FREMONT — J.D., an 11-year-old standard poodle, is a very athletic dog.
One day a little more than five years ago, he was doing his typical vertical leaps into the air, trying to catch a Frisbee, when he came down and landed spreadeagled. He began to limp.
Christine Heavner of Fremont got a referral from her veterinarian, Dr. Ryan Zimmerman, to see Dr. Gary Thompson at West Suburban Animal Hospital in Sylvania Township.
Dr. Thompson, who has a special interest in orthopedic surgery, has advanced training in complex fracture repair and corrective osteotomies.
The dog was X-rayed and diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a common condition in larger-breed dogs where the fit of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip is loose, which leads to arthritis as they age.
“One hip looked worse than the other. Dr. Thompson indicated that we did not have to do anything right away, but we needed to watch how this progressed,” she said. “J.D. continued to chase balls and Frisbees eventually the limping came back.”
Dr. Thompson X-rayed the dog again and gave Mrs. Heavner and her husband, Bill, the treatment options.
“One hip was worse than the other, so we elected to go for the total hip replacement on the worse hip, knowing that someday we would face the issue with the other one,” Mrs. Heavner said.
In May, 2008, the 85-pound dog had a total hip replacement, which cost $5,000.
“It was very much worth it,” Mrs. Heavner said. “To see our best friend walking without pain was priceless.”
Hip-replacement surgery is becoming more common among dogs with debilitating hip dysplasia, Dr. Thompson said.
“These implants are well-tolerated and the dogs have great function immediately post-operatively,” he said.
An alternative to hip replacement is a surgical procedure called a triple pelvic osteotomy that may prevent arthritis from developing, but it is not right for every dog.
It is a procedure where three cuts are made in a young, growing dog’s pelvis with the goal of improving the function of the hip joint, Dr. Thompson said.
“In cutting and rotating the bones of the pelvis that make up the socket, the intent is to improve the coverage of the ball of the upper leg,” he said. “This is supposed to result in better long-term function and avoid potentially debilitating arthritis as the dog ages.”
Symptoms and X-rays in young dogs with hip dysplasia do not always correspond to a loss of function as they age.
“The thing I always try to communicate is that hip dysplasia is simply the appearance of the hips on an X-ray, and it does not always correlate to how your dog will do long-term,” Dr. Thompson said. “I have seen many dogs with hips that looked terrible on an X-ray but functionally were perfectly normal.”
Dr. Thompson said he had had many patients with advanced signs of hip dysplasia on X-rays at a year or less who have led long, healthy, active lives through weight control and regular exercise.
“I typically reserve recommending this surgery for dogs that have dramatic loss of function at an early age from their hip dysplasia,” he said.
True hip dysplasia is not recognized in cats, but as cats age they can succumb to many of the same degenerative conditions that dogs and people do.
However, with a cat’s innate ability to mask any sign of illness, people assume their older cat is slowing down from old age, not arthritic pain.
Another surgical option for dogs with hip problems is femoral head ostectomy.
“For pets with debilitating arthritis of the hip, this surgery removes the ball of the hip joint to alleviate the painful rubbing that can occur from hip dysplasia,” he said. “Small to medium-breed dogs do best with this procedure, but larger dogs can have good return to function.”
J.D.’s other hip is starting to go, but the Heavners hesitate to put him through such major surgery at his advanced age. They are considering other forms of treatment.
“We are thankful that we did the total hip replacement for the one. If we had not, we feel that J.D. would not be able to use either hip,” Mrs. Heavner said. “He is now relying on the artificial hip for most of his support.”
The Heavners, who originally are from Jackson, Tenn., purchased the dog from a breeder when he was a puppy and named him after the famous black label Tennessee whiskey.
“It was love at first sight for me and J.D.,” Mrs. Heavner said. “We pulled up to the home where J.D. was raised and J.D. and his sister were in the yard. I got out of our SUV, bent down and called for him, and this bundle of black curls came running straight for me and that was that, he was mine and was going home to Toledo.”
The playful poodle has a new friend, Buckeye Sam, an 8-year-old standard poodle who came to live with the Heavners in May. The dog previously belonged to Mrs. Heavner’s mother.
“When my mom became ill and could no longer stay in her home, I brought Sam to Fremont where he quickly became a part of our family,” she said.
The two dogs enjoy each other’s company.
“The funniest game they play is running up the stairs,” she said. “They taunt each other to see who gets there the fastest.”
Besides the hip problems, J.D. also is facing another ailment common in aging dogs. He was diagnosed with diabetes in February.
“We have it under control,” she said. “We give J.D. two insulin shots a day.”
All of this care for a dog may puzzle some people, especially the surgery expense, but Mrs. Heavner has no regrets. “You have to know J.D. to understand why we did what we did,” she said. “He is one of those exceptional animals who loves people and will do anything to please them.”
Contact Tanya Irwin at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @TanyaIrwin.