Carpal Flexural Deformities in Puppies
What Exactly Is a Carpal Flexural Deformity?
Perci, a rescued puppy who now lives with us, suffered from a flexural deformity of the carpus—or wrist, in layman's terms. Perci's deformity sounded so 'medical' to me that it compelled me to read a few articles about it in order to understand what it is.
The condition is also referred to as knuckling over, carpal hyperextension, carpal hyperflexion, or most recently, carpal laxity syndrome. It is first noticed in the growth plates of animals in the front legs (wrist or carpal area). The condition occurs when a dog's front-end (the part of the body which bears weight) is unable to support its total body weight due to a lack of integrity in the muscle, tendons and ligaments.
In the picture below, you can see that Perci's left leg is bent. So instead of walking on her toes, she walked on her wrist to support her weight. Because bending her left leg decreased the height on her left side, her right wrist slowly decreased in height, resulting in a plantigrade stance that levels with the height of the left leg. As you can see in the picture, her wrist is touching the ground, which makes it looked extended.
What Happened to Perci?
Perci, a Bakharwal blend (I believe), was dropped by a heartless person (he or she did not think about the consequences of the act) at the primary hospital, Khirsu, where my husband worked as a medical officer.
What Caused the Deformity?
Perci developed this deformity around two weeks after she was rescued. It was a problem we couldn't find an answer to. No one around knew what was happening with her leg. At first, we thought she had a foot infection and that she would just get over it in a couple of days, but it got worse.
While she walked, it looked like her left leg was scooping something out of the ground and then the right leg would flatten and expand. So instead of walking on her toes, she was walking on her wrists to balance the 'bowing' left leg. You can see the expansion in her right leg in the picture above.
We Searched the Internet for Information on the Condition
You can search Google for 'bent leg on puppies' and 'common problems in puppies', among other phrases. There are also some helpful and applicable videos that you can watch on YouTube.
Some articles said that the puppy will overcome this condition, which we also thought at first. Some suggested splinting or casting, which was a problem for us because the splints we saw on the internet were not available around our area (a remote little town in India). Online buying? Well, it was an option to consider, but a last resort.
Carpal Flexural Deformity Facts
Here are a few important things to know about this deformity:
- It is common in medium to large dog breeds.
- It generally manifests in puppies who were separated from their mothers at an early age or those who have been on cow's milk.
- It is thought to be caused by too much protein in the diet.
- It is also thought to be caused by walking on smooth surfaces most of the time.
- The ages of the puppies affected by this deformity range between 6–24 weeks.
- The deformity occurs most frequently during the 6 to 8-week period.
- In some cases, many puppies overcome the deformity without intervention.
- Splinting or casting may help get the leg back to normal.
Consult a Vet
It's important to consult a vet. Cases in which there was no intervention led to lifelong deformities.
How Simple Splints Are Made
Here's some information about how simple splints are made:
- Thin pieces of wood that are scraped smooth and flattened may work as a splint. The wood may be chopped and scraped with a sharp kitchen knife to smooth the edges. The piece should be long enough to cover the entire length of the puppy's leg. A tape measure may be used to make sure that the piece is wide enough to cover the back of the leg, but not too short or too long.
- Wood may be cushioned with thick cotton (to serve as a pad). The cotton can be secured with surgical tape.
- Splints are often applied with the help of two people: one to hold the puppy and the other to attach the splint.
- When a splint is positioned at the back of the leg, it can be wrapped using gauze or VetRap.
- Wrapping should begin at the farthest end of the extremity, like the toes or wrist, and up the limb. This encourages lymph and blood flow. Otherwise, pooling and swelling can occur in the toes.
- The wrapping should neither be too tight nor too loose. If it's too tight, it can occlude the limb and cause tissue death or even lead to amputation. Too loose, and the puppy will definitely tear it.
- The ends of the splint can be secured with surgical tape. Loose ends should be removed.
The incorrect application of a splint or cast can occlude tissue or cause swelling in the lower extremities. In some cases, this may result in tissue death and amputation.
Suggestions Based on My Experience With Perci
Based on my personal experience with two puppies (after Perci, another rescued puppy suffered from the same condition), here are a few suggestions that might help you:
- When you notice a slight bend in your puppy's leg and she/he is a medium to large-breed dog, don't panic; it can be fixed with proper care.
- Protein in the diet is good for puppies and adult dogs (and even humans), but too much of it can be dangerous.
- To avoid this condition, never take puppies in if they are still not weaned.
- If your floor surface is smooth, provide a rough mattress so puppies can use it for stretching.
- Allow the puppies to walk outside on natural surfaces as much as possible. Take them to a park or a place where there is enough earth for them to dig or run. This allows them to use their leg muscles properly. (Make sure they are current on their vaccinations!)
- When splints are on, the most effective way to divert their attention is to take them for a walk. While at home, a little more attention is required to keep them from chewing the tape or gauze.
It Is Our Responsibility to Help Our Animal Companions
It is important that we care for companion animals like dogs because they are family. The world is sometimes unsafe for them. For example, our neighbors are either afraid or indifferent towards dogs. Some immediately grab a rock when they see a dog heading towards them with the intention of throwing the rock to get rid of the dog. There is still a long road ahead until we reach a point when animals can roam free in an animal-friendly community.
This is my first time actually taking care of dogs. First-timers need to learn a lot, especially with no one around to ask for help. Although deformities such as this can be easily fixed, knowledge is still crucial in helping us deal with such circumstances. This article is my way of helping others by imparting knowledge based on my own personal experience.
Have you had the same experience with your dog?
If yes, what did you do?
How to Apply a Leg Splint on a Dog
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
I have a 4-week old lab with deformity of the carpal joint. What should I do to care for my puppy's carpal joint problems? I will take her home in 4 weeks. Of course, I will talk with the breeder.
You have to take him outdoors most often and walk him on natural walkways and avoid smooth surfaces as much as possible. Excess protein is also one of the main reasons for such deformity to occur.
I have an 11 week old puppy. His leg bows at the wrist and the carpal ligament is supporting his weight, the vet told it is a defect from birth. How can I correct it, and what would be the proper carpal brace?
There's nothing can be done if it's a birth defect. However, you may still try to cast his bowed legs that includes the wrist and keep the brace for at least 3 nights. Also, when the brace is on, help him get used to it by walking him in natural places. Avoid paths that are smooth because some cases of carpal deformity are due to walking/running in smooth surfaces. What I did to Perci was a flattened wood big enough to cover her legs and wrapped it with cotton and gauze. A very strong cardboard may do as well. Just make sure it doesn't bend. I haven't tried commercially available cast so I cannot say how effective they are.
Our rescue dog is about a year old, and their paw extends forward. We have been quoted $8,000 to fix it surgically. Do you have any other suggestions?
You can try the method I mention in the article. One-year-old dogs have years to grow so casting both legs will most likely solve the problem. Try it for three to five consecutive days and nights and remove them in between so you don't overburden the dog with the cast. Try again if you must.