The bichon frise is a small dog known for its fluffy white appearance and outgoing and gregarious personality. They are part of the American Kennel Club's nonsporting group, although they are also considered a toy dog breed in other parts of the world. Affectionate and intelligent with a nonmolting coat, this breed of dog is a popular companion and very easy to train. If you are considering adding a bichon frise to your household, it is important to learn about potential health problems, such as orthopedic conditions. Bichon leg problems may negatively affect your dog's quality of life.
Patellar luxation in the bichon frise
The patella is the kneecap, and luxation is a dislocation, so a patellar luxation or luxating patella is, in simple terms, a dislocation of the dog's hind leg kneecap. This condition does not occur in the front legs. It is one of the most common orthopedic conditions seen in dogs, although smaller breeds, such as the bichon frise and the Maltese, are more likely to be affected.
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Patellar luxation is often first noticed in young dogs when they appear to hop or skip intermittently during exercise. Occasionally, the leg may seem locked, or the dog will experience lameness and pain. In some cases, the dog will yelp as the patella pops in and out of place. You may also notice that your bichon frise's legs tremble at times or have a bow-legged stance.
Because patellar luxation is so common in the bichon frise, it is likely that your veterinarian will undertake a thorough manual examination by palpating your dog's knee joints. In more serious cases, a detailed diagnostic examination will be required using radiography while your dog is under sedation.
Patellar luxation in a bichon frise’s hind leg
Patellar luxation can affect one or both of a dog's rear legs. The bichon frise has a genetic predisposition to this condition, although the cause is still not fully understood. It occurs when the patella, which normally sits in the groove of the femur, moves outside of this groove when the knee flexes.
Patellar luxation has four graded levels of severity. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with a grading and advise you on the most appropriate course of management or treatment. The higher the grade, the more likely your bichon frise will go on to have more serious orthopedic problems.
Recommended treatment and management plans for patellar luxation will very much depend on whether the condition is causing the dog any pain or discomfort. In most cases, it would be advisable to get further advice from a board-certified veterinary orthopedic consultant, as more surgical correction may be required.
Although most bichons with patellar luxation have a perfectly happy and active life, it is essential to seek veterinary care as early as possible. Because of its heritability, bichon frise dogs with patellar luxation should never be bred from.
Legg-Calve-Perthes disease in the bichon frise
Legg-Calve-Perthes is a very painful inherited orthopedic disease most often found in smaller breeds of dogs. It is caused by a poor supply of blood to the hip joint, resulting in the deterioration of the femoral head, which is the ball part of the joint. The bone crumbles and dies, leaving the dog lame and in great discomfort. This is a common cause of limping in small dog breeds.
Limping on one or both hind legs that gets worse over weeks to months, a reluctance to exercise, obvious muscle wasting in the back legs, and audible popping sounds from the hip when the dog moves can be some of the first symptoms of Legg-Calve-Perthes. Changes in behavior, such as irritability or aggression, along with licking or chewing the skin around the hip area can also indicate that the dog may be suffering from this disease.
Your veterinarian will conduct an examination of your dog, which may include x-rays (also called radiographs) under sedation, to diagnose Legg-Calve Perthes disease. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome for the dog with treatment. Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications will help manage the symptoms, but as the disease progresses, the dog will need to be assessed by a board-certified orthopedic veterinarian.
Surgery and supportive care, such as physiotherapy and weight control, usually results in a good outcome, allowing dogs to enjoy many pain-free years. Because this is a genetic condition, a bichon frise with Legg-Calve Perthes disease should never be bred from.
Hip dysplasia in the bichon frise
Often thought of as a large breed's health problem, hip dysplasia can also affect smaller dogs. Hip dysplasia is a degenerative condition in which the femoral head, which is round in shape, does not sit properly in the pelvic bone socket, resulting in looseness of the joint in the dog's hips.
Dogs with hip dysplasia will eventually suffer from a decreased range of motion and body support due to the deterioration of the hip joint, leading to degenerative joint disease or arthritis. One or both hips may be affected.
Hip dysplasia can be very painful for your bichon frise, so it is important to watch out for early symptoms, such as difficulty climbing stairs, stiffness when getting out of bed or off the couch, or reluctance to jump in or out of the car. Your dog may seem fine at the beginning of a walk but be limping by the end.
During exercise, your bichon frise may have an awkward gait, unsteadiness on the back legs, and movements that resemble bunny hopping. These are also important indicators that you need to take them to the veterinarian.
To diagnose hip dysplasia, your veterinarian will need to sedate your dog for radiographs, as they will have to manipulate the hip joints into uncomfortable positions during the procedure. If your bichon frise is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, your dog will be scored according to the severity. The lower the score, the milder the hip dysplasia.
In less severe cases, supportive management with weight protocols, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, nutritional supplements, and pain or anti-inflammatory medications may be part of the recommended treatment plan. Consult a board-certified orthopedic surgeon for appropriate surgical options if your bichon has a more serious case that causes pain and impacts their quality of life.
A bichon frise with hip dysplasia should only be bred from if their hip score is lower than the breed average.
Degenerative disc disease in the bichon frise
This debilitating and painful condition tends to affect small dogs with long bodies and short legs, such as dachshunds and Pekingese. However, there are bichon frise with this body type. In dogs with long bodies, the spinal column can become strained by supporting the full length of the dog's weight. This can cause the pads that provide the spine's shock absorption to bulge, placing pressure on the spinal cord and resulting in degenerative disc disease. In more serious cases, it can cause paralysis.
Dogs with degenerative disc disease can become reluctant to exercise and may have noticeable weakness, loss of coordination, or trembling in their hind legs. Expressing unnatural postures, such as neck extension or back arching, and signs of pain, such as yelping when changing positions, being lifted, or being touched along the spine, are also common symptoms.
If you observe any of these warning signs in your bichon frise, seek a veterinary evaluation as soon as possible. A diagnostic imaging test called a myelogram may be recommended to confirm degenerative disc disease.
There are five stages of severity for degenerative disc disease. Conservative treatment options for a dog who is not yet paralyzed may include pain management, muscle relaxers, exercise restriction, physical therapy, or acupuncture. In recurring or severe cases, a surgical procedure in which the spinal cord is relieved of pressure may offer the most favorable prognosis.
If you are considering adding a bichon frise puppy to your household, it is important to be aware of these bichon frise leg problems. Responsible bichon frise breeders will be able to provide you with all the appropriate test results for the litter's parents.