I've had 4 Kuvasz of my own. The first two, Tyra and Amiga, both had back leg problems. Brantwood's Serene Phantom bred by Jan and Olga Schmidt does too.

    Phantom is cow hocked and has hip conformation which is too straight. Consequently she places a tremendous amount of stress on the soft tissue in her legs when she walks or runs, and has since she took her first step. When she was just 20 weeks of age I knew by just watching her that she was going to have rear leg problems. She never ever stretched, which I found to be abnormal, and when walking slowly she walked on the outside of her feet in a very bizarre fashion. I could imagine and almost see the strain and torque she was putting on her ligaments and tendons, and the wear on her knee cartilage.

    For a long time I felt undeservedly guilty about what happened to Tyra and Amiga as a result of their back leg problems. I wondered what might have been if I had kept them on a leash from the day I brought them home. I regretted ever letting them run and play.

    There was a time shortly after I noticed Phantom's weak rear end when I considered keeping her restrained. I reasoned she might not be too miserable if she didn't know any other existence. But then I decided that's not a fair life for any dog, and especially not one of these dogs. So despite my fear I let her run and play just as I did each of the others.

    Knowledgeable and reputable medical experts suggest cruciate and other orthopedic problems are most often the result of conformation/design problems. Of course many breeders will say they are the result of "environmental" or "acquired" causes such as: too much exercise while growing or not enough. They also blame the  influence of slippery surfaces, vaccinations, the wrong dog food, and so on and so forth. Of course that makes the problems the owner's fault, and the vets on breeder payrolls agree.

    I don't believe the "traumatic" or "environmentally" caused patella, cruciate, hip, or other orthopedic problems are more prevalent than the inherited ones, and I know I wasn't responsible for Tyra, Amiga, or Phantom's rear leg maladies.

    Several times since I first became involved with Kuvasz I've noticed that no good deed goes unpunished. A prime example was when a Kuvasz named Caleigh, a dog I'd only recently saved from euthanasia, decided to blindside Phantom. Over and above the stiffness and mobility impairment she already suffered because of her poor conformation, Phantom sustained injuries to her right leg at 31 months of age. She also broke a tooth which had to be extracted.

    The first vet who examined her diagnosed a "torn cruciate" and so did the second. But I had discovered the hard way that vets aren't always correct in their diagnosis or prescription, so I told them both I wanted to rest her for a bit to see if the ligament would heal on its own. They both said that was a bad idea, were adamant surgery was the only course of action, and were convinced if I waited there would be "arthritic remodelling" in the joint. They also said the reason knee ligaments don't repair themselves is because of the very poor circulation in the area.

    I kept Phantom quiet for eight full weeks. At the end of that time she was better and she was able to run and play again just as she had previously. I was very happy I hadn't opted for the surgery, but was still aware her back legs weren't healthy and normal.

    On December 15th of 1997 something happened in her left leg. She had been playing with a young Rottweiller in the late morning, and there didn't seem to be anything wrong then or on the way home. But when we went to go out for our afternoon walk she couldn't put her left foot on the ground. Despite my concern I didn't bother taking her to the vet. I knew what the diagnosis and advice would be, and chose to begin resting her instead.

    Phantom is a very alpha dog but also very very sensitive. She thinks I'm disciplining her if she is on leash and will not even relieve herself then. I know all about Kuvasz stubbornness and it isn't that. It is a case of her punishing herself even more because she thinks I'm angry with her. But thankfully she is usually a good girl, and when I tell her no running and to walk beside me she does. Since she had already been through the rest routine with the right leg, she knew what I expected of her since the left one was now hurt.

    Once again she was an obedient girl and quiet for the five and a half weeks I required. Then, since she seemed to be back to normal, I let her run one January night. She ran by herself for 5 minutes like I'd never seen her run before. The joy of being free after yet another long restriction caused her to slalom gleefully around Triumph and I, and to speed like the wind through the fresh snow. Of course I was ecstatic with her frolic, especially since I've always experienced enormous pleasure watching dogs run and have fun, and I thought we had dodged yet another bullet. But by the time we got home she was walking on 3 legs. I knew the vets always recommended 8 weeks as the minimum rest time and I should have stayed the course. Because of my mistake in judgement we would be forced to start over, and I was very upset Phantom seemed to be injured even more seriously than originally.

    One of the most shocking and upsetting moments in my initial life with Kuvasz, was when I went to pick up my pup Tyra after her patella surgery. I don't know what I expected to see on that fall day in 1992, but I certainly wasn't prepared for a completely shaved rear leg and about 8 inches of ugly stitching. I doubt you can imagine how I felt unless your Kuvasz has had knee surgery, and sometimes I regret I didn't have the courage to take some pictures and video of the horrible spectacle so everyone could see. On the other hand pictures and video of a Kuvasz with ravaged fur and pathetic limp might not be very upsetting when she isn't your pet.

    I didn't escape seeing the ugliness of surgery again even though I didn't subject Phantom to it. There was a very nice female Pyr up the street who was a year younger, and she tore her cruciate ligament on the same night I let Phantom run. Of course the surgery made her leg look just like Tyra's had, and unfortunately she too continued to have leg problems after the repair.

    As bad luck would have it, once again Phantom's leg problem wasn't our only concern at the time. She broke a second of her poor quality 4th premolars several weeks after the left leg re-injury, while trying to pass the time chewing on a bone. Since we had to go to the clinic for dental work, I had the vet examine both legs before and after she was sedated for the root canal procedure. He twisted and contorted them using the usual manual diagnostic techniques, and although he wasn't positive the problem was with her anterior cruciate ligament, he suggested a visit with the orthopedic specialist would confirm what he guessed. However I decided not to consult the specialist even though I had to take Phantom into the clinic another time to have the crown reinstalled, 21 days after it came off the first time, and then for her annual shots.

    In part it was the leg problem, among others, which convinced me to finally stop feeding Phantom and Triumph processed dog food. They began eating an all fresh and raw food diet and they still do at this time. Nutritional supplements like glucosamine sulfate, shark cartilage, Ester C, and alfalfa were included in their meals right from the beginning, and I was especially watchful to see what effect they had on Phantom. Unfortunately I saw she still wasn't 100% even with the dietary change.

    Overall Phantom wasn't quite as stiff and lame as she had been, and I guessed that was in part due to the inactivity and her new diet. However she still had a bit of a limp - short step on the left leg and was very lame after a lie down at night. She also had to think before she squat to urinate, and put her left leg out from her body when she did. Moreover, her usual habit of marking as much or more than Triumph was a thing of the past. Consequently I finally decided to phone the orthopedic specialist.

    Not surprisingly the specialist told me he had to examine Phantom before he could make a diagnosis. I told him that aside from the fact his colleague had not been able to definitively pinpoint the precise problem during recent visits, I had lost all patience for the famous drawer technique, palpating, and other manual examinations. I told him I wanted concrete evidence of the problem. Then I asked him to tell me where I could take Phantom for an MRI, since it only made sense to me that if he was going to cut her leg open, we should know exactly where and what the problem was, and that there was no alternative but surgery. He said he wasn't aware of any local venue where I could have the non invasive magnetic resonance imaging done. However he did say there was another technology which was cheaper and better for soft tissue evaluation, but only a very few people were able to read the results, and he wasn't one of them. So I asked him about alternatives to surgery like acupuncture. He said he couldn't recommend any alternatives until he examined Phantom. I concluded our phone conversation by telling him I wasn't going to upset her again by bringing her in for the umpteenth time in less than 6 months.

    A massage therapist came to my home and taught me how to give Phantom a massage, and especially how to stimulate her back legs. However she still wasn't 100% and many months had elapsed sooo... I took video. I took video of Phantom getting up after a sleep. Video of her walking off leash toward me, walking away, from both sides, squatting to pee, to poop, and walking on leash with Karen. Then I took the 30 minute edited version to the vet and told him I would pay him to watch it and for the consultation. Subsequently he did watch the tape, and then based on what he saw, he told me he thought there was something wrong with her hips. That diagnosis caused me to ask him to have a look at the x-rays which had been done when Phantom was two and a half years old after Caleigh blindsided her. The x-rays which supposedly showed "good" hips according to his colleague at the same clinic. His reply was that "those x-rays" would only show laxity and seating etcetera. He said he needed different "views". He also said he couldn't base a diagnosis on a video.

    Of course I was eventually obliged to bring Phantom to him. At my request, he conducted the examination and watched her walk up and back a couple of times in the parking lot rather than inside the building. And what did he find when he had me walk the dog up and down in front of him? What did he see that he couldn't view on the tape with the advantage of pause, forward, rewind, and slow motion vcr control buttons? How was the naturelle video perspective inferior to a short walk on ceramic floors in the clinic, or the asphalt of the parking lot out back? Well I guess it wasn't too inferior at all, because although he thought she had "some discomfort" especially in her right leg, he couldn't find or see "too much wrong with her". He reached the conclusion about "some discomfort" because Phantom slowly turned her head while he was twisting a figure eight with her right leg. He also said her hips were rather straight up and down, which was a conformational flaw, and possibly the cause of her back end problems. Consequently he told me she might benefit from treatment by a physiotherapist, and use of the nutraceutical Cosequin DS. He said the therapist was literally just starting remedial work with dogs, and Phantom was a good candidate for the program.

    Phantom and I certainly benefit by contacting the therapist. I can't begin to tell you how REFRESHING it was to deal with a professional from outside the DOG BUSINESS on a dog issue. This lady wasn't condenscending with me just because I'm not a so called expert in any of the dog related areas, and answered my pet owner's questions and addressed my concerns. Another pleasant advantage to dealing with Kathy was when she asked me if I preferred to bring Phantom to her or if I wanted her to come to Phantom. Of course we chose the latter.

    During the visits I had a million questions for the physiotherapist and she provided me with the following general information and more:

- a complete ligament rupture would cause a permanent limp. Phantom wasn't limping all the time.
- vets don't grade ligament tears like human doctors do. There are actually 4 grades.
- the least severe grade tear can often be the most painful. There are more nerves left intact in the wrapped wire like assembly of tissue which makes up a ligament. A total rupture of a cruciate ligament might hurt for a moment while it's happening, but then since there isn't continued nerve involvement, the specific part doesn't hurt anymore. Athletes often damage that area or something else even more severely, because they continue whatever they are doing since there was only momentary pain and it disappeared.
- human ligaments often tear at the bone, dog ligaments usually in the middle.
- ligament damage is often the result of poor structure and time.
- a patient started in physiotherapy before a surgery recovers better and faster after the surgery.
- some puppies with orthopedic problems, even those that are dysplastic, could benefit greatly from physiotherapy treatment. Just as some therapeutic protocols have been used successfully to increase the mobility of children with orthopedic problems, weaknesses, or deformities, early diagnosis of problems in pups, coupled with specialized exercise, can be extremely beneficial during their juvenile growth and development.

    While Kathy had originally only worked with humans, horse owners convinced her to expand her practice and knowledge to include their quadrupeds. Subsequently she began helping smaller animals like my Kuvasz. She joked that we are all basically just made up of levers and pulleys, and then showed me some manual stretching techniques specifically for Phantom: (49.1 MB Windows Media Video). She also suggested several exercises to strengthen back leg muscles, which in turn would take some of the strain off the soft tissue.

    One of the exercises involved aqua therapy. Kathy(PDF) told me to walk my girl in chest deep water. She said 80% of Phantom's weight would be absorbed by the buoyancy of the water, and subsequently there would be less stress, especially on her knees. At the same time, the hard work of walking in deep water would create a beneficial resistance, and substantially strengthen her muscles and eliminate atrophy.

    My Kuvasz girl and I started walking in the Ottawa River for 30 minutes every single day. We both found the water to be more than a little refreshing at 6 o'clock on some of the spring mornings, however once we were in for awhile it wasn't so bad. Then when the sultry mornings of summer arrived, it was actually quite pleasant to be wading with my sweet pet. We watched the moon set on several occasions, and experienced some breathtakingly spectacular sunrises in the soothing peace and quiet.

    It was lucky we were alone most of the time when we came out of the water, because for the first several steps we staggered along like drunken sailors. Even though the water was only knee level for me, I showed the effects of the aqua exercise. But more importantly Phantom did too, and the effects were positive. She began to do something which she ABSOLUTELY never did from the time I brought her home at 8 weeks of age - she began to stretch. Phantom started stretching after naps and even when she had only been lying down for a little while. She started doing good, long, luxurious stretches with both her front and back legs, and even Halloween cat arches with her back. And while Triumph had always gone through these routines as most normal dogs do, Phantom never had until then.

    People say you must teach dogs nothing in life is free. They must learn to perform some task before any reward like food, a treat, or attention is forthcoming from you. But Phantom modified the program slightly and trained me. After she saw how excited I was when she stretched the first couple of times, and after she realized she could probably get more than hugs and kisses, a renegotiation took place. As a result, before we go on any outings, I say stretchiiing with a treat in hand and she stretches for me.

    Leg problems like Phantom's don't happen overnight. They are the direct result of poor rear end conformation and the wear and tear which accompanies inherited design defects. Phantom and many other Kuvasz simply can't enjoy a normal life of effortless running and playing. They can't participate in the kinds of activites they could if they were the offspring of sound stock, and the result of knowledgeable and conscientious breeding. All the remedies and surgeries in the world can't make them into the healthy working dogs they are supposed to be. However I am thankful that products like Cosequin DS are now more readily available than when Tyra and Amiga had their problems.

    About 4 weeks after I began giving Phantom the loading dose of the supplement Cosequin, the changes which occurred bordered on miraculous. Phantom seemed less stiff, and the left leg lameness virtually disappeared. Better yet, the Cosequin accomplished the improvements without causing any side effects. Obviously some of her leg problems had been cartilage related.

    You will find the answers to any questions you might have about the product at the Nutramax site. You may also find some of the questions and answers in the Ask a Vet Forum to be quite informative. I was certainly very interested in the vet's response to a question about the supplementation of ingredients in the popular processed dog food I had fed all of my Kuvasz:

               "Iams manufactures a dog food that is labeled as containing
                glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. In general, Iams
                manufactures excellent products, but there are several
                problems with this one. Firstly, the amounts stated on the
                label are lower than would be needed for any cartilage
                support and they do not use the same low molecular
                weight studied compounds as have been researched in
                Cosequin. You would be better to feed your dog one
                Cosequin capsule every other day. 
                To my knowledge, Iams has not done any studies on their
                dog food to show that it is beneficial in supporting joints. I
                recently had the opportunity to examine references that
                Iams offered to 'document' the efficacy of their product,
                and many of the references cited actually referred to
                Cosequin, not to the Iams product at all. The other
                citations referred to research done on pharmaceutical grade
                glucosamine or specific brands of chondroitin sulfate, so
                these did not support the effectiveness of the Iams dog
                food either. 
                It is possible that at some time in the future, a dog food
                containing Cosequin will be available. In the meantime, my
                suggestion would be to give Cosequin for joint support
                and not rely on an untested product. If giving a capsule is
                problematic, remember that the capsule can be opened and
                the contents mixed with something the dog likes to eat. 
                I hope this answers your questions. If you would like more
                information, please feel free to call us at 800-925-5187. 
               Barbara Corson, R.N., V.M.D. Nutramax Laboratories, Inc."

    Good, better, best. If with one new treatment Phantom seemed to improve, and with two she was a little better still....

    Aside from the beneficial change away from processed dog food, and the regimen of physiotherapy, aquatherapy, and Cosequin, I decided Phantom and I might as well add another treatment to our bag of tricks, and so we did.

    These pictures are actually video frames from one of Phantom's acupuncture sessions. Initially there were 4 appointments approximately a week apart. Over the course of about 30 minutes the veterinarian strategically placed 18 extremely fine needles into Phantom's body and left them. Some were in her spinal column, and some were in her back legs - specifically her hips and knees. 

    I would have to say my personal favourite was the one which was placed in her forehead to help her relax. It certainly did seem to have that effect, as it made her pant a little bit like when she is very sleepy and about to nod off. I had to laugh each time that needle was inserted because she looked like a pretty little unicorn with a tiny golden horn.

    As you can guess Kuvasz coat makes proper placement of a needle slightly more complicated than for animals with no fur, and even though Phantom had just been trimmed, you can barely see the therapeutic device.

    Still another consideration in ease of placement is the physical fitness of the individual dog. I was flattered when Dr. Welsh commented she was able to find the necessary pressure points with relative ease because Phantom was so fit. I told her I was very aware how necessary it is to keep dogs from becoming overweight, and most especially when they are large dogs with orthopedic problems. I also said that although Phantom hadn't been able to engage in the same level of energetic activity as she once did, we still walked distances, and I was able to satisfy her appetite, as well as her caloric and nutritional needs, with a healthy fresh food menu served 3 times daily.

    I don't believe I would have been able to keep my Kuvasz at the same constant weight while feeding processed dog food. You just don't have the same flexibility. If you cut back on the dog's food because you notice she is getting heavier, the dog is deprived and probably hungry. However if you are giving her a fresh food diet you can increase the low calorie items to fill her tummy and craving without adding to her weight. Moreover, you are able to feed specific ingredients which target the problems like arthritis, and help to rebuild bone, cartilage, and soft tissue etcetera.

    The doctor also paid Phantom and I a compliment during each of our 4 visits. She said that the calm and gentle demeanor of my Kuvasz made her job very easy.

    In part Phantom's personality is what it is - usually serene and self controlled. However, there was a time especially as a young pup when she always wanted to be in  perpetual motion. In those days I had to teach her that sometimes we must stand or lie still. We had frequent short practice sessions to teach the value in calmness, often while I was watching television. As a result, the groomers, veterinarians, or in fact anyone dealing with her anywhere and anytime discover Phantom is quite easy to manage. 


     Sometimes I feel like I've never made the right decision on behalf of my dogs. There doesn't ever seem to be an absolutely perfect one. There are just so many variables to consider, and so many diverse opinions from dog business professionals, strangers in the park, and in fact everyone. In part that is why I always end up second guessing myself, and perpetually wonder if the road not taken would have been the less damaging if not right course of action.

    Should I have taken Phantom right in for surgery after the December injury to that left knee? Would she be even better off now? I guess I'll never know.

    A woman whose Brantwood - Schmidt Kuvasz had recently died at 7 years of age phoned me a while into Phantom's recovery. After the phone conversation it occurred to me what a long period of time I had taken out of Phantom's life by keeping her restricted for so many many weeks, especially if she should die at 7 years of age. It was hellaciously hard on her. While it isn't quite as bad now, because we are back to what passes as normal for Phantom, in the early days and mid going it affected her emotionally every time I took Triumph out the door and left her behind.

    She is a good girl and has a lot of heart. She has always been and will always be uncomfortable, but tries not to show it. I don't know if very many dogs would have put up with what I asked of her without some kind of negative reaction in behaviour.

    It is only recently that non invasive remedies like physiotherapy, Cosequin, acupuncture, and others have been available to dog owners. The surgery is the only way mentality may hopefully change. However the most important change must be in Kuvasz breeding.