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The Case of the Limping Fat Labrador
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Mon Mar 22 2010, 05:16PM

Registered Member #3
Joined: Sun Feb 28 2010, 10:31PM
Posts: 122

Net Vet Newsletter 2

The Case of the Limping Fat Labrador

The lady who brought in her 8-year-old Labrador could only be described as obese. Sadly her lab, Cindy, was even fatter. I noticed that Cindy was limping badly on her left hind leg.

The lady told me that she'd been on numerous forums on the Internet asking for advice about the limp. Some forum members suggested that the cause could be that Cindy was overweight and that she should try to get  Cindy's  weight down. She told me that Cindy "hardly ate anything" and that she was fat because she'd been spayed, so there was nothing that could be done about it. She said she became quite annoyed with  people who said that she was responsible for making her dog fat. Some forum members had suggested that it could be bone cancer and that she should have x-rays taken.

"I love Cindy dearly Doc, and I'm very scared that she may have cancer! Please take some X-rays to see if she's got it!"

After asking some questions about Cindy's eating habits, I established that she was fed the cheapest kibbles ad lib and that she helped herself to any food the other dogs left behind. She was also fed scraps from the table. How do you explain to an obese lady that her dog urgently needs to lose weight? Very diplomatically, I thought!

I tried my best to explain to the owner that Cindy was obese because she took in too many calories as opposed to the amount of exercise she was getting. The fact that she was spayed lowered her metabolic rate and for that reason her diet and exercise regime should be even more closely monitored.

I prescribed a special low calorie diet (Hills r/d diet) to be measured out and given to Cindy twice daily, totally separate from the other dogs. The other dogs' food had to be picked up and stored after 15 minutes (even if there was still some left in the bowls). I also told her that she should take Cindy for a daily 20-minute walk. I then thoroughly examined Cindy's leg. I suspected a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee (stifle) and scheduled x-rays to be taken under general anaesthesia for the next day.

The x-rays showed no cancer but some osteo-arthritis. When I examined the knee while Cindy was relaxed under GA, I could feel the typical laxness of the joint and so I made a positive diagnosis of a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.

I explained to Cindy's owner that the joint needed an operation to fix the ligament problem but that it would be a complete waste of time and a considerable waste of money if Cindy did not lose weight first. I then set out a whole programme for Cindy which would culminate in a better body score* and eventually a successful operation.

The Programme

Cindy weighed in at a whopping 53 Kg and a body score of 5+* I worked out a goal weight of 35 Kg to be reached within three months, and a body score of 3+.* This was to be achieved by giving her two carefully measured meals per day and absolutely nothing else. She would also have to take Cindy for a 20-30 minute walk every day. I warned her that Labs were very good at emotional blackmail. I bluntly told her that if she fell for the pathetic looks and pleading eyes of Cindy telling her that she was starving, I wouldn't be willing to carry out the operation.

To my utter amazement the lady stayed with the programme and after three months Cindy was a relatively trim 38 Kg. Unfortunately the limp was still there. I operated on the knee, anchoring the damaged joint with a thick Nylon suture. After two months she was running around without a limp, and the owner looked a bit thinner too!


Ruptured cruciate ligaments are a common occurrence especially in overweight  large breed dogs. It usually happens when a dog jumps from a height and lands awkwardly on one of its hind legs, twisting the knee and rupturing the ligament. If the knee is left untreated, after a time osteo-arthritis will set in.
If the dog loses weight, the limp may even disappear .

There are various techniques used to repair the joint. Every vet has his own favourite method that works for him. I use a fairly simple technique stabilising the joint with a thick Nylon chord. I find that I get less comebacks and the recovery time is shorter than with the more complicated methods.

Often the greatest challenge is to get owner compliance  with instructions. It is extremely difficult to get them to change their old habits.

*It is quite simple to assess the body score of a dog. It's best to look at pictures of what the ideal body score  (3) looks like and compare that to  the underweight (1 and 2)  and the overweight (4 and 5) scores. Here are some pictures to use as a guide:

1 = Emaciated

Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all body prominences evident from a distance. No discernible body fat. Obvious absence of muscle mass.

Emaciated dog Emaciated cat

2 = Thin

Ribs easily palpated and may be visible with no palpable fat. Tops of lumbar vertebrae visible. Pelvic bones less prominent. Obvious waist and abdominal tuck.

Emaciated dog Emaciated cat

3 = Moderate

Ribs palpable without excess fat covering. Abdomen tucked up when viewed from side.

Moderate dog Moderate cat

4 = Stout

General fleshy appearance. Ribs palpable with difficulty. Noticeable fat deposits over lumbar spine and tail base. Abdominal tuck may be absent.

Stout dog Stout cat

5 = Obese

Large fat deposits over chest, spine and tail base. Waist and abdominal tuck absent. Fat deposits on neck and limbs. Abdomen distended.

Obese dog Obese cat

[ Edited Mon Mar 22 2010, 05:21PM ]
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