How a puppy’s health check-up saved his legs

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When Alice Ruel noticed that her Labrador puppy, Sherwood, wasn’t walking properly, she trusted her instincts and booked a vet check-up straight away. Here, she shares how that made all the difference to his long-term health.

At five months old, Sherwood was already well into his routine of daily walks with his owner Alice. But it was on one of these regular walks that she noticed something wasn't right. ‘Sherwood suddenly went lame in his front legs,’ Alice explains. ‘His head was bobbing as he walked, and he looked really sore. I was devastated to see him in pain but, as I’m a vet, I suspected that elbow dysplasia could be causing his symptoms.’

Dysplasia is a common condition in larger breeds of dogs, such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. It can happen when the cartilage that lines the surface of a dog’s elbow or hip joints develops abnormalities, which can lead to arthritis – even in puppies.

‘If dysplasia is caught early, before a dog’s joints are fully formed, there are far more treatment options available,’ Alice says, ‘so I booked a check-up with a surgeon straight away.’ Veterinary surgeon Michael Hamilton, the owner of Hamilton Specialist Referrals a new pet hospital in High Wycombe, confirmed that elbow dysplasia was affecting both legs and recommended that the pup be operated on as soon as possible.

‘Luckily, Sherwood had surgery within two weeks of going lame,’ Alice says. ‘The early intervention also meant that his condition could be drastically improved, something that might not have been possible if we’d caught it when he was older.

‘I’m so glad that we gave him the best chance of recovery: Labradors are working dogs and they’re naturally active. Sherwood’s brain is wired to run and play, and if he couldn’t do that he would’ve started to get behavioural problems. Happily, he recovered well and now he’s absolutely mad for his walks. He’s also not on any painkillers and is completely pain free.’

Alice suggests that fellow pet owners should act quickly if they see that their pet is in pain. ‘Trust your instincts and take your dog to the vet as soon as you spot the signs,’ she says.

‘Early regular check-ups are also important,’ she says. ‘Even if a breeder has done all the tests, it’s not as simple as genetics – there can still be problems that standard testing doesn’t pick up.’

Clare Hamilton, a vet at Hamilton Specialist Referrals, agrees: ‘We always recommend early check-ups, especially with a new puppy, as there are problems that you can’t always see,’ she says. ‘For example, even a vet wouldn’t know that their own pet had a heart murmur unless they listened with a stethoscope.’ Clare adds that, nowadays, many conditions are treatable, or in some cases curable: ‘especially if they’re found early’.

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