Osteochondrosis in the Bernese mountain dog
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Osteochondrosis in the Bernese mountain dog

Dogs
Health & Safety

The Bernese mountain dog is a large and stocky dog breed that falls within the Kennel Club’s working group, and this breed makes for a loving and very loyal companion that is also outgoing, very energetic, and intelligent too. If you have the room in your home for a very large dog this is certainly a breed worth considering, especially if you have children too as the Bernese has built up a reputation as an excellent companion for kids.

However, deciding to pick any specific dog breed is a choice that you should take your time over and research in detail, covering things such as the breed’s core traits, temperament, and general health. This latter is something in particular that prospective Bernese mountain dog buyers should spend plenty of time on, as this breed is relatively short lived, with an average lifespan of just 7-8 years, although of course this can be highly variable and many dogs will live for notably longer.

One of the things that keeps the Bernese mountain dog’s average longevity across the breed on the low side is the number of hereditary health issues that can be found in dogs of the breed, and this adds up to a reasonably long list.

Osteochondrosis is one of the conditions that dogs of Bernese mountain breed lines have elevated risk factors for, and this is what we will look at within this article. Read on to learn more about osteochondrosis in the Bernese mountain dog.

What is osteochondrosis?

Osteochondrosis is a bone and joint disorder that results from abnormalities in the development of the bones, and which usually affects the dog’s joints.

There are two parts of the body’s bones that can be affected by osteochondrosis, and these are the parts of the bones that form the ends, being the epiphyseal plate of cartilage, and the cartilage that connects the end joints.

Depending on where osteochondrosis develops, the effect that it has on the dog in question can be variable. Osteochondrosis of the epiphyseal plates leads to the main bone shaft failing to connect properly, whilst in the case of end cartilage at the surfaces of the joints, the cartilage thickens and loosens, which may result in shearing and the development of a flap of cartilage, called osteochondrosis dissecans.

Osteochondrosis can theoretically affect any joint in the dog’s body, but it most commonly develops and is most likely to be acute in the elbows, knees, hocks and shoulders.

What sort of dogs are at risk of osteochondrosis?

Exactly why Bernese mountain dogs have elevated risk factors for osteochondrosis comes down to a combination of things, being both a hereditary predisposition to the condition and potentially, external triggering factors too.

The large size and heavy build of the Bernese mountain dogs means that their bones and joints have to carry a greater load than smaller, lighter dogs, and this in combination with the breed-specific predisposition to the condition raises the risk for individual dogs of the breed.

A poor diet, inappropriate exercise that places a lot of strain on the bones and joints, and potentially, other external factors that have yet to be determined are all thought to play a part too.

Osteochondrosis in the Bernese mountain dog is equally likely to affect both male and female dogs of the breed, and can be variable in terms of its age of onset. Osteochondrosis is often divided into juvenile onset, which occurs when the bones and joints are still growing and so, occurs in younger dogs, or chronic osteochondrosis, which develops later on in life.

How would you know if your Bernese mountain dog had osteochondrosis?

It can be hard to pin down the symptoms of osteochondrosis in dogs, because it is an internal problem that can present with a wide and varied range of systemic symptoms that are often common to a number of other conditions too.

Some of these symptoms are similar to other joint disorders like hip and elbow dysplasia, and these conditions must be considered and ruled out too as part of reaching a diagnosis.

Pain, lameness, soreness and inflammation is common within the affected joints, which can cause a reluctance to walk or exercise, and a hopping or limping gait as the dog attempts to keep the pressure off the affected area.

The condition can also make your dog feel quite down and miserable, which may manifest as lethargy or loss of interest in play and exercise, and may even cause them to become aggressive or snappy as a defensive response to the pain.

Your vet will perform a full examination of your dog and run some tests and scans in order to reach a formal diagnosis, and rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms.

Can osteochondrosis in the Bernese mountain dog be treated or cured?

Osteochondrosis is a condition that is managed rather than cured, as it cannot be corrected or reversed.

Treating the condition is concerned with keeping the dog comfortable and lessening the impact that osteochondrosis has on their quality of life, which may mean that they need painkillers, supportive therapies like hydrotherapy, and dietary and exercise changes too.

Being overweight can worsen the condition, and so weight management is vital to help to lessen the impact of osteochondrosis in the Bernese mountain dog.

It is also important to note that because dogs with the condition can pass on the risk factors for it to their own offspring, they should not be bred from.

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