Leg Problems in Rottweilers: A Detailed Accounting

What does it mean when your Rottweiler suddenly starts limping on a back leg? How do you determine which leg is painful, and how do you diagnose the cause? In such a large dog as the Rottie, lameness is not unexpected from time to time.

Most dog owners are mostly concerned about whether their Rottweiler back leg problems are serious and what care they require.

Rottweiler hind leg problems involve issues with the bones, nerves, joints, skin, or muscles. Some cause minimal pain while others will rob the dog of its ability to use the limb.

Occasionally, nerve deficits that originate in the back will cause paralysis to one or both rear legs.

Diagnostics aim at ruling out systemic (entire body) problems and performing imaging for localized challenges.

Where do Rottweiler’s hind leg problems originate?

If a dog has hind leg problems, the first area to focus on is what tissue is affected.

Skin

The skin presents the most visible problems in the rear legs and other parts of the body.

  • Lacerations – cut can be from sharp (knives, glass) or dull (nail) object
  • Superficial scrapes
  • Burns
  • Excoriations – raw areas, such as being dragged
  • Hot spots
  • Fractured nail
  • Footpad problems – infections, burns, or hives

Muscles

Muscular injuries are difficult to diagnose because they do not show up on radiographs. Treatment depends mostly on the extent of the injury, with rest and pain management the most common approach.

  • Tears – from a deep laceration, secondary to a fracture, or from overexertion
  • Bruising
  • Rupture – ripped away from muscle or tendon and may require surgery

Bones

Rottweilers are susceptible to two major lesions of their long bones, fractures, and more commonly, bone cancer.

Fractures

Rotties do not often suffer hind limb or pelvic fractures because of their size and strength.

However, they can be prone to such injuries if they are struck by a motor vehicle, fall from great heights, or get kicked or trampled in their ancient occupation of herding cattle.

Since Rotties do not often herd livestock anymore and prove agile and fast, most hind leg injuries occur through being hit by a car or truck.

Breaks range from pelvic fractures, dislocated hips, and a fractured tibia, femur, ankle, or toe. Treatment depends on the extent and location of the injury.

  • Cast
  • Rest
  • Plates
  • Pins
  • External fixators
  • Slings

Bone Cancer

Rottweilers suffer more often than most other breeds from osteosarcoma or bone cancer.

Rotties have a higher incidence of cancer in the forelimbs than the hind legs. When osteosarcoma strikes the hind legs, it most commonly starts just above or below the knee in the femur or tibia.

Osteosarcoma is so aggressive that it has metastasized in 90% of cases by the time of diagnosis. The most frequent area of metastasis is the lungs, but other organs and the pelvis can also become involved.

Diagnosis is through imaging, beginning with radiographs. Various treatments have pain control as a priority, although this is challenging at best. Osteosarcoma, with its destruction of bone and propensity to cause microfractures, is extremely painful

Treatment methods to increase survival times are surgery (amputation or limb-sparing), radiation, and chemotherapy. Radiation often is a palliative measure as well as a treatment because it controls pain in some patients.

The average survival without treatment is only 30 days while the median life expectancy with aggressive therapy is three to twelve months.

Rottweilers are on average a little over eight years old when diagnosed with osteosarcoma.

However, it is not uncommon for puppies to suffer from osteosarcoma as early as one to three years of age.

Panosteitis

Panosteitis is an inflammatory and painful condition of the long bones in young, growing dogs.

Like so many other diseases of development, panosteitis is believed to have genetic and nutritional causative factors. It is most common in German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Labs, Dobermans, and a few other breeds.

The affected bone in panosteitis is both painful and causes lameness. Panosteitis is often characterized by intermittent lameness that shifts from one leg to another.

It is more common to see panosteitis lesions manifest in the front legs, but it can also affect the femur and tibia.

Nerves

Nerves most often cause hind limb problems in association with a back injury.

Intravertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

IVDD is most often diagnosed in Rottweilers when they are between five and seven years old. They are one of the rare large breeds that have a genetic predisposition to slipped discs.

Diagnosis is via history, physical examination, radiographs, and myelograms (contrast study of the spinal cord).

IVDD can cause pain in the back, weakness from nerve deficits in the hind legs, and rear leg lameness, and hindquarter paralysis.

Many Rotties with IVDD can be managed with pain medication and anti-inflammatories, but some need a referral for possible surgical intervention.

Hind Leg Problems from Joints

The most common hind limb joints affected by injury or disease in Rottweilers are the hips and knees.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a growth abnormality common in many breeds of dogs, including the Rottie.

It has genetic and environmental components. While it is hereditary in Rottweilers, it is also linked to improper nutrition and excessively rapid growth in large-breed puppies.

Once attributed to overnutrition in pups, mineral imbalances may be more to blame for bone development abnormalities in large and giant breeds. Phosphorus and calcium are especially crucial in skeletal growth.

Owners and commercial food companies alike have made mistakes in their attempts to supplement calcium in puppies and nursing mothers.

Hip dysplasia involves uneven or incongruent growth between the head of the femur (ball) and the acetabulum (socket) of the hip.

On a radiograph, your veterinarian will see the improper fitting of the ball and socket components of the joint and perhaps rough edges on areas that should be smooth.

You will likely notice the following symptoms in your puppy:

  • Instability in the hind end – your puppy may sway in the hips as she walks
  • Bunny hopping gait when running
  • Reluctance to get up when laying down
  • Inability to sit squarely
  • Does not want to move as much – decreased activity
  • You may notice a loss of muscle in the hindquarters
  • Lameness – may involve one or both hind legs
  • Excessive muscular development in the forelimbs showing chronic compensation

Your veterinarian can make an early diagnosis of hip dysplasia based on the history and additional signs:

  • Decreased range of motion of one or both hind limbs
  • Grating during maneuvering of the hind limb
  • Your vet can localize pain in the hips

Treatment first aims to decrease pain and inflammation. Your veterinarian may also suggest dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin.

Severe cases require surgical intervention, and even moderate hip dysplasia will experience a marked improvement in the patient’s quality of life with surgery.

A few options are available, but a total hip replacement remains the most effective and permanent solution given the Rottweiler’s weight.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tear or Rupture

The anterior or cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) runs from the inside to the outside of the knee, helping to connect the femur to the tibia and provide lateral stability.

It crosses over the top of the caudal cruciate ligament, thus the cranial or anterior (forward) portion of the cruciate. It becomes vulnerable to weakness through fraying fibers in specific individuals.

  • Being overweight or obese predisposes a Rottie to ACL tears
  • Poor physical conditioning – out-of-shape dogs frequently tear an ACL with a sudden burst of activity (“weekend warrior”)
  • Certain breeds predisposed – Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and Staffordshire Terriers are some; there is a genetic link at least in Newfies
  • Females and neutered males – early neutering in males may increase the risks, but the verdict is still out on whether this negates the benefits of neutering dominant dogs like Rottweilers before adolescence

The symptoms of an ACL tear are acute pain and an inability to use the affected hind leg. Some partial tears will cause intermittent lameness.

Your veterinarian can make a diagnosis based on your pet’s history and physical findings. The diagnostic gold standard for an ACL rupture is a combination of the cranial drawer test and the tibial compression test.

The former detects abnormal laxity when the femur is stabilized and the tibia moves forward too far with manipulation. In the latter test, the tibia also moves excessively, but from bending the ankle.

Partial tears are much more difficult to diagnose definitively. In these cases, your veterinarian will need to conduct an MRI or surgical exploratory.

Radiographs are always part of the diagnostic data when formulating a treatment plan to assess the degree of joint damage and arthritic changes. Surgical repair is usually necessary for large dogs such as the Rottie.

  • Suture repair – involves thick suture material (fishing line) as a synthetic replacement for the ligament’s function inside the joint, or stability is achieved by passing sutures through the tibial crest and behind the knee (extracapsular or outside the joint)
  • Tibial plate leveling osteotomy (TLPO)- tibia is cut to alter the angle of the knee so stability is achieved via weight-bearing
  • Tibial tuberosity advancement – tibial crest cut and repositioned to add stability to the knee via the patellar ligament

Although recovery is faster with a TTA or TLPO, no substantial evidence is present to support either of these methods over the less-invasive extracapsular method for large dogs.

Dogs under 45 pounds show no reason to suffer the expense of the more modern procedures. Many surgeons prefer the TLPO in large-breed active dogs.

Osteochondritis Dessicans (OCD)

OCD is more common in the shoulder but can also affect the hip joints in dogs. It involves an inflammatory process that disrupts the cartilage. Dogs subsequently suffer pain.

OCD affects large-breed adolescent puppies between six and ten months old. Like hip dysplasia, there are probably multiple factors associated with OCD. A specific cause has not been found, but OCD can be linked to genetics, rapid growth, and calcium: phosphorus imbalances.

Your veterinarian will reach a diagnosis by incidence (breed, sex, and age) and radiography. They may consult with a radiologist to confirm their findings.

Treatment is strict rest for several weeks for minor cases and surgical removal of defective tissue in severely affected puppies.

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