Livestock Guardian Puppies and HOD

Livestock guardian puppies guarding their food


You may be asking yourself right now, “What is HOD?” My livestock guardian puppies have been diagnosed with HOD. You, my friends, are going to get a short lesson in this health issue for livestock guardian puppies (and other large and giant breed puppies), as well as photos of my stinkin’ cute puppies.

Livestock Guardian Puppies at their finest
Shipley and Belle doing what puppies do best

What is HOD?

HOD is short for Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy. This is a bone disease (osteo) which happens in overly large puppies whose bones grow too quickly.  It causes lame, wobbly puppies who stop eating and drinking and basically waste away before your very eyes in seemingly a day or two. It’s a frightening thing for a puppy owner. The literature, so far, indicates that there’s no genetic link for this disease in puppies, but my two are littermates and both have it. The previous owner, a farmer nearby, seemed to have no idea what was going on, so tracing that back is useless.

What I’m not finding is consistent information about this disease. That’s extremely frustrating. Veterinarians don’t seem to know what causes HOD. It might be lack of Vitamin C. It might be caused by the distemper vaccination (but the occurrence of HOD is rare, and distemper is not, so please have your puppies vaccinated, as this might also NOT be the cause – the symptoms of distemper and HOD are just extremely similar). It might be over feeding, or feeding of kibble that’s too nutrient dense, though this is just speculation. We’re giving the pups large breed puppy food, just in case food is the issue. Regular puppy food is a HUGE no-no. It might even be as simple as the dog’s system taking on too much calcium.

Belle and Shipley, Livestock Guardian puppies
Belle and Shipley at three months, when we first got them – weren’t they cute little things?!

How Does HOD Occur?

Whatever the cause, we’re stuck with it. And we’re stuck with the treatment. Here’s an outline of what seems to exacerbate the disease:

  • Cold – our outdoor livestock guardian puppies now live indoors, since it’s currently winter – think arthritis and bone pain and what cold does to sufferers of it
  • Activity – yeah, these are puppies, and they’re now required to be on leash and calm 24/7

Short list, huh? That’s because we really don’t know what causes HOD, or how to treat it holistically. I wish I knew more. A friend, over at You Did What With Your Wiener?, suggested I research this issue in humans, since there should be more information about that. Growing pains, bone spurs, stress fractures in children who grow too quickly. Treatment of it. So that’s my next step.

How Do We Treat HOD in Livestock Guardian Puppies?

Right now we’re stuck doing what the vet has recommended, coupled with what seems to work for us. Here, in a nutshell, is what we’re doing, especially at the first signs of HOD recurring (lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhea, stumbling walk):

  • Force feeding – I mix canned food with their kibble and they gobble it down, which is enough to jump start their appetites and to give them enough energy to begin recovery
  • Anti inflammatories and pain relief – the vet prescribed Rimadyl, Tramadol AND Gabapentin – and yes, I’m concerned about the long term effects of these medications on my dogs’ internal organs, but I’m also concerned about the short term death effect of not giving them to the dogs – they simply do better when they get a pill morning and evening
  • Rest – the dogs are now permanent indoor members of our family

This is ongoing. Ongoing. We no longer have livestock guardian puppies. We have house puppies. Adorable, floppy eared house puppies.

How Long Will This Last?

Fortunately, all of the literature seems to support the idea of the dogs outgrowing the disease. Belle and Shipley should outgrow HOD at about 18 months. This, my friends, is why they’re permanent indoor pets. There’s no way we can train 18 month old house pets, whose activity has been extremely limited, to be livestock guardian dogs. This is why we now have five – FIVE – pet dogs.

I specifically asked the vet (both vets, since Belle spent more than 48 hours at the emergency vet when it was initially diagnosed) whether or not this disease would effect the dogs long term. They both said no, that the dogs should outgrow this. That was a relief, but we didn’t think through them not really ever being livestock guardians. C’est la vie.

What to Look For

You may have found this post because your dog is exhibiting worrisome symptoms. Here’s a more definitive list of what brought us to the emergency vet in the first place:

  • Anorexia – Belle was slowly wasting away, but it wasn’t terribly noticeable at first. The food was disappearing. Shipley must have been eating all of it
  • Stumbling or wobbliness – Belle couldn’t keep her back feet under her
  • Fever – when we got to the ER, her temperature was 106 – I believe they said that 101 was normal temp for a dog – her nose and paws were hot
  • Swollen joints in the legs – knobby knees, poor dear
  • Lethargy – both dogs, when this occur, just sleep and aren’t interested in playing, or even walking – Belle was angry and lashing out at Shipley when he tried to play
  • Crying out in pain
  • The spleen was greatly enlarged and white blood count was extremely elevated, probably the immune system’s response to great pain
Rough housing with livestock guardian puppies
So this is about as much play as the puppies can handle. A few minutes wrestling with dad in the evenings.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I asked my vet, after Shipley was also diagnosed, what I could do to help prevent a relapse? Were there supplements I could give? Something to wean them off of the pain meds? She simply suggested that I do research. There just isn’t that much definitive information about HOD. So I picked up some joint supplements recently, with glucosamine and chondroitin. But I’m a little nervous about giving it to them.

My next step, as I said above, is to research similar issues in human children. And to just keep doing what we’re doing. The couple of times that we’ve left them out in the yard (with warm shelter), they’ve relapsed pretty badly and pretty quickly. Dang it. They’re supposed to be outdoor dogs. Guardian dogs. But I guess I don’t mind having them inside. I mean, look at this face.

Livestock guardian puppies? More like house dogs.
Look at those eyes. Could you resist those eyes?

If I find something new, or figure out a supplement, or anything, I’ll let y’all know. If you’ve had experience with HOD and can help me out, PLEASE DO. I’m at wit’s end. Please and thank you. 🙂

Homestead in health, my friends!


UPDATE: We moved to the country and saw a country vet. In all honesty, I took the pups in to have them put down. Two separate vets diagnosed them with HOD, and all the reading I did was consistent with this being the right thing to do, since they consistently got worse. Our new vet, fortunately, has seen these symptoms many times and ran a different blood test. Turns out the pups have Hepatozoonosis, a tick borne parasite. Within 72 hours of antibiotics and prednisone, the pups are healthy and happy!


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