Sticks and stones: Tilley’s elbow dysplasia

tilley over skiptonA couple of months ago, we noticed that Tilley was limping badly especially after a long walk or a long sleep. She would struggle to get up from her bed and then wobble quite noticeably for a while. She would also throw her elbow out on her right front leg while walking.

We went to the local vet where we got the bad news that x-rays showed that Tilley has elbow dysplasia, with the right leg being the worst affected. We had her booked in for an arthroscopy on the right elbow followed by the surgery the vet thought would have the best effect.

The vet told us that her particular problem is a short radius, coupled with an elliptical shape to the ulna. Osteoarthritis is showing already in both elbow joints. Depending on the severity of the condition shown by the arthroscopy, the vet will either just clean out the joint, or cut a chunk out of the ulna, or cut the ulna and plate it. The joints have recently started clicking loudly when she walks, so we are calling her Clicky now.

This problem is genetic and it has not helped that she clearly had been left to run around too much while a puppy. We don’t know how much, since she was found dumped by the side of the road at roughly six months old.

Well, that was the situation until we did a bit of further research and found another surgeon who has the highest qualifications in the area of dog orthopaedics and is a RCVS recognised specialist – you do just want the best for your dog. Today Tilley had a CT at the new specialist, as that gives a better image and idea of what is going on in her joints, compared to the x-ray.

Tilley in sheep pooThis meant an hour long trip in car, for which she thanked us in her own special way. Having woken her up two hours before her normal morning call, she managed to sneak in a bit of cat poo during her walk. So much for ‘nil by mouth’ before CT scan. In the car she was whining, dribbling and pacing in her crate, poor thing. Then with a loud burp, she regurgitated her ‘breakfast’ – yes, if dog sick wasn’t disgusting enough, our delightful pooch had sicked up cat poo. But she still had a surprise up her sleeve. In true K9 style, she immediately lapped up her deposit. Yummy. The recycling would probably have continued ad infinitum if we’d not stopped to clear things up.

The vet specialist spent a good half hour talking us, observing Tilley walking and checking her joints. He manipulated her joints in the most comfortable position for her – lying on the ground with her belly in the air. She clearly wasn’t happy with him bending her elbows and licked his face – her usual gentle response to discomfort. This is another reason we like Tilley so much: she would never bite. She knows and respects the difference between skin and toys when we play. She was taken off to be sedated before her CT scan. We were pleased to hear that this procedure could be done without a general anaesthetic.

We returned to pick Tilley up a few hours later and heard the news that the situation is worse than the initial x-rays had shown. There are bone fragments in her joints as well as joint incongruency. The vet had an emergency and was in theatre, so we got the info from the head nurse – who also doubles as his wife – who told us the he will sit down tonight and really study the images from the scan to find out the best options for Tilley.

We are very thankful, firstly that we’re in a position to help her as much as we can, and secondly that we took out decent Lifetime cover PetPlan insurance as the vet’s bill is likely to be in excess of £3000. We’re covered up to £4000 with PetPlan.

The vet called this morning to discuss his findings. In summary, Tilley has very dodgy elbows, with each displaying similar symptoms: bone fragments, ill-fitting joints – not a straightforward case of short radius syndrome – and arthritis. She will have an arthroscopy next week on both elbows to remove fragments, review the wear patterns in the cartilage and remove bits of bone which are hindering joint function. While the aim is to slow down the progression of joint degeneration, it is not a cure and not all dogs are less lame after the op. But, 80-85% show some improvement.

We’d welcome any advice from anyone who has been through a similar experience with their dog, especially to do with suitable jointcare foods, complementary therapies, exercise, supplements, and how to keep a livewire puppy quiet while healing.