Moose, a 3 year old Cocker Spaniel who developed a serious lameness after a hill walk

The widespread use of mobile phones means that veterinary advice is now easy to obtain in an emergency, wherever it happens. Gill was out walking in the Wicklow Hills with Moose when the crisis struck, and she was able to speak to me within seconds.

“Moose is in trouble”, Gill told me on the phone. “She seemed to slip while she was running, and she yelped loudly. She’s now holding her right paw in the air, and she’s still yelping.”

There’s only so much that can be done over the telephone. Much as I wanted to examine Moose’s sore leg at once, it just wasn’t possible. I told Gill to bring Moose down the mountain in as gentle a manner as she could, and to bring her to see me as soon as possible.

Poor Moose did not like moving at all at first, and Gill had to carry her for the first stage. Once they reached flatter terrain, Moose seemed happy enough to hobble along on three legs for the rest of the walk to the car. The worst bit of the pain had obviously settled already, and she was no longer yelping.

Gill arrived at my clinic almost an hour later, and I examined Moose at once. She was still holding her right front leg up in the air, refusing to put any weight on it. When I checked her leg, the pain was focussed in her elbow. I was concerned that she might have suffered a serious injury to the elbow joint, so I decided to take a series of x-ray pictures to find out what was happening..

The results were intriguing. Moose didn’t have any dramatic broken bones or torn ligaments, but I had discovered an unusual pattern of changes in one of the bones around her elbow. The changes were quite unlike anything that I’d seen before, and I found it difficult to make a clear diagnosis. I’d decided to send digital copies of the x-rays to be scrutinised by a vet who specialises in interpreting x-rays.

The expert opinion came in 24 hours later. The strange appearance around Moose’s elbow was highly suggestive of a stress fracture in the distant past. The radiologist asked me if Moose had ever been lame on the same leg before. And my answer, unsurprisingly, was yes.

Two years ago, Moose had been playing football with some children, and she’d hurt the same leg. We’d taken xrays at the time, but everything was normal. She’d made a full recovery after a few days rest, and we’d never thought any more about it. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems that she must have suffered some type of invisible stress fracture to one of her bones. This had left the bone weakened in some way, which was why she had developed such a serious lameness after tripping during the hill walk.

I gave Moose the same treatment that she’d had two years previously: strict rest and pain relief. Within a couple of days she was using the leg normally again. I’ve told Gill that she’ll soon be able to take her for hill walks again.

The stress fracture has left some mild damage around Moose’s elbow, and it’s likely that she will occasionally develop a lameness if she twists or bashes her leg in the future. But if we take x-rays again, I won’t need to send them off for review. Moose may have unique, odd-looking elbows on x-ray, but at least I now know the reason, and I know the treatment that she’ll need to help her recover.

Tips

  • There are many causes of serious lameness in dogs
  • X-rays are usually the best way to make a diagnosis
  • Second opinions are sometimes needed when unusual x-ray changes are seen

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