Vol 10 No 1

Winter 2008

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Features in this Issue:

Sofia's Story

2007 Annual Survey

Recent Adoptions

Thank You

Fond Farewells

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Sofia’s Story


She was born in an Iowa puppy mill on November 20, 2005.  According to her “papers” she was purchased for $699.99 from a pet store called Animals & Things, Inc.

Sofia is one of the lucky ones.  While her genetic physical condition is deplorable, her temperament is wonderful.  And more importantly, Sofia was surrendered to rescue where she could receive the special medical treatment she needed in order for her to live a normal, pain-free life.

One of the first things we noticed during our initial evaluation was that Sofia sat “crooked”.  When she walked or tried to run, instead of having a fluid forward gait, she bounced up and down.   Hip dysplasia was suspected and was confirmed with radiographs taken at the same time she was anesthetized for her spay surgery.  The diagnosis was worse than we had expected – Sofia had NO hip sockets. Her femur was sliding back and forth along the pelvic bone since there was no hip socket to form the joint and secure the bone. This is a very painful condition and we were told she was already showing signs of osteoarthritis at her young age of 2 years.

Our “rescue friendly” veterinarian, Dr. Christopher Keefe of the Creeks Edge Animal Hospital in Hainesport, NJ, referred Sofia to Dr. Robert Orsher, an orthopedist at the Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Langhorne, PA.  Dr. Orsher’s report stated: “both rear legs were not well muscled but she could walk quite well.  Radiographs demonstrate hip dysplasia with complete dislocation of her hips.   The recommendation is bilateral femoral head and neck excision, or Femoral Head Ostectomy surgery, followed by 8 weeks of physical therapy.”

Hip Dysplasia means abnormal growth or development of the hips resulting in a poor fit of the “ball and socket” in the hip joint.

In a “normal” hip, the femoral head - which is the round ball on the top of the femur bone – connects into the Acetabulum, the socket of the pelvic bone.  There is a fibrous joint capsule surrounding it and lubricating fluid as well.  Both of these bones are coated with cartilage so that they move smoothly against each other.

When a dog has dysplasia this ball and socket don’t fit properly. The acetabulum is flattened, or in Sofia’s case, non existent, so the ball of the femoral head has no support and slides whenever movement occurs.

Hip dysplasia was first discovered in 1935 and is prevalent in many breeds of dogs, most commonly large and giant breed dogs.   85% of the time the dysplasia occurs bilaterally, or in both hips.  94% of all dysplastic dogs will show radiographic evidence of their disease by two years of age.  A conscientious breeder will have radiographs taken of all their breeding dogs at 2 years of age.  These radiographs are submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and they are read by radiologists.  The hips are given a classification of excellent, good, fair, borderline, mildly dysplastic or severely dysplastic. An OFA classification of excellent, good or fair is considered within normal limits. If the dog is two years of age or older, a breed registry number is assigned and the dog is then certified.  You can bet Sofia’s puppy mill breeder wasn’t concerned with the hip quality of his breeding stock.

Hip dysplasia is inherited and multiple genes must be present for the condition to occur.  It’s quite possible to get dysplastic puppies from parent dogs with normal hip radiographs.  Most times the puppy’s hips are “normal” at birth but clinical symptoms may start to show as early as 3 months of age but more commonly between 5-10 months.  Genetics play an important factor in hip dysplasia; however, other contributing factors are the breed of the dog, the skeletal conformation and the growth pattern.  Feeding a high protein, high calorie “large breed” dog food can cause rapid weight gain which increases the occurrence and severity of the condition.  Signs of hip dysplasia include abnormal gait, “bunny hopping” when running, lameness, difficulty climbing stairs or getting up and exercise intolerance.

Treatment of hip dysplasia can be conservative or surgical. The objectives of conservative therapy are to relieve pain and maintain limb function, as well as to continue the dog in as normal a level of activity as possible. Conservative therapy consists of weight control, moderate exercise, and pain relief medication. Maintaining good muscle support will always be the most important criteria in caring for dogs with hip dysplasia.   Muscle is built by walking, jogging, and swimming. Acrobatics (playing Frisbee, jumping, etc.) should be avoided as they place unnecessary pressure on the joint.

Sofia’s surgery was performed on November 13, 2007.  During the procedure the top of the femoral head was cut off.  This relieved the bone on bone pressure.  A “false joint” will form which will encapsulate the two bones but there will be no bone to bone contact.

She was kept in the Intensive Care Unit for two nights and sent home the following day with three pain medications - a Fentanyl patch on her skin and two additional oral medications. She was not able to walk.  Her take home instructions were that she was to be kept quiet for the next 10 days.  She was allowed out of her crate for snuggle sessions with her foster mom or for potty breaks, but only if she was supported by a sling that went underneath her abdomen to prevent her rear legs from bearing any weight.  This ‘slight’ bump in the road didn’t deter our Sofia.  Not one bit.  She quickly figured out how to scoot across hardwood floors in a sitting position.

Her surgical staples were removed on November 24th and she was ready to begin the next step in her recovery process - rehabilitation.

Dr. Orsher sent her home with some range of motion exercises to perform daily:  leash walking up and down stairs several times a day, a controlled leash walk dragging weight for resistance to build up the muscle, and a referral for water therapy. She was ecstatic to resume her walks around the neighborhood, no matter how wobbly she was.  Sofia quickly learned that she could cheat on some of these in-home exercises.  Rather than try to propel herself up the stairs using her rear legs, she learned that she could pull herself up the stairs using her chin and front legs, thus putting very little weight on her rear legs!

Sofia’s initial consultation for her 8 week course of aqua therapy at PetPT in Cherry Hill, NJ, involved a swim in the pool with Dr. Russell Howe-Smith.  In the pool he noticed that her rear legs would cross when she was attempting to walk, something her foster mom had noted as well.  Dr Howe-Smith prescribed bi-weekly sessions on the underwater treadmill and several additional daily exercises at home to help her regain her strength, flexibility and balance.  Walking on uneven fields at her foster mom’s farm and eating her meals while standing with her front 2 legs elevated on a step to reach her raised food bowl forces her to use those rear legs. She also gets back massages to prevent her from curving her spine when she strains her muscles, and gentle stretching of her rear legs in the evening.  Clearly, the more physical exercise she gets, the better off she’ll be provided she is willing and able to do it.  Sofia has already demonstrated that chasing balls, hopping up and down stairs and raiding the toy basket are not a problem.

Sofia LOVES her water therapy.

She can’t wait to jump out of the car and get inside to leap on the treadmill platform.   While she’s on the treadmill she plays with balls and toys and loves to dive off the platform into the water to retrieve them.

At her 6 week evaluation Dr. Howe-Smith measured her around her thighs with a tape measure to see if her muscles had grown.  We were thrilled to learn that Sofia’s legs are now symmetrical and her flexibility has increased.  She will be undergoing an additional 5 weeks of rehabilitation.

It will be very important for Sofia to remain slim and trim so that no additional stress is placed on her joints.  Maintaining her muscle tone will also be extremely important.

GRRI can’t even begin to thank Sofia’s foster mom for her dedication and devotion to Sofia while she has been in her care.  This is a remarkable example of a volunteer going above and beyond what is normally required of our foster homes.  We know if Sofia could talk she’d express her heartfelt gratitude as well.  In the meantime she’s showing her appreciation by being a cooperative patient and giving lots of wags and kisses.