11.3. What is Dysplasia?
The American Heritage Dictionary of Science defines dysplasia as:
dysplasia [(dis plais zhuh)], n. Biology.
abnormal development or growth of tissues, organs,
or other structures. [from New Latin, from dys-
bad + Greek plasis a molding]
Thus hip dysplasia is the term used to describe hips that have developed abnormally in some way. Elbow dysplasia would similarly describe abnormal elbows.
The term dysplasia is vague, and may describe many different specific ailments. Improper bone or muscle growth, abnormal tendon or ligament development, or a number of other "abnormalities" may all be termed dysplasia.
- 11.3.1 What causes Dysplasia?
Dysplasia is generally thought to be an inherited trait, where only through careful breeding may it be eliminated. Many people also feel that certain activities in puppies may accelerate dysplasia in dogs already prone to the disease. Activities such as walking up and down stairs, pushing on a dogs rump, jumping down out of cars, and excessive exercise in general are all felt to contribute to hip dysplasia in dogs.
Excessively rapid growth in puppies is also thought to promote dysplasia, and because of this, the protein intake of young Newfoundland puppies should be carefully monitored. Canine Hip Dysplasia is most common in large dogs like Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, and German Shepards.
- 11.3.2 What are the symptoms of Dysplasia?
There may not be any. There may also be many. Dysplasia is not a simple thing, it comes in many flavors and many degrees. Some dogs may be severely dysplastic, but show no outward signs, others may show extreme discomfort walking or climbing stairs, or when they get up or sit down.
Dysplasia itself may not cause any pain, but may lead to arthritis later in life. Some dysplastic dogs sit in one spot and cry in pain, the very act of getting up for a drink too painful to consider.
A reputable breeder will let you know how the parents and grandparents of your pup measured up against dysplasia. There are a few dysplasia measurements that can be done such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), and PennHip scales. Your breeder may also give you information about how their dogs fared on these scales.
To learn more about PennHip and OFA, check out their websites.
- 11.3.3 What can I do to prevent Dysplasia?
Remember: Dysplasia is generally thought to be an inherited trait, where only careful breeding may eliminate it.
Since certain activities in puppies may accelerate dysplasia in dogs already prone to the disease, you may wish to avoid or minimize these activities for the first year or two. Excessively rapid growth in puppies is also thought to promote dysplasia, and because of this, the protein intake of young Newfoundland puppies should be carefully monitored.
Many people believe that the "Don't let your puppy go up stairs" argument is a falsehood put forth by disreputable breeders. When a buyer would complain that a puppy they were sold was dysplastic, the disreputable breeder would say "Did you let the pup go up and down stairs?". When the people would invariably reply in the affirmative, the disreputable breeder would shift the blame from their reckless breeding practices to the poor unsuspecting buyer.
To me, the stair climbing argument has merit, though carrying my 130 pound one-year-old up the stairs just isn't going to happen. We try to compensate with adequate but not excessive low impact exercise, and we have always carefully monitored our dogs protein intake, especially as puppies.
Remember, the actual cause of dysplasia is unknown, though presumed genetic. If taking extra precautions now might save your dog years of unbearable pain, isn't it worth it to try anything you can?
- 11.3.4 I think my dog is dysplastic. What do I do?
Take him to a vet. Your vet should be able to tell pretty easily if the dysplasia is severe, though x-rays are the only sure method of diagnosis. Your breeder has need many Newfoundlands in her career, she could probably tell by experience if your Newfs joints have formed properly. Of course multiple opinions are always better than one.
Be warned that the x-rays involved in Canine Hip Dysplasia testing are performed under anesthesia, and Newfs may have problems with certain types of anesthesia. Make sure your vet knows his Newfs, and make sure you know your vet.