Lameness in dogs is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of some underlying disease condition that affects their skeletal and muscular systems. Swelling and weakness in the limbs, dysfunction of the joints and lameness are the most common symptoms of the disorders affecting the musculoskeletal system. Neurological changes also may affect muscular function due to its impact on neuromuscular tissues, resulting in the involvement of digestive and urinary systems and circulation.
Examining the lameness
The veterinarian may do a physical examination of the dog and check its general health. Past injuries and illnesses may be reviewed as well. The lameness examination involves close observation of the dog in various poses while it is walking and resting and when it gets up. The reaction of the dog to the different types of activity may differ according to the degree of lameness. There may be differences between the limbs too. For example, if the front legs are affected, the dog may lift its head when it applies weight on them while getting up. If the lameness is in the hind limbs, it may lower its head as it applies weight on them. If legs are affected on one side more than the other, the dog may take shorter strides on that side.
Feeling the dog’s bone structure and the joints for inflammations, grating sounds and muscle wastage may help the vet identify the problem. Reduction in the range of joint movements and the pain associated with them are other indications of injury. If the dog is irritated, it may have to be sedated while conducting the physical examination. The vet may have to repeat the process two or three times before a diagnosis can be made.
Imaging techniques such as x-rays, ultrasonography and CT scans may help the veterinarian identify the cause of lameness. MRI scans and another technique called nuclear scintigraphy are used occasionally. The dog may have to be anesthetized or sedated during most of these procedures to keep it steady and to avoid causing it undue stress and pain.
Management of pain
The first intervention in the treatment of lameness is reducing pain. Besides helping dogs with chronic and painful diseases like osteoarthritis, reduction in pain may help them recover faster as it allows them to exercise the joint more. The veterinarian may prescribe non-steroidal analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain and swelling. Massage therapy and acupuncture may be effective in some cases. The vet may suggest alterations in the diet in certain cases.
This minimally invasive surgical procedure allows the vet to have a direct look at the affected joint and conduct certain corrective procedures. After making a small cut close to the joint, the flexible viewing tube of the endoscope is directed towards the joint. The tiny camera attached to the tip of the tube gives a correct picture of the abnormality. The endoscope allows the removal of damaged soft tissues such as ligaments and cartilage too. The main advantage of arthroscopic surgery is the smaller size of the incision that requires fewer stitches and considerably reduces the healing time.