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I have a Shih Tzu that is about 10 years old, and he is having problems with his back hind leg. It is almost like there is a catch in his back. He is unable to jump and appears to be in some pain.

I have taken him to the vet 3 different times. They put him on steroids, which seems to help for awhile, but it always happens again. I have limited his exercise, and basically he does nothing but sleep and eat. I was reading on the internet about the breed, and it said the breed tends to have slipped stifles. What is this? And could this be his problem? I just want to help him, because I know he is hurting. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Kristen Haynes

Dear Kristen,

What you have read on the internet is about kneecaps that pop out of joint. This usually shows up initially as a dog that holds up one rear leg for a while then shakes it out and walks normally. Other individuals will just show pain in the knee, but a veterinarian usually is able to easily differentiate this from back problems. Since you have had multiple vets agree that your boy is having back problems (also extremely common in Shih Tzus,) this is most likely his problem.

Back problems in dogs are very similar to back problems in some people. They can be as simple as a one-time twinge, or they can flare off and on for life. When they are extremely bad, they can even cause paralysis. Just as in humans, we try to handle flare-ups as they happen with anti-inflammatory medications and rest, and then prevent future problems with physical therapy. Traditionally, the period of rest is 4-6 weeks, but it is equally important that after that time you begin to build muscle in the back with physical therapy such as low impact walks or swimming. It is also imperative to control the patient’s weight to an ideal level. Prevention can be problematic if the bouts of pain come too close together to get to the physical therapy, so some owners of these dogs have had success with chiropractic or acupuncture.

As in humans, sometimes nothing helps, and surgical intervention is indicated. The surgeries are usually limited to dogs with loss of function in the rear legs or those with chronic severe pain, as they are expensive and have the possibility of complications. The surgery consists of removal of the offending disk and usually several around it to prevent further problems. The surgery is usually very successful and, for those with chronic pain that have not responded to anything else, can be life changing.

-Dr. Weaver

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