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Your dog's swaying walk may be a sign of genetic disorder

Due to unethical inbreeding, veterinarians have been noticing a rise in genetic diseases. Here are a few solutions if your pet is diagnosed with one

Malformation of hip joint is a common genetic deformity detected among Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepherds.
Malformation of hip joint is a common genetic deformity detected among Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepherds. (Unsplash)

My family took in Musafir, a golden retriever, after his previous parents gave him up for adoption six months ago. My only concern before picking up the four-month-old golden retriever puppy was to make sure his testicles had descended. It hadn’t, but my family had already fallen in love with Musafir and had brought him home. 

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Why concern myself with the pup’s testicles, you may wonder? Well, the sole reason I was concerned about this was because my veterinarian colleagues and I have been noticing an increase in the occurrence of hereditary disorders among pure breeds. Almost every day, I diagnose at least one pet facing issues due to some kind of genetic illness; I do close to five to seven surgeries to correct some of these defects every month. The rising cases of genetic illnesses are as a result of unethical inbreeding. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lack of awareness among pet owners about this. Most pet owners aren't aware that their pet may be suffering from a genetic disease. I was just checking a nine-year-old German Shepherd the other day, who had a tumour in his abdomen. On closer inspection, I discovered he only had one descended testicle. I soon realised that the tumour was caused by a testicle that had not descended. The owner had no idea that his dog only had one testicle and that something needed to be done about it.

One of the most widespread genetic diseases that I have come across is allergic dermatitis, a skin disorder that causes the skin to react to even the tiniest allergens. Even a small amount of dust or pollen in the air might cause an allergic reaction. Almost every other Beagle and Shih Tzus we see with a skin condition today has some degree of this disease. Allergic dermatitis flares up between the ages of six months and three years. It causes lot of itching that their ears and paws get inflamed and in some cases the dogs are unable to sleep.

Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds have nearly become synonymous with hip dysplasia. The hip joint does not form properly due to defection formation resulting in early onset of arthritis resulting in not just pain but movement restrictions. 

In Boxers, Dobermans, and Great Danes, dilated cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart condition wherein the heart muscles are weaker, causing dilatation and subsequent reduced pumping ability of the heart, is becoming more common. As a result, these dogs may have shorter lives. 

Genetic cardiac disorders in Boxers have progressed to the point where in some it causes the heartbeat to become arrhythmic. In fact, after a bout of exercise or excitement, boxers with arrhythmic hearts will usually pass out. That is a clue that your boxer may be having a genetic heart related disorder. 

Among flat-faced dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs, a common issue is brachycephalic airway disease. Due to rampant inbreeding, their windpipes have become narrow, their eyeballs have grown bigger, their nostrils have shrunk, and their soft palates have grown longer, making every breath they take a struggle. 

We see a lot of videos of Golden Retrievers swaying while walking on social media, and they receive a lot of likes. This swinging is caused by hip dysplasia and is not cute. Snoring pugs are actually struggling to breathe due to their small windpipes and noses. We just take it for granted that it’s normal.

The obvious choice is to prevent this from happening by purchasing pets from a reputable breeder, who does not engage in inbreeding. So, it’s vital that you do your homework before you bring your new pet home like checking if the puppy's mother or father has ever been diagnosed with a common genetic disease. Genetic diseases are not only painful for the pets, but they are also costly to cure and correct.

"If you have a Labrador, Golden Retriever or German Shepherd, and you notice them bunny hopping, that is using both hind limbs together to climb or descend stairs before they are 16-weeks-old, they are most likely suffering from hip dysplasia. At that age, a little procedure can be performed to correct this, advises Dr Ninad Manjure, a veterinary orthopaedic surgeon. "Even if your dog is older, getting them evaluated for the illness is still a good idea. All it takes is one x-ray of the hip. Milder cases can be handled with joint supplements, but more serious cases may necessitate surgery,” he explains. 

The diagnosis for dilated cardiomyopathy, on the other hand, involves a 2-D echocardiogram, which may be performed readily by a practicing veterinarian. Following a diagnosis, the genetic illness can be controlled with medication. That goes for allergic dermatitis as well. 

Ideally, in the case of flat-faced breeds, breeding and sale should be stopped since their genetic defects have now made it difficult for them to breathe. For this reason, the United Kingdom has already put strict legislation in place on breeding flat-faced dogs with deformities. If you have one of these dogs and they are snoring or fainting, you may want to consider a surgery to correct their noses and palates, allowing them to breathe comfortably.

As for dogs whose testicles have not descended, it’s better to get them removed as soon as possible. Besides surgery, there are other alternatives like laparoscopy.

Last week, Musafir was diagnosed with hip dysplasia and intra-abdominal testicles. He's barely 10-months-old, and already has pain in his left hip. It hurts me to see how many puppies are suffering as a result of unethical breeding. But until we can regulate breeding and implement stricter laws, we as pet parents, need to be more aware of potential ailments so that we can alleviate the misery they suffer from.

Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.

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