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Hip Dysplasia – Living in its Shadow – a personal view

Hip Dysplasia casts a gigantic shadow. Of all the diseases that our pets can suffer from, this one, most people seem to have had some experiences. I have never had a dog suffer from Distemper or Provirus two of the worst killers. I have had a dog with Motor Neuron disease and currently our cats have the now common disease of Feline Leukaemia. Yet talking to owners most of them have had experience of dogs that suffered from it, either are suffering from it, or knew of dogs that have suffered. It is like an epidemic.

Most diseases are short lived from the time of diagnosis to either a successful cure or resulting in death. Hip Dysplasia on the other hand is there from the beginning and gradually becoming worse for the pet for its entire life until that quality of life becomes so bad that we must reluctantly end that life.

Talking to one owner the other week, they said that their vet diagnosed their dog as having the disease at the age of six. The fact of the matter is the dog must have been feeling the effects from a puppy and simply lived with the ever-increasing pain without showing any perceptible signs. Only by the age of six did the pain become so bad it became more obvious to the owner.

We seem now to accept that Hip Dysplasia has become a lottery so that when we bring a dog into our lives it may or may not suffer from this disease because it has reached such epidemic proportions. It is as though we are prepared to tolerate this and our pets destined to suffer all of their lives simply to be our companions.

I have met so many people who have spent vast amounts of money trying to treat their pets to give them a better quality of life as most of us cannot bear to see their suffering. This is one of the best human qualities that never seem to disappear. Even when times are hard, humans will go through personal hardship just so they can pay the vets bills.

Why should this happen? Looking at it wearing my accountant’s hat the producer had sold us inferior goods. If dogs were, televisions or microwave ovens then we would take it back immediately and make a claim for a refund or replacement. Some breeders will actually say if the dog suffers from Hip Dysplasia bring it back and they will provide another one or refund the money. Do they really expect us to be that callous? Yet, this is the law regarding the sale of goods but we cannot and will not perceive our dogs as goods.

I know most people once they have had their dog diagnosed and know the prognosis they do not take the dog back because it is now part of the family. To do so would make us seem heartless and uncaring. We accept we have drawn the short straw and we will try to cope with it. We then try to give our dogs the best quality of life that we can until that time comes where we can see it is too painful for our pets to endure any longer.

I possibly waited too long with Rolly. The only thing that kept him walking was to move forward using the amazing power of his front end that could make his back end follow him. It is difficult to make that decision that means that face will no longer be there every morning.

Once I knew Rolly had Hip Dysplasia, I stopped thinking of training him for Working Trials. John Rogerson suggested I just let him do what he wants to do and let him control as much as he could do and do no more. This I did and almost ignored him in the beginning to let him do what ever he wanted to do.

It was actually surprising what he would do for himself. Initially I treated him like an invalid. He did not go on long walks, he did not do agility, and many times, I left at home when we went training. I was so certain he must be in pain but he never showed it. Often he would bark to let us know he wanted to come with us and not left behind. Again John (Rogerson) said not to molly coddle him just let him choose what he does but never work make him do anything strenuous.

From then on Rolly went everywhere with us and we became very close. I found that though I could not train or compete in Working Trials there were many other needed jobs to do like stewarding, track laying, treasure, organiser, and spending a lot of my time in pubs telling competitors where they had to go. Rolly was always under the table or by my side.

Not working him allowed me to see the other side of working trails so I could continue with my Trails education. We have to learn the other side of Trials anyway though it is always preferable for the workers to have had experience in training and working a dog. We found that many years ago one new trail had so many willing helpers come to help lay tracks but because they had never worked a dog had no idea what they were doing or why so many tracks were failures. I was fortunate that Anne had her dog and so I learned all that I needed by helping in teaching her dog though it is still not quite the same as working my own dog.

For me Rolly was always by my side. He was the underdog to my wife’s dog Shung. Even though Rolly was bigger and far more powerful, this did not entitle him to the top dog position.

Even with Hip Dysplasia, we began to notice that Rolly would still challenge Shung in many ways. Swimming is great exercise for dogs suffering this disease and he could out swim Shung every time. Throw a stick in for Shung and Rolly would just swim right past him. Once I threw a stick for Shung from my mum’s river jetty. From eight foot above us, off the top of the riverbank, Rolly leaped into the water to power swim to retrieve the stick and to beat Shung.

If he saw a rabbit, he could chase and catch them. It was watching him do this that prompted me to using him as a gun dog during my hunting days. He was a good dog but by his face, you could see he had little faith in my shooting ability but he loved to work with my ferrets. It was his greatest treat to go hunting whilst Shung had to remain at home. You could see Rolly’s pleasure in that.

I do not think Rolly knew the word strenuous but there were always some times that remind me he had Hip Dysplasia like having to lift him into the back of the pickup and watching him trying to get up after being asleep. He must have lived with constant pain and I can only hope we alleviated this to some degree using cortisone but how effective this was I do not know.

I have poor hips from my father’s side so I know what it is like to feel some pain especially when shopping in all those ladies shops. It is here I seem to feel the most pain or is it in my wallet. If only more shops would leave seats for us to use I would frequent them more often. I hope that using this Glucosamine Sulphate will help me and in a month, I will try shopping again and see if there is some improvement. We will see.

This same biochemical constituent may also help our dogs so early detection of Hip Dysplasia is important just in case such products can actually alleviate the problem and maybe make life more comfortable for them.

No one ever asks me to look at their dogs to see if they are suffering from any disease. On occasions when we visit owners sometimes, there are indications of possibly some medical condition that may play a part in the behavioural problem.

Recently I went to see a strong puppy that was pulling an owner whilst it was on the lead. The use of the Halti with the lead stopped this but after a few days, it started refusing to move whilst it tried to remove the head collar. We returned the next week only to find a puppy that knows how to get the collar off by refusing to walk and seemingly appearing to be in pain. It soon started to walk for us and at one point when it lay down and I looked at him he started to wag his tail so I knew this was all an act. All we needed to do was to teach the owner that this was all a ploy.

Whilst we were there, we noticed the dog seemed to drool more than it should and the owner said it often ate the plaster off the walls. The Vet had previously suggested some vitamins but this did not solve the problem and it was continuing to chew the walls. We suggested a further visit to the vet, as he was not always eating his food.

I received a call the other day telling me the vet had now found the puppy had an enlarged heart. The owner must now wait until it is 10 months of age before the vets can tell if this will become a major problem.

The puppy was purchased from a well know pet establishment and within the next few days they will be made aware of the problem. It could well be this is just a one off problem but on the other hand how common could this be and are the proprietors prepared to do something about this. Will they even be interested?

For the breeder of Rolly he did said he would stop breeding from the parents but he would not give me a refund and I must admit I did not peruse this, as I was feeling guilty at my bargaining over my dog’s life. It was some years later that we met a lady with a dog so similar to Rolly that when we asked she confirmed it did indeed come from the same breeder. It had the same parents with the same problem. Armed with the information she returned to the breeder who would still not refund her any money and said that both his breeding dogs were HD free so there was nothing he could do to stop the occasional throwbacks. How do we define occasionally?

I know Rolly’s only real sign that he had pain was his love of Shung's comfortable chair and his constant use of his beanbags. I am certain he would never have wanted to have to suffer in pain all his life but did he think that this was just normal for all dogs. I hope he liked his life and for sure, he was always by my side. He may not have been my working dog I had been hopping for but he was very much my very best companion.


Hip Dysplasia is treated like lottery like our own medical problems but by the choice of both humans and dogs it should not exist. This begs the question why we still have such a disease when it is possible to control. We can see that the Police and the Working Trials fraternity who have taken up their own breeding programmes have dramatically reduced the incidence of hip Dysplasia in working dogs.

There are very many breeders who have even taking to contacting owners they have sold puppies to asking them if they are all ok in order to confirm that their breeding is not producing genetic faults. This is time consuming and costly but there are still those who take short cuts because there still exists in the companion dog market people who are so unaware of genetic diseases or must except the breeders confirming that they are free of such problems.

In the Police force and in Working dog competitions there is no longer a market for dogs with deformities that restrict their working capabilities. The breeding plans have no interest in money, only in a dog’s health and they know how to test to indicate for possible problems at an early stage. Any crippled dog is spotted almost immediately because it cannot achieve the basic qualifications. Rolly would climb an A-frame for just for fun but he could never have managed a scale without some sign he was in pain. Unlike me when I am in pain and suffering everyone knows about it yet dogs like Rolly having Hip Dysplasia live a lifetime of pain without wishing to show it.

Depending on the degree of bone degeneration many family companion dogs can live for years before the signs become apparent whereas others have obvious signs at 6 month old. We as owners must stop being a market for genetically crippled dogs and we need to know what to look for and the right questions to ask. We must tell the breeders breeding such dogs about the problem so making them aware. Once informed maybe the breeder will stop using those breeding pairs in the future. This way it should stop them perpetuating this disease even though they themselves may not show any signs and even certified HD free. Such a certificate is not a guarantee the pups will not carry the faulty gene which is the only cause of Hip Dysplasia.

Next week will be Hip Dysplasia, the future.

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