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What are Growth Plate Injuries?

Puppies have growth plates associated with their long bones that slowly ossify as they grow.  Once he is completely grown, the growth plate completely ossifies and your dog has finished growing.  It is possible for your dog to injure his growth plate acutely or chronically.  Acute injury involves some form of trauma such as being hit by a car or jumping off the couch.  

A chronic injury, while less likely, is possible; he can have some sort of injury or condition that causes stress on the growth plate that eventually leads to injury of the growth plate itself.  Either way, you will likely see symptoms of lameness and discomfort of the affected leg. Your veterinarian will want to take radiographs of the leg to confirm and diagnose the severity of the injury.  The treatment will depend on the condition of the injury as well as the prognosis of recovery.

If your dog is showing any sign of a limp or discomfort in his leg that lasts for more than a couple days, it is best he be evaluated by his veterinarian as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

Symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Lameness
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Stiffness of the limb
  • Abnormal bone conformation (abnormal angle, abnormal length)
  • Early development of osteoarthritis

Types

There are growth plates associated with the long bones of your dog.  They are susceptible to injuries which can be acute or chronic, as well as mild to severe.  Acute injury happens all of a sudden, typically from some sort of trauma.  Chronic injury is the result of damage to the area over a longer period of time.  In this situation, it is possible your dog had an abnormality since birth that is just now showing signs of clinical symptoms or it may be that you have been training him for agility and his bones are exhausted to the point of injury.  For a mild injury, it may be simply a bruise while a more severe injury would be a break.  The source of injury may be trauma, such as being hit by a car, or may be accidental such as your rambunctious puppy jumping off a high bed.

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Causes of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

In a developing puppy, ossification of the bone growth plates begins in the center and at each end of long bone.  Eventually, it all ossifies and unites and results in a formed bone.  When ossification remains incomplete, it leaves the bone weak and vulnerable.  If there is injury to the growth plate, it can lead to malformation or improper ossification of the bone.  This can lead to an abnormality that may affect your dog for his lifetime.

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Diagnosis of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

Your veterinarian will begin her diagnostic process by collecting a verbal history from you in regards to your dog’s symptoms.  She will want to know all details surrounding when you first noticed your dog acting abnormally.  She will then continue by performing a full physical exam on your dog.  While the injury may be obviously affecting a specific leg, your veterinarian will want to check for other signs of injury in different areas as well.  The exam should include a neurological and orthopaedic check, as well as a visual inspection of your dog at a walk, trot and run.

To confirm your pet’s condition, the veterinarian will want to take a radiograph of the affected limb and the joints above and below it.  This is the only way to get a 100% diagnosis to see if the growth plate is involved.  It will also show if it is a fracture or other type of injury. This radiographic image will assist the veterinarian with deciding how to proceed with her treatment plan.  

Your veterinarian may also recommend routine blood work to see if your dog needs any other medical assistance to develop and heal properly.  A complete blood count and chemistry panel will give the veterinarian information on how the organs are functioning and whether your dog is fighting off any type of infection.  

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Treatment of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

The severity of the injury will determine your dog’s treatment plan.  If your dog simply has a deep tissue bruise near or including the growth plate region, your veterinarian will likely suggest symptomatic treatment and monitoring of the situation.  She will suggest kennel rest for your dog with no extended exercise, jumping or running while the injury is healing.  She may also suggest pain management to keep your dog comfortable.  As for any additional treatment options, laser light therapy treatment may be suggested as a way to promote healing and offer pain relief.  

If your dog fractures or breaks the growth plate, his treatment plan will be more involved.  He will likely need some sort of brace, but nothing permanent if he is still in his growing process.  If you apply a brace in the incorrect position or do not adjust it as he is healing, it can lead to an abnormal healing angle.  He will need to be kept quiet and calm for as long as possible while it is healing.  However, puppies tend to grow quickly so it may heal quicker than a different region of the bone.  She will also offer pain medication and a possible joint supplement to promote comfort and good bone health.  Laser light therapy may also be beneficial in the case of a bone break, though is not widely available.

While the injury is healing, you will need to go in regularly for checkups.  Radiographs may be taken at every visit to allow the veterinarian to visualize the healing process.  This will allow her to monitor the progress as well as adjust her treatment plan accordingly.

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Recovery of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

A growth plate injury prognosis has a wide variety of outcomes.  Your dog may heal without any issues and show no symptoms that he was ever injured.  Other dogs never heal correctly and are left with a lifelong limp or angular deformity.  Your dog’s prognosis will depend on where exactly he damaged his growth plate and how severely.

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Growth Plate Injuries Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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German shepherd mix

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Sixteen Months

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Unknown severity

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5 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Ulna Plate Stopped Growing

Is there something I could use to give her some support for her front leg? Her ulna plate stopped geowing and is causing her wrist down to turn outwards. There are no fractures.

July 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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5 Recommendations

Hello, I'm sorry to hear that your dog is having growth plate issues. Unfortunately German Shepherds are genetically pre-disposed to this issue. This is an issue that surgery is needed to fix. I recommend talking to your veterinarian about referral to an orthopedic surgeon, or to see if they have other suggestions. The risk of not having it surgically addressed is that it could cause long-term limb and joint issues. I hope that everything goes well with your dog!

July 27, 2020

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Gouda

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Pomeranian

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14 Weeks

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Serious severity

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2 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Not Moving
Limping

my 9 week old Pom jumped off the couch and injured her growth plate. the ortho said she would heal fine to just keep her crated with minimal exercise. She has been fine for the last 1.5 months no limping running and jumping and playing. All of a sudden yesterday she can't use it at all. there was no sign of re injury, crying or pain. Our vet recommended the same treatment of crating and minimal movement. Is there some kind of splint i can put on this so she is able to at least go potty by herself. we have to harness her just so she is able to at this point.

Aug. 8, 2018

Gouda's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Splints can cause more damage than good in dogs, and aren't generally recommended except for specific situations. Since I cannot see Gouda or examine her, it is hard for me to comment on whether she may benefit from having that joint immobilized or not, but you have had her seen by your veterinarian, and a specialist, and a phone call to either of them would be a good idea, since they know more about her specific situation and how best it should be handled at this point.

Aug. 8, 2018

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