4 Leading Causes of St. Bernard Mobility Loss

1. Hip Dysplasia and St. Bernards

The St. Bernard breed is at high risk for developing hip dysplasia. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the dog, the higher the risk. With the possibility of an adult male St. Bernard weighing as much as 180 lbs. as a breed, the St. Bernard is firmly classified as a large dog. 

Hip dysplasia is a degenerative condition; in most dogs, the degenerative process is slow. Muscle and leg strength loss is common in a St. Bernard at end-stage hip dysplasia. Dogs with severe hip dysplasia may experience their hind leg’s collapsing under them and have difficulty standing or walking without help. 

Treating Hip Dysplasia in your St. Bernard:

The best way to treat a dog’s hip dysplasia depends on their age and severity. Preventative measures are the best option for young dogs with hip dysplasia. Dogs in the early stages of hip dysplasia should be treated with daily joint supplements to keep the pet’s hips healthy. Early introduction of a joint supplement can slow down the degenerative process and promote healthy joints throughout the pet’s life. 

Pets in the mid-stages of hip dysplasia may be slowing down or showing signs of joint pain, can benefit from wearing a hip brace throughout the day. In addition, dog hip braces alleviate hip pain and reduce inflammation making it easier for the dog to walk. 

In advanced stages of hip dysplasia, a dog wheelchair minimizes the weight placed on the back legs and helps dogs walk easily. Surgical treatment and FHO procedures can also help, although surgery isn’t always an option depending on the dog’s age and overall health. 

2. Elbow Dysplasia

Like how hip dysplasia impacts a dog’s back legs, elbow dysplasia affects the dog’s front legs. A St. Bernard with elbow dysplasia has abnormal development of the elbow joint, which impacts the ball and socket of the elbow. As the elbow joint becomes loose and unstable, scar tissue builds up, leading to elbow pain. In addition, dogs with elbow dysplasia will exhibit joint stiffness, impact the dog’s gait, and in some pets, the elbow may rotate inward. 

Treatments for elbow dysplasia are similar to hip dysplasia, joint supplements, exercise, and keeping the dog’s weight at a healthy level. For more advanced cases, an elbow brace can help to support the pet’s elbow and lessen joint pain. 

3. St. Bernard Osteoarthritis

St. Bernards are considered at high risk for osteoarthritis on a low to very high-risk scale, falling just behind German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Labrador Retrievers. The Bernard’s large size and the amount of strain placed on their joints lead to additional wear and tear on the dog’s joints, with a higher potential for arthritis development as they age.

Similar precautions to dysplasia are necessary to promote joint health, including supplements. Protecting and strengthening the joints helps improve the dog’s overall health and helps them stay active longer. The St. Bernard’s life span is much shorter than other smaller breeds, typically 8 to 10 years, so preventative measures should start at an early age. 

Arthritis pain and how it affects canine mobility:

Arthritis can severely hinder a dog’s mobility. For example, pets with arthritis may have difficulty walking, climbing stairs, or jumping into the car. Senior pets that are “slowing down” may actually be reacting to arthritis pain. It becomes painful and tiring to move, so their body’s natural reaction is to rest. As a result, an arthritic dog will become less active, less likely to play, and more apt to nap throughout the day. 

4. Laryngeal Paralysis 

St. Bernards with laryngeal paralysis will primarily experience difficulty breathing. Over time, it can become difficult for a St. Bernard to exercise, and the dog may develop an abnormal gait when walking. This gait is often described as a “hitch in their step,” typically impacting the back legs. In addition, dogs with laryngeal paralysis can experience hind leg weakness and muscle atrophy. Surgery may be necessary for dogs with advanced leg weakness who can no longer walk. DNA testing is the only way to test for laryngeal paralysis and polyneuropathy. 

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