Growing pains are normal in any type of mammal and occur where there are growth spurts or rapid development in the long bones of the skeleton. In dogs this is typically in the front leg or humerus bones or the hind leg tibia or femur bones. While some growing pains are to be expected, especially since the giant and large breeds of dogs mature and grow so rapidly, there are also several different conditions that can occur that are serious medical conditions and are not average growth related issues.
One of the most common of these growing pain disorders is known as Panosteitis. This condition is noted by intermittent lameness in all the legs or just in the front or back legs, sometimes at different times or occasionally in all four legs at the same time. The greatest problem is that the condition will come and go, sometimes lasting only a few days or even up to two or more weeks. Typically the lameness will not move between legs in a given flare up but rather will stay in one leg or front or back quarters and then subside, only to flare back up again in another leg is few weeks. When pressure is placed on the sore bones the dog will indicate pain and there may be a fever and high white blood cell count occurring with the condition. X-rays of the growth areas of the long bones can identify the condition.
For some dogs the degree of pain and lameness associated with the condition will be very mild and for others it will be severe. The degree of lameness may change throughout the course of the cycle but will seem to be unaffected if the puppy is exercised or given full bed rest. Typically panosteitis is only noted in large and giant breed puppies between the ages of four to eighteen months. Since some of the giant breeds are not fully-grown until two years it may continue on longer and may occasionally flare up in older dogs.
The causes of panosteitis are actually not known, but there are many theories as to the cause of the condition. Since it is typically only seen in larger, heavy boned breeds it is believed to be genetic, but the exact transference gene has not been isolated. Some researchers believe it may be a bacterial infection or virus since research has been done in implanting bone marrow from affected dogs into normal dogs, resulting in the same conditions in the normal dogs within a few weeks.
The good news is that the disease is not life threatening, debilitating nor will it typically continue once the dog reaches maturity. Painkillers and steroids may be used to help manage the condition and make the puppy more comfortable. The condition is most often found in breeds such as Great Danes, Basset Hounds, Retrievers, German Shepherds, Mastiffs and Rottweilers. It is also much more prevalent in males so these factors are also included in making a diagnosis.