Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
What do you call a 3-legged, one-eyed dog? "Lucky." Logic would tell you that our four-legged friends have an exponentially-increased likelihood of coming up lame as we have, because of having twice as many feet to step on something sharp, twice as many weight-bearing ligaments and tendons to sprain and strain, and twice as many leg bones to fracture. Animal vs. vehicle and animal vs. animal match-ups (especially Big Dog vs. Little Dog) have brought many-a limping creature through our doors. Add into the equation that they age several times faster than we do, and are more likely to engage in sudden bursts of rugged activity through rough terrain without any warm-up, and you can see why a limping animal is one of the most common problems veterinarians see. By the way, think twice before naming any animal "Lucky" ... you'll be visiting the vet for much more than vaccines and heartworm tests. Pick out the thickest chart in any file cabinet of any veterinary clinic, and you'll see the name "Lucky" at the top.
Lameness can happen at any age, and it isn't just from injuries. Young animals need proper balanced nutrition or they can have abnormal and painful changes in the growth plates of their long bones. These conditions are what led to the development of diets such as large-breed puppy foods, for example. Horses and cattle can get nutritional lameness from too much carbohydrate or even too rich a pasture which can cause a condition called laminitis, where their hoof wall separates from the underlying bone. The pain would be analogous to peeling back your fingernails while bearing your entire body's weight on your fingertips. Infections from various organisms, including some carried and transmitted to our animals by ticks can cause joint pain, such as Lyme disease, and there are good tick preventatives and Lyme disease vaccines available to prevent those causes of lameness. Osteoarthritis is a major problem, especially in dogs and horses, and there are many nutraceuticals available containing natural joint-supportive compounds such as glucosamine and chondroitin, and natural anti-inflammatory compounds such as omega-3 fatty acids. These products are sometimes formulated into premium diets, but they are also available as supplements, and are a good place to start when symptoms first appear. Several newer NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that are safer and more effective than aspirin, for example, are available once symptoms of joint pain are no longer relieved by nutraceuticals. You should never give your pets Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, or any other human-type anti-inflammatories, as some are toxic and potentially fatal to animals.
Broken bones are repaired using splints, casts, orthopedic implants such as pins, screws, and wires, or even amputation, depending on severity, location, and if the animal's name is "Lucky" (just kidding about the last part). No matter what the repair technique, there will be home-nursing care such as bandage maintenance, pain medication, and here's the kicker ... cage rest. Stabilizing the fracture is just the first day of about an 8-week healing period, and activity restriction is as important as the repair itself. Understanding that "activity restriction" is easier said than done, and sometimes downright unreasonable to expect, some of my favorite client interpretations of "cage rest" are as follows. Dr. Dan once personally retrieved a cat on which he had recently splinted a broken leg from high in a tree because, while on strictly enforced cage rest, the cat climbed up there and got the splint hung up on a branch. Dr. Dean learned on a follow-up phone call shortly after fixing a broken femur with a bone pin that, while on cage rest, the dog "can already keep up with the tractor." And just last week, after I splinted a dog's broken leg and put it on cage rest, she needed to come back in because "it slipped down a little when she took off running over a plowed field. She gets around with it pretty well."