Thursday, February 17, 2011

Indy’s Struggle with Dysplasia

Indy's story is shared by Angie Falcsik of  Pawsitive K-9 Obedience. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

I have already written about hip and elbow dysplasia, you can check out Hip And Elbow Dysplasia: Are They The Same Thing? and Shiloh Is Headed For A Second Hip Surgery.

Indy's story began about 4 years ago when Indy was just 6 years old.

Indy, his canine siblings and I were outside playing ball and Frisbee when I noticed Indy limping and favoring his back right leg after only about 10 minutes of play time. I knew that they liked to dig little holes in the yard and figured I had missed filling one and maybe he stepped in it.  I manipulated his leg a bit and as he seemed fine, chalked it up to a little strain.

This continued here and there for the next few months but only occasionally; not every time we played. 

I kept telling myself I needed to make sure I checked the yard in case I missed filling a small hole before we started playing.

I also started to notice he would wince a bit when he was stretching and was stiff in the mornings.  

He would not stretch as far as he normally would in the past and had trouble getting around for a bit each morning.

Then one day as Indy was jumping off the bed, I heard him cry out with a sharp yelp.

I immediately jumped up to check on him, but again, manipulating his legs didn’t seem to bother him.

I did however, start to notice that he was favoring his right hip/leg more and more and he seemed to walk with a stiff gait.

When we would play in the back yard I noticed he was taking more breaks and not running to get the ball or the Frisbee with as much enthusiasm as before. He would allow his German Shepherd sister and Belgian Tervuren brother do the majority of the playing.  I decided it was time to have this issue looked at.

Much to my surprise, the trip to the vet was much more involved than I imagined. 

I expected she would perform an examination and tell me I was making more of strain than I should and to give him a week or so with some anti-inflammatory medication.

Unfortunately, after an exam and x-rays, I was told that Indy had early onset right hip dysplasia and mild left hip dysplasia. 

I instantly thought to myself, surgery?  He’s so young!  How could he be suffering from this “old age” condition so early?  The vet told me that all of Indy’s breeds (Collie, Shepherd, Golden Retriever) were prone to this condition but assured me surgery was not necessary at this time, but to prepare myself as likely, in the future this would be our fate.

She suggested that I start Indy on a daily regimen of Glucosamine/Condroitin/MSM as in her opinion, this was a better (and less expensive) option than the typical arthritis medication which many other side effects.

After a few months, I did start to notice a difference, but he still seemed to have days where he clearly was uncomfortable.  

Now, I know that animals tend to hide their pain and by the time we see it, it is usually worse that what they are letting on; the selfless soles that they are!  The vet assured me that a little more time was needed, and by now we were into the winter so less active in our playtime/walks.  I started to notice an improvement in Indy’s walking, getting on/off the bed/couch and it appeared that we had finally turned the corner. 

I decided to do some research on some homeopathic methods to help Indy and began doing regular massages, light acupressure and aromatherapy.  

In fact, it became a nightly ritual with all the dogs as by this time my work schedule went from one job, 40 hrs a week to two jobs, working about 70 hrs a week, which meant I had less time to spend with them each day.

Over the next couple of years Indy had his good and bad days but overall seemed to do alright.

The occasional aspirin to assist with pain along with massage, ice packs, etc.  When I considered the alternative - surgery - I felt he was much better off not going under the knife.

Our walks got shorter and shorter as Indy appeared to not handle long walks as well as he used to.

He would do the “bunny hop” gait after walking about ½ mile as well as when we were out playing.  There were days that by the time we got home, he would be limping and ice packs became a regular regimen. The vet said, however, it was important to keep him moving and to just shorten the walks but not allow him to become sedentary.

Indy was 9 when I heard a cry again, this time much worse than before.

Once again, we were outside playing and this time, I noticed he was limping on both his right front leg, and trying to figure out which back leg to put weight on. I hadn’t noticed any issues with his right leg previous to this so I was very concerned, especially at this age. We made another trip to the vet and he said it appears Indy had likely strained his right shoulder but in light of his history, suggested we see an orthopedic specialist.  As you can imagine, my heart sunk again.

This time I was sure we were looking at surgery but now Indy was 9 years old, not his young 6 when this all started.  I kept telling myself I would do what is best for him no matter the cost but also had to keep his quality of life a big consideration. 

We made the appointment and while we waited for “the day” he and I went out for a walk; just the two of us.

While on our walk (barely a 1/8 of a mile), Indy stopped.  He looked up at me as if to say, “I can’t take another step”.  

This is what it had come to; could not even go on a short walk anymore. We were not that far from my house and I picked up my 65 pound Collie/Golden/Shepherd and carried him most of the way home. We made a couple of stops and he did manage to walk into the house himself, but after ice and aspirin, I went into the bathroom, shut the door and broke down.

I thought for sure we were looking at surgery and/or the specialist was going to tell me it was too late to do anything.

This was my baby!  His mom came to my rescue pregnant and eight days later had eleven puppies.  I just happened to be there the day she went into labor and watched Indy being born. I had had Indy literally since he took his first breath into this world. Now, I don’t have favorites, and I love all my dogs, but my relationship with Indy was special to say the least. I was not taking this well.

Well, the day came to go the specialist and I was prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best.
This was a good day for Indy and he pranced his way into the office and grabbed the heart of everyone there, as usual.

The vet came into the room and asked a number of questions.

He began to examine Indy and I noticed how gentle his touch was. This man was not only a great “dog” vet, but a great “people” vet.  He explained everything he was doing, what he was looking for, what he was finding, etc.  I felt so comfortable with him and knew we were in good hands.  He then had Indy walk up and down the hallway.

At this time, he suggested that Indy undergo full body x-rays to figure out exactly what was going on.  

Of course, this meant I would have to leave him there to spend the night so they could run a full blood screen and sedate him in the morning for the x-rays. Now, I know it should have been an easy thing for me to do, but for some reason, I did not want to leave him.

What was the specialist going to find?  

What were we up against?  I knew the best thing was to have these tests done so I kissed him and left him in the good hands of this amazing staff!

It was so hard to sleep that night and my other two dogs could sense something was up. Trace, my Belgian Tervuren, Indy’s right hand man, looked at me and wondered where his buddy was. These two are never apart and they clean each other’s faces, eyes, ears every night.  He seemed as lost as I was.

I went back the following day to get the results and pick up Indy. The vet came in and showed me all the films.

It turned out it was worse than I thought.  

Indy’s right hip dysplasia was still bad but now his left hip was labeled severe as well.  He also said Indy had right elbow dysplasia and then pointed to these little white things sticking out of his wrist on the x-ray. Bone spurs.

Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt horrible that I had put him through dealing with this for so long and didn’t realize how bad it was.  

I kept asking myself, why didn’t I pay more attention?  Why did I take him for such long walks and not notice anything?  The vet assured me that these changes are often subtle and it is hard to pick up on the signs sometimes.

So, now for the prognosis and what we were going to do. Amazingly enough, Indy’s nine year old spine was perfect!  He said it was as good as a one year old and despite his hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and bone spurs, he felt that Indy could likely avoid surgery!

He told me that all my years of giving him the glucosamine/condroitin/MSM and the ice packs, massages, monitoring activity were the big reasons why he had done as well as he had for as long as he had and why surgery was not an option right now; if ever. 

He did suggest that I switch him from the generic G/C/MSM to Osteo Biflex as the absorption into the system was better than the generic version.

He also prescribed Fish Oil pills to help with inflammation and to add a pain medication: Rimadyl.  

That’s when I stopped. I had heard and read about all of the problems with Rimadyl and the dogs that had died after taking it. The vet explained to me that when Rimadyl first was being tested, he was one of about 30 vets in the country to help conduct the study.

What they discovered was the reason dogs were dying after taking this medication, was due to not checking their liver and kidney levels prior to starting the medication.  

This medication required blood work to check the kidney and liver levels, and only after confirming normal levels could a dog begin taking this pain medicine.

Of course, the first 24 hours still needed to be monitored for signs of lethargy, throwing up, not wanting to eat, these symptoms were rare when used properly.  

Indy’s blood work was perfect and in light of his pain level, this was the best medicine to put him on. I decided to start this medication early on a Saturday morning so I could be home, monitor him and be ready to go to the emergency room at the slightest sign something was amiss. The vet assured me that would not happen in light of his blood work.

I asked about other medications for his pain, but the vet after discussing everything, said this was the best option.  The vet continued to assure me that the only dogs that had any problems whatsoever were dogs that were not tested prior to starting the medication.

Saturday came, we started the meds, and I never left his side for hours. 

He looked at me as if to say, “mom, I’m fine, quit hovering”. We snuggled, watched movies, ate breakfast and finally dinner. Nothing. No symptoms. He was fine. I could breathe again.

A couple of days went by and I started to notice Indy was up and around a bit more.  

A week went by and he now wanted to play more. Two weeks went by and he didn’t want to go home after short walks; he wanted to keep going!

At our one month follow up appointment, I was so excited to share how well Indy was doing with the specialist.  

He of course, knew how well Indy would be doing but was humble and very supportive. The only thing we needed to do was have Indy’s blood work checked in a couple of weeks and then every 3-4 months for the first year and then every 6 months thereafter.

We are now almost a year out from our first visit with the specialist and Indy is not only back to his 1-2 mile walks, playing ball and Frisbee, but now also does nosework; all without pain!  

He jumps onto the bed, couch and into the car without any problems and is a much happier dog!  And I am a grateful and very happy mom.  In fact, everyone is on the Fish Oil and Osteo Bi-Flex regimen as all three of my babies are ten and it has made quite a difference in them as well.

I do keep Indy about 5 pounds under weight to keep the pressure off his joints which has made a big difference as well. 

Editor's note: For obvious reasons I am not a fan of NSAIDs, as Jasmine got quite sick when we tried putting her on them. And her liver and kidneys were fine. However, they are life-savers for many dogs and I am happy for every dog that benefits from them without harm. It is however important to monitor your dog closely when on these drugs.

The original signs I noticed were limping when playing, not wanting to play/walk as long, stiffness in the morning, trouble stretching, hesitating to do some activities he loved, hesitating to jump up or down off the bed/couch, and the “bunny hop” gait. 

You will notice this when both back feet tend to hop together.  Of course, there are other medical issues that also manifest these symptoms, so it is always best to have your dog checked by your vet to assess the issue.

Thankfully, what started out as a limp, developed into what I thought would be a long and expensive treatment regimen, has had a wonderful outcome. We all could not be happier with how healthy and active everyone is, especially Indy!


For nearly 10 years, Angie Falcsik has been professionally dedicated to the training, rehabilitation, and rescue of dogs. But the roles of trainer, rescuer, and rehabilitator have been a large part of her life since she was a child. Angie's life-long passion and the goal of her professional career is to educate people regarding responsible dog ownership and the realities involved in being a responsible dog owner. Angie has been working with Animal Control agencies and shelters for many years and has offered expert advice and testimony in animal abuse and neglect cases. Angie has been professionally training dogs since 2002 and is an AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. Through her classes, private in-home training, and rescue work, she has trained hundreds of dogs. In her own home alone, she has fostered and trained over 350 dogs!

Angie's unique obedience class (Language and Leadership) focuses on pack leadership, body language, and positive reinforcement. Her classes involve training the owner and family members and rehabilitating the dog. Angie's method uses body language as well as voice commands to develop and establish an appropriate relationship between owner and dog. If your dog is not listening to you, chances are, your dog does not have sufficient respect for you. Angie will teach you how to become a pack leader and earn the necessary respect so that following your lead becomes second nature to your dog.

In Angie's class, you will learn the importance of pack leadership, establishing rules and boundaries, along with an exercise regimen, and how to implement these essential aspects of responsible dog ownership into your lives. You and your dog will also learn basic obedience such as heel, sit, wait, down, and come, as well as additional training/rehabilitation measures that are specific to your dog and family. While some basic training is essential for all dogs, Angie believes that not every technique works or is appropriate for every dog and family. Each dog and family is unique and Angie's training philosophy and methods are designed to address and work with different family/dog situations and living styles.

Further reading:
Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
Canine Hip Dysplasia
Elbow Dysplasia 
NSAIDs: How these Dog Arthritis Drugs Can Be Dangerous
NSAIDs for Dog Arthritis User Guides Part 1 - Rimadyl (Caprofen)

Related articles:
Hip And Elbow Dysplasia: Are They The Same Thing?
Talk to Me About Arthritis


  1. Hi Jana, this isn't a comment for this post. I just don't know how else to contact you. I sent you an email this morning. Tried twice, but got mail delivery failure notices. Could you please send me another email address, perhaps? I don't know why this happened since you obviously got my 1st email and I got a response from you......duh. :)

  2. Hi, so strange, isn't it? The one on the blog is the right email,

    You can also try my work email:

  3. A bit late on this post but glad Indy is going well. As a veterinarian, I know how much Rimadyl can help and it sounds like you are using it sensibly and as part of a bigger treatment plan, which is best. This keeps the dose (and side effects) to a minimum.

  4. Dear Chris, thank you for commenting! I found that people land on any ol' article as they come from google search or twitter, so articles don't really become obsolete (and neither do comments then)

    I am glad that Rimadyl is working for Indy too, as this is the first dog I hear that is doing well on NSAIDs.