Bruder, a two year old collie cross dog who developed a mystery lameness

Bruder is a “rescue dog” – Anna found him at Collon Animal Sanctuary (www.collonanimalsanctuary.com) as a young adult. He has turned out to be a gentle, good-natured and loyal individual, and he has one over-riding passion: exercise. His collie ancestry means that he has an inborn desire to run for long distances. His forebears would have spent their lives herding sheep across hillsides and fields.

Some collie-type dogs end up having behavioural difficulties, such as digging holes in the garden, or barking continually, and this is often because they are not given enough opportunity to burn up energy with exercise. Bruder is a dog with model behaviour, and it’s partly because Anna has recognised his need for plenty of physically demanding activity. She takes him for a walk for at least an hour every day, with plenty of off-lead running. Anna lives close to the Wicklow mountains, and so there’s plenty of free space for Bruder to stretch his legs.

Bruder normally has a graceful, even running motion as he charges up and down hillsides. It was very obvious when he developed a lameness of his left foreleg. He started to run in an awkward, jerky way. At first, Anna thought that he must have just sprained a joint, because as she puts it herself, Bruder is prone to being “a little crazy”.  Anna took the same action that she would take if she had a mildly sprained ankle herself. She just rested him, stopping all walks for a few days. In many cases of lameness, this is enough to fix the problem. Rest allows damaged tissue to be repaired by the natural healing processes of the body. Often there’s no need for any medication or other intervention.

When Bruder continued to limp despite taking no exercise for a week, Anna knew that it was time to take him to the vet. On that first visit, it was obvious that he was lame on his left leg. He was not holding it up, but when he walked, he was not putting his full weight on the limb. Bruder was given the usual “lameness examination”, which means checking his sore leg from the tips of his toes all the way up to his shoulder. Each part of the leg is physically inspected and gently squeezed. Every joint, including the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder, is carefully manipulated. In nearly all cases, this examination allows the focus of discomfort in a leg to be located. Once the painful part of the limb can be identified, appropriate action can then be taken.

Bruder had a disappointing response to the lameness examination: he showed no sign of pain at all, even though every inch of his leg was carefully squeezed and twisted. He continued to sit on the consulting table, utterly relaxed and unbothered about having his leg examined. He was lame, but it was impossible to define the precise location of his lameness. Some dogs are very stoical, having a very high pain threshold, and at first, it seemed that Bruder was one of these “tough” dogs. Perhaps he was feeling some discomfort, but just refusing to show us. At this stage, he was given a simple course of pain relief and more rest. Often this is enough to cure a mild lameness, regardless of the cause.

When Bruder was still limping another week later, it was time for the next stage. He was admitted for a series of x-ray pictures, to obtain detailed views of the structure of his leg. There are some bone and joint diseases which show a characteristic pattern on x-rays., but Bruder’s x-rays were unrewarding – everything looked completely normal. Bruder’s lameness remained a mystery. He was given some more pain relief while we considered the next option.

At this stage, Bruder himself gave us an extra clue. He suddenly started to lick the underside of his left foot repeatedly, something that he’d never done before. Anna lifted up his foot to have a look, and she noticed a tiny irregular area in one of his pads. She brought him back to show me what she had found. There was a very small, hard, object protruding by the tiniest amount from the underside of his foot. I squeezed the pad around the object, and it began to poke out  a little more.

I then took a pair of forceps, grasped the object and pulled. To our astonishment, I drew out a splinter of glass, measuring nearly a centimeter long. It was very obvious that this had been the cause of his lameness from the start. The splinter had disappeared deep into the tissue of his foot, and it must have only caused discomfort when pushed in a certain direction. When his foot was squeezed during our previous examinations, there had been no pain, and most glass splinters don’t show up on x-rays.

Bruder’s lameness was completely cured once the splinter was removed, and he’s resumed his graceful runs through the Wicklow hills.

Tips

  • If lameness doesn’t resolve with simple rest, x-rays are important to rule out serious problems
  • It’s always worth checking a lame dog’s feet, but problems like splinters are rare
  • Sometimes the source of the problem can be hard to find

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