dog (feelings of anger and despair.) Any dog that can run, hunt, and retrieve with her speed can’t have dyplasia (another form of denial called rationalization.) Finally, I decided to “blow it off ‘ ’til next year. Months went by and I noticed that if Sassafras bumped into the kitchen door frame while coming inside the house she squeeked. A couple of times she bumped her hip on the front seat of the car while jumping into the back seat and she let out a slight whimper.

Another hunting season came and I didn’t notice any squeeks for a few months. Thoughts and feelings entered again. No signs of pain. Certainly a dog with dysplasia should limp or have difficulty swimming or running (more denial rationalization on my part.)

March rolls around and there are still some icy spots in the yard. Sassafras is almost 4 years old now. I let her out of the kennel and she begins running around when all of a sudden she begins yelping as though someone is beating the hell out of her. She comes towards me limping and yelping. Ever since she was a puppy she would run to me if she was hurt; cheatgrass in her ear, a cut foot pad, etc. I couldn’t find anything wrong as she layed on my lap as I examined her, I’m scared. My dog is in extreme pain and I can’t find anything wrong. I palpate her for colic, check her ears for ticks, I check her feet for cuts and she continues yelping.

I walk toward the kitchen and Sassafras never leaves my side. I yell to my wife, “Call the vet, tell them I’m on my way, this is an emergency.” Sassafras slowly crawled into the back seat of the car and layed down. She NEVER lays down. Tears well up in my eyes. Terror strikes, my dog is going to die. I arrived at the vet clinic in less than 10 minutes.

About one block away from the clinic, Sassafras stopped whining, got up, and looked out the window. As I arrived at the vet’s, she jumped out of the car and we went inside. Her little 4 inch tail was wagging like nothing was ever wrong. Dr. Mooreland pushes, probes, listens
and palpates. Sassafras continues her tail wagging. Dr. Mooreland says to me “Kevin, let me keep her here tonight just to be safe. I think we’ll take some x-rays to rule out broken bones or foreign objects in her stomach and things like that.” “Ok” I said. “Do whatever you need to do. I don’t want to lose her.”

The next day I arrived at 8:00 a.m. to visit my dog. My vet greeted me as I entered, the vet informed me that “It isn’t good but it isn’t bad. Come back here and I’ll show you these x-rays.” As the films were put on the flourescent screen I could see that the pelvic x-ray didn’t look right. The femoral head did not align into the hip socket correctly. As we compared Sassafras’ x-rays with those of dogs with good hips, Sassafras’ looked terrible. That was probably what all the yelping was about. Sassafras had twisted somehow and those hips were painful. What to do next was obvious to me; this dog was not a good breeding candidate and should be spayed. I looked at my vet and said “Let’s keep her here Sue. I don’t want others to have to experience what I’ve experienced these past few days.” Dr. Mooreland assured me that it would be a wise decision on behalf of my dog. She explained some things I didn’t know like the fact that as an unbred female dog ages, their risk of cervical cancer goes up.

Two days later, I picked up my dog who was a little sluggish from the trauma of the surgery. Two days at home and she was back to normal.” My vet explained to me that dysplasia was not the end of the world. There are surgical procedures and medications, etc. that are effective. She also explained that dysplasia does not always appear at a young age and that it does not have a definite “time pattern” of progression. One can’t predict the rate of which my dog’s dysplasia will progress.

Sassafras is now nearly 6 years old and still hunts as hard as she did at age 3. I realize and accept the fact that one day, Sassafras’ condition will worsen. At that time, I will probably shed a tear for her and she will become our inside-the-house-dog. Her visits to the vet are more frequent now, every 3 or 4 months. At the first inkling of pain I will retire her from hunting.
As I stated earlier in this article my goal is to help a person who hears the diagnosis of hip dysplasia reduce their anxiety. I hope I have done so. For some reason, I used to equate a dog with a diagnosis of dysplasia to a human with a diagnosis of AIDS. Not so. Advances in management and treatment of dysplasia are being made. A dysplasaic dog may have many years of ableness to hunt both before and after surgical intervention if surgery is needed.
I would not like any of my puppy buyers to experience the fear and terror I did two years ago. I have another female who is good breeding material.

My closing hope is that anyone who plans to breed, would have their dog evaluated for dysplasia. Even if the x-rays looked good when you bred your dog at 3 years old if you now plan to breed aqain at 5 years old. It’s wise to get new x-rays. It’s worth the twenty five bucks.

Kevin’s first love of bird dogs began with springers during high school – 20 years ago. He
an amateur trainer who uses his springers almost exclusively for ducks and geese.