7 min read

5 Common Musculoskeletal Conditions in Purebred Dogs


By Emily Bayne

Published: 03/07/2022, edited: 04/01/2022

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Purebred dogs are highly sought after by dog lovers. But their pure lineage and decades (or even centuries) of inbreeding can predispose purebreds to a number of musculoskeletal conditions.

To prevent offspring defects and ensure the quality of the breed gene pool, responsible breeders should test their dogs before breeding to see if they are gene carriers for hereditary musculoskeletal conditions. Unfortunately, purebreds can still develop non-hereditary musculoskeletal problems even with these precautions.

Worried your purebred woofer may be at risk? Read on for the 5 most common ​​musculoskeletal conditions in purebreds and which breeds they affect most often.

long-haired black and white dog wearing cone and leg cast

Cranial cruciate ligament rupture

The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) inside a dog's knee is essential for mobility — vets often compare it to the human ACL. Injury to this crucial ligament can cause immense pain and trouble walking. If left untreated, scarring and arthritis within the joint can also occur over time.

Acute ruptures can occur due to injury. Chronic ruptures occur due to the gradual breakdown of the ligament tissue with age. Partial tears can present milder symptoms, but without treatment, a partially torn CCL can eventually tear fully.

Any breed can experience a CCL rupture, but it's a common problem in purebred Labrador Retrievers and other large and giant breeds.


  • Stiffness or trouble standing when first getting up  
  • Decrease in activity levels
  • Limping
  • Whimpering or crying out
  • Joints making a popping sound while the dog is moving
  • Less range of motion in one leg
  • Painful knee inflammation 
  • Changes in posture when sitting or standing
  • Not bearing weight on the hind limb


There are 4 main causes of CCL rupture in dogs:


Most cases of CCL ruptures can be diagnosed using "the drawer test". During the test, vets will use one hand to hold the dog's thigh and the other to push the lower leg. If the tibia protrudes more than normal, this indicates a CCL rupture. This is called a "positive drawer sign".

Dogs who have lived with an untreated CCL rupture for a long time don't always display the drawer sign and may require X-rays for a definitive diagnosis. Vets may also order X-rays to determine condition severity and eliminate differential diagnoses in dogs exhibiting a positive drawer sign. 


Surgery is almost always needed to correct CCL ruptures. This is especially true in larger breeds. Vets will make an incision in the knee, extract the severed tissue, and repair any fibrocartilage damaged during the rupture.

From there, vets may perform an extracapsular repair (also called a lateral fabellar suture). During this procedure, vets will create small holes in the tibia and femur to anchor an artificial ligament to replace the torn CCL. This type of surgery works especially well for dogs weighing less than 30 pounds.

For larger dogs, vets will usually choose to perform a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy or a tibial tuberosity advancement instead.

Average cost of treatment: $800–$4,500

white dog limping and holding up front left paw

Osteochondritis dissecans

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) refers to an unnatural growth of cartilage at the end of a bone. Often, pieces of the abnormal cartilage will detach from the bone and remain in the synovial cavity, causing joint damage. OCD can affect any joint in the body.

OCD can cause severe joint pain, limited mobility and osteoarthritis. Any breed can develop OCD, but the condition is most prevalent in bigger breeds like Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers, and Standard Poodles. 


Some characteristic symptoms of OCD include:

  • Stiff, swollen, and painful joints
  • Limping that comes on abruptly or gradually worsens
  • Lameness that becomes more pronounced after activity
  • Muscle loss
  • Disinterest in things they once enjoyed 


This condition is often hereditary, but physiological, dietary, and lifestyle factors can also contribute to the development of OCD. Excessive calcium and phosphorous intake, overeating, and growing too fast can predispose puppies to this condition. Likewise, overexertion and high activity levels can trigger symptoms. Abnormal formation of cartilage that obstructs blood flow to the bone tissue can also contribute to OCD. 


OCD is typically diagnosed via X-ray. Radiographs showing bone spurs, lesions, inflammation, or deterioration within the joints can help make a definitive diagnosis. Vets may request additional imaging scans, like MRIs and CT scans, to visualize the area better and confirm the severity of the condition, as an x-ray is not always sensitive enough to make a diagnosis. Additionally, vets may want to do surgery (arthroscopy) to examine and correct abnormalities within the joint structures.


Treatment for OCD will depend on the severity of the dog's condition. Dislodged pieces of cartilage or deformed cartilage affecting joint mobility will require surgical removal. Vets may manage mild cases with a regimen of pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, activity restrictions, and lifestyle changes to minimize joint wear and tear.

Pet parents should monitor their pet's weight carefully to prevent weight gain and minimize stress on the already damaged joints. Passive range of motion therapy can help reduce joint stiffness and improve mobility. Vets may also prescribe medication to slow the progression of osteoarthritis and prevent further joint damage. 

More severe cases almost always require surgery. Whether the dog needs open surgery or a less invasive arthroscopy will depend on the state of the joint. Dogs with significant joint damage may be eligible for a partial or total joint replacement.

Average cost of treatment: $2,000–$5,000

white samoyed dog standing next to a veterinarian wearing a mask

Non-inflammatory muscle disease (myopathy)

Non-inflammatory muscle disease (genetic myopathy) shares many similarities with canine muscular dystrophy. Like muscle dystrophy, non-inflammatory muscle disease is a progressive hereditary disease that causes a gradual decline in muscle mass, mobility, strength, and muscle control. These conditions are rare.

Four main types of genetic myopathy affect canines: 



Non-inflammatory muscle disease often results from a genetic defect in the sarcolemma; a protective covering that surrounds the muscle fibers. This condition may also be due to insufficient amounts of muscle proteins or a genetic mutation that causes dogs to not transport chloride effectively.


Diagnosing non-inflammatory muscle diseases is often a lengthy ordeal. Since non-inflammatory muscle disease shares symptoms with many other conditions, the vet will want to conduct blood and urine tests to rule out other possible causes.

To get a definitive diagnosis, vets must perform a biopsy and electromyography test to examine the muscle tissue and measure the response of the muscle to electrical stimuli. Genetic testing may be necessary to determine the exact cause of hereditary myopathy. 


There is little vets can do for most cases of non-inflammatory muscle disease. Pet parents can improve their dog's quality of life by keeping them comfortable and encouraging low-impact exercise to help maintain muscle mass. 

Average cost of treatment: $300–$2,500

x-ray of a dog with hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia happens when the femoral head no longer fits correctly in the hip socket and causes the joint to wear down over time. This painful and often debilitating condition may occur due to trauma or malformation of the hip joint. Hip dysplasia is one of the most common orthopedic problems in large breeds, especially German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Retrievers. 



There are several causes of hip dysplasia: 


A physical exam can alert vets to the signs of hip dysplasia. If the vet notices unusual sounds coming from the joint, poor joint mobility, or discomfort upon manipulation, they will order X-rays to confirm the diagnosis.


Vets may recommend a weight loss diet and medication (specifically pain relief and NSAIDs) for symptom management. Physical therapy and hydrotherapy can also help dogs maintain their muscle mass and range of motion. Severe cases of hip dysplasia almost always involve surgery.

Average cost of treatment: $1,500–$15,000

brown dachsund dog standing in grass


Achondroplasia is a genetic condition characterized by bone deformities and unusually short stature. This condition is a type of dwarfism and is very common in purebred dogs. In fact, it's the breed standard for breeds like the Dachshund and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and breeders select breeding pairs to carry on this specific gene. Achondroplasia is prevalent (but undesirable) in Labs, Alaskan Malamutes, and Basset Hounds.



Achondroplasia happens when there is a mutation of the FGFR gene, which is responsible for bone development at the embryonic stage. Since this condition is an autosomal dominant genetic disorder, dogs only need one copy of this gene to develop achondroplasia.


A bone biopsy is the only way to definitively diagnose canine achondroplasia. However, dogs with this condition usually undergo a battery of diagnostic tests and X-rays to rule out differential diagnoses before vets decide to order a biopsy. 


Some vets may suggest orthopedic surgery for dogs with achondroplasia, though this rarely improves the condition. Most vets choose to go the palliative care route, managing the dog's pain with analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications.

Many dogs with achondroplasia go on to live a full and happy life. However, if the dog suffers from chronic, debilitating pain, vets may suggest euthanasia.

Average cost of treatment: $500–$3,500

Be prepared for anything

Musculoskeletal conditions can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog is at risk of developing musculoskeletal problems, start searching for pet insurance today. Wag!'s pet insurance comparison tool lets you compare plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the "pawfect" plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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