Short Ulna Syndrome for dogs – symptoms, treatement and rehabilitation

For ekstra motstand: slepetau
For ekstra motstand: slepetau
For added effect: swimming with resistance

I’ve received quite a few questions regarding my article on Short Ulna Syndrome from norwegian and swedish readers. Hopefully, our experiences may be of interest for english readers as well.

Do you have a dog that has been diagnosed to have Short Ulna Syndrome ? And become a bit worried by all the terrible disease stories you’ve Googled? I would like to share some tips – and hopefully a sunshine story!

This article is divided in the following sections:

  •     Background
  •     What is Short Ulna Syndrome ?
  •     Symptoms
  •     Treatment
  •     Rehabilitation
  •     Tips and Tricks

Background

We got «Sjampis»(short name for Champagne in Norwegian), a Welsh Springer Spaniel, in 2011 (he was born in August ) . Sjampis comes from kennel Dainty in Skåne in Sweden. Welsh Springer Spaniel is usually a breed that is very healthy, have few congenital diseases and longevity, usually 10-14 years . We got him when he was 8 weeks old , and discovered the first symptoms by about 4 months of age. More about this in the «Symptoms »

What is Short Ulna Syndrome ?

I will not claim to be neither a veterinarian, nor particularly knowledgeable about anatomy. In a pure layman’s view I´ll nevertheless try to describe what Short Ulna Syndrome is : Imagine your forearm , where you have two long bones, Ulna and Radius. In Short Ulna Ulna Syndrome the Ulna grows slower than the Radius, creating tension in the elbow. Short Ulna Syndrome is one of several Elbow Dysplasia conditions for canines.

Short Ulna Syndrome is most common in dogs where they typically breed for as short legs as possible, for instance Dachshund, Basset, Welsh Corgi and the like. It is very rare that this occurs at Welsh Springer Spaniel .

Short Ulna Syndrome is inherited, but can also occur as a result of damage to the puppy . (We claim that Sjampis did inherit this, but our breeder claims it to be a damage) .

Symptoms

  • Limp directly AFTER play/physical activity
  • Poor motoric skills
  • Bowlegged

I’ll not in any way claim that this is an exhaustive list of symptoms. This is based on our experience, and our description soon led the vet to suspect Short Ulna syndrome : We first and foremost noticed that Sjampis began to limp directly after physical activity – especially after playing with other dogs. It was not a question of lameness/stiffness after he had slept, but for instance on the way home from playtime. On the contrary, when he had rested a while, it was difficult to see any limping at all.

We also noticed that Sjampis was less adept than other pups his own age to make quick turns. He could keep up fine with other dogs when they run straight forward, but once the other swung – or quenched – Sjampis struggled to keep up and went » straight forward «.

Eventually it was also possible to see that he was a little » bow-legged «. Have a look at these photos, and I’m sure You understand what I mean – although Sjampis’ bones were never that extreme.

Treatment

Short Ulna Syndrome is finally diagnosed by X-rays pictures. Your Vet will evaluate how severe the condition is and we were predicted two alternative methods of treatment rather early : Either a conservative treatment where the primary use painkillers for the rest of the dog’s life , or corrective surgery the minimize the condition. It is IMPORTANT that the operation is completed before the dog is fully grown, otherwise it has little or no purpose – as I understand it. (Point is: if You choose surgery, the Ulna will be cut in two, the tension on the forearm will be released. Ulna will grow back together but will be longer than it was. More about this later)

What kind of treatment is chosen, is up to you as a dog owner. As I understand it , it’s primarily about how young the dog is, and how severe the Short Ulna Syndrome is.

In our case, Sjampis was 4-5 months old when the diagnosis was final. He had Short Ulna Syndrome on both legs, so severe that we were not indicated longevity of conservative treatment. He would quickly get arthritis in the elbow and foot joints, the Vet suggested that he would probably not be more than 3 years old before the pains would be so severe that he would have to be euthanized.

Operative intervention – what do they do?

Again, in a layman words. The dog will be under general anesthesia, and the surgeon splits Ulna at an angle (to get a longer break surface) . Yes, you have read correctly: it’s actualy to break a leg. When leg split, the tensions caused by the difference in lenght between Ulna and Radius will be released. New bone tissue between the fracture surfaces will build up, and Ulna will thus longer than it was. (In Sjampis’ case, Ulna was  0,5 -1,0 cm longer).
The leg(s) were not plastered. It was wrapped with cotton from the paws and well up to the elbows, supported on the outside by a semi-rigid, self-adhesive support bandage. The dog will typically be sedated by a «pain patch» with opoids, in addition to ample analgesic.

Challenges the first period

Her har Sjampis akkurat kommet hjem, kraftig neddopet.  Sjampis finally at home after surgery, hevily sedated.
Her har Sjampis akkurat kommet hjem, kraftig neddopet.
Sjampis finally at home after surgery, hevily sedated.

Finally home. With a dog (or «active puppy» in our case) that, in practice,  have broken bones.

The first challenge we faced was that Sjampis reacted to the pain patch and other morphine preparations – he hallucinated by them (this is not very common, but it happens), so we had to stop using them. In the first 2-4 weeks the dog should NOT put any weight on the operated leg/legs , and that’s a challenge with an active puppy.

More on that in the » Tips and Tricks » at the end of the article ! In addition , one should use special feed , dog gets constipation , etc. .. Again, read the last paragraph !

Rehabilitation

We were recommended swimming as rehabilitation, and completed it at Petvett Rehab in Sandvika. The good people at PetVett combined pool training, stretching and massage. We had a total of 10 sessions there. When Sjampis could put load on his legs again, this went in the following pattern :

Week 1 : Max walk 5 minutes
Week 2 : Max walk 10 minutes
Week 3 : Max walk 15 minutes
… then increasing the longest trip every week with 5 minutes

Tips and Tricks

Her ser du den modifiserte nomeselen med bærehåndtak. Here you can also see the modified harness with "carry handle".
Her ser du den modifiserte nomeselen med bærehåndtak.
Here you can also see the modified harness with «carry handle».

How to walk a dog who can not use his front legs ? Our Vet suggested to modify a harness. The reason we chose the «Nome» harness rather than regular harness is that nome harness has a «drag» along/under  the chest (not across as a regular harness ). Our nome harness also had a » handle » on top of the ridge . In retrospect , we bought a lifejacket – when I bought it, I wished that I had seen it sooner, it had been ideal! It distributes the weight on the ENTIRE chest, and it has a ready- carrying handle.

Food and medicine

For the best possible recovery , we were recommend special food (canned) from Hills, high on fat and other goodies (Sjampis LOVED it) . We were warned that this could cause diarrhea, but quite the contrary : as long Sjampis could not use the legs, we had to give a tablespoon of kerosene as well to make his tummy work. But as soon as he could use the leg again we had to stop using kerosene for the obvious reason – without going into details.

Tours, cages and outdoor activities

Sjampis was, and still is, an active dog that loves to be outdoors. Having him in a cage have never been a great success, but with funnel around his head , it was by no means a place for him to be. I had to sleep  on the mattress on the floor for a while… We could not walk long trips , but we could always be outdoors: it meant wrapping ourselves in thick coats and blankets and sit on the porch. Or carry him away to the woods and sit in the snow with him.

Obedience training: We had started a course aiming at NKK (Norwegian Kennel Club) Bronze Brand in Obedience, and our instructor gave some tips for training. First and foremost, commanding «Down» . We used «Down» as a command to lay his head down on the ground as opposed to «Lay» where he is laying but his head is upo. Furthermore, we played with «target stick» that he learned to follow with his eyes. In addition, we received very valuable «Calmness training «!

Insurance: champagne is insured by Agria, an insurance company specializing on insurance of pets and animals. They have paid all operations without a murmur, and have an excellent customer service . Unfortunately we had not added the few bucks a year to cover rehabilitation, so we had to cover that ourselves. Next time we get a puppy, I’ll make sure to pay those extra bucks.

Big thanks to good helpers!

Sjampis is now (November 2013) 2 years and 3 months old. Of the photos that I ‘ve posted recently, it should be obvious that he is healthy, fast and agile! It is not possible to see any  limp, and his agility is (as far as I can see) normal, and significantly better than when he was a puppy. Unfortuenately, we have had him x-rayed for HD/ED, he has both, but not severe.

Our Vet suggests (reffering to studies in UK on labradors) that keeping him in good shape and make sure he is not overweight, will ensure he has a long and happy life.

Finally, thanks to the surgeon Peder Haaland at PetVett , which apparently is both a skilled surgeon, and not least, an approach to the patient ( dog) who are spectacularly . Also a thank you to the vet Cecilie T. Ruud Askvig in PetVett Sandvika. She patched together both Sjampis and ourselves when he lost his pain patch and was hallucinating on morphine. In addition, two extreme, chiropractic treatments  accomplished miracles. In addition, the patient girls at Petvett Rehab Sandvika must be mentioned !

Publisert av Henning Sund

Sjø-ørretfisker, sjokoladespiser, ex-journalist som nå jobber mer med IT enn noe annet. Velkommen til min Facebookside (https://www.facebook.com/henning.sund) eller Linkedin-profil (no.linkedin.com/in/henningsund)

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