The varus deformity, or pes varus, is a joint deformity affecting the legs. It gives the appearance of bow-leggedness and, in fact, the term “varus” is Latin for “crooked” or “inward.” The condition most typically affects dachshunds, but also can affect other breeds, such as basset hounds. In severe cases, the condition can render a dog immobile.
Varus is a genetic problem. The gene is recessive, which means that sufferers of the varus deformity inherit a mutated version of the gene inherited by mom and dad. Carriers are unaffected, but can pass on the mutant gene to 50 percent of their offspring. The more cases of inbreeding that occur, the more likely it is that the deformity will spread throughout the breed population. The physical cause of the bow-leggedness is due to the shin bone plates closing prematurely during early development.
In puppies, especially those with a mild case of pes varus, early signs of varus include lameness and limping, but as the leg continues to grow, all the while against the resistance of the closed shin bone plates, the paw begins to point inward. Depending on the severity, the deformity can lead to dogs being unable to walk around or play with their friends. Left untreated, varus will lead to a severe case of osteoarthritis, joint problems and complete immobility.
The only treatment for pes varus is surgery,via a procedure called open-wedge osteotomy. This procedure involves the surgeon cutting laterally on the shin bone, next to the curve, creating a wedge shape gap. The intact bone will continue to grow and pulls the bone straight. A dog suffering from varus can be walking normally just eight weeks after surgery, although the procedure can cost around $3,000 per leg.
In cases of severe deformity, there’s little you can do to assist your dog other than refer him for veterinary treatment. In mild cases, you can make things easier for your dog around the home. For example, by placing his basket and feeding bowls near the door, you reduce the distance he has to travel if he needs to go potty. If you have polished or slick floors, put down rugs in areas where your dog spends time. This way, he can grip the floor better with his paws. As far as future generations go, sending a sample of your dog’s blood to the Canine Health Information Center can enable the veterinary community to research further the genetics behind the condition and help reduce the incidence of this disease.
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