Discomfort walking up hills
I apologize, this is text heavy, but I want to get all the info on here. My girl (5 1/2 yr old GSD/Mal) seems to have some discomfort when she's walking up hills, and I was wondering if anyone had any ideas as to what the issue might be.
When she's going up hills, she kind of humps her back and instead of walking "right back foot, left front foot"/"left back foot, right front foot" she walks "right front, right back"/"left front, left back". She does this every time she walks up a hill. We live in the mountains, in a very hilly area, so avoiding hills is impossible. She's actually changed her walk now so that she walks like that almost all the time, hunches her back at hills, and her trot and canter look normal.
This first started when she was about 2 and we had gone for a 3 hour hike that was about 2 hours uphill, 1 hour down. By the end of the hike she was definitely tired out - which is a little unlike her, she normally goes forever. The next day she was limping and sore to get up. The limp would go away after a few steps. She was sore and limping for a few days (maybe a week?) so we made a vet appointment to get her hips looked at. The hip x-rays looked very good to the vet, not sent to OFA as she's a shelter dog and was spayed really young. Vet thought that maybe there was a bit of shading higher up on the spine that might indicate arthritis starting but nothing major. Vet suggested a couple of weeks of rest (no walks, no ball chasing, monitored pee breaks), which we did, and all seemed good after that.
Just before Christmas this year, she had a super active couple of days and was extremely sore after that (limping again, laboring a bit to get up, limp would go away after a few steps, but she wasn't really interested in much activity). The soreness lasted over Christmas and New Years, and we took her to a vet a few days after New Years (we were out of town with her and didn't have non-emerg access to a vet until we got home). Vet said it was probably her back (based on shadows on old hip x-rays) and that they could do more x-rays to confirm if we wanted. We decided to try resting her again, so we gave her 1 month rest and gave her aspirin for about a week. No x-rays at this point.
After 2 weeks, she was raring to go but we rested her the full month. After that, it was like she was very out of shape, so we started up with 20 minute walks in the evening, 10 minute walks in the morning. We've gradually increased this to about 20 minutes in the morning and 1 hr + in the afternoons/evening.
Every once in a while, she still seems sore. Especially after a longer walk with maybe a tag-along doggie friend. So we took her back to the vet last week for back x-rays to see what we were dealing with.
Vet x-rayed her back, decided to check hips again, and also x-rayed her back hocks. Everything came back clean. No changes in her hips since she was 2 (appt was on the 15th and I looked on the hip forum that day after viewing Frankie's x-rays, and based on the x-rays I've seen there Frankie is good/excellent, but I'm no expert); spine looks excellent with no arthritis; vertebrae all evenly spaced which suggests that it's not a disc issue; hocks look great.
So... I've spent a lot of money to find out that Frankie is structurally fine! I'm happy to know she doesn't have any bone problems, but we still don't know what might be causing the discomfort!
Does anyone have any ideas? Vet suggested acupuncture, and then maybe going to see a gait specialist (which would be a 3 hour drive, not a problem, but we want to rule everything else out first).