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By Dr. Hammond, DVM (@thehonestvet)

Dr. Hammond received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and currently practices as a general practice and emergency veterinarian in Charleston, South Carolina.

Hip dysplasia; as a veterinarian and lover of large breed dogs, these words send shivers down my spine. Many seasoned large breed or giant breed dog owners are also well aware of this term and its connotations. However, many dog owners hear this term for the first time when their beloved pet is diagnosed with this chronic and painful condition.  

Are you a new owner of a large or giant breed puppy? Do you have a dog who has recently been diagnosed with hip dysplasia? Maybe you are diligently doing your research before adding a new furry family member to the home. 

This article will help you understand hip dysplasia, what causes it, how to identify hip dysplasia in dogs, and what you can expect if your dog is diagnosed with hip dysplasia

What Is Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in dogs: Beagle lying on a carpet

Canine hip dysplasia is a skeletal abnormality affecting the hip joint. Dogs with hip dysplasia have abnormal growth or development of the hips. This orthopedic condition mostly affects large breed or giant breed dogs but can occur in any size or breed of dog. 

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. The head of the femur (the thigh bone) is a smooth, round ball that fits nicely inside the concave acetabulum of the pelvis (hip socket). A proper fit means frictionless movement, which allows the bones to glide smoothly across one another when the hind leg muscles are used. Fibrous joint capsule, lubricating fluid, and smooth cartilage covering the ends of the bones help with this, too. 

When a dog has hip dysplasia, the hip joint develops with a poor fit between the ball and socket (or head of the femur and acetabulum) during a puppy's growing phase. The poor fit results in a loose, grinding joint instead of a normally tightly fitted, gliding joint. This looseness, referred to as joint laxity, stretches the supporting ligaments, joint capsule, and muscles around the hip joint, resulting in joint instability, pain, and permanent damage to the hip joint. The body attempts to stabilize the joint, and, consequently, pets develop degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia

Close up shot of a dog lying on a couch and looking up

Hip dysplasia in dogs can be caused by:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Nutrition
  • Environment
  • Exercise
  • Growth rate
  • Muscle mass
  • Hormones 

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a hereditary condition that can be passed to future generations from affected parents. Breeds most commonly affected by hip dysplasia include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, Old English Sheepdogs, and Bulldogs. However, any dog, including mixed breeds, can develop hip dysplasia

Nutrition

Inappropriate nutrition is a major cause of hip dysplasia. It’s a common misconception that large breed puppies should be fed more so they grow faster and larger. Owners might provide excess calories, or supplement their puppy’s diet with additional protein and calcium. But this can cause the bones and muscles to grow at different rates — that leads to numerous orthopedic concerns including hip dysplasia.

Obesity

Overfeeding leads to excess body weight or obesity in adult dogs, linked with hip dysplasia. Often, these dogs developed hip dysplasia during growth but are unaffected by the condition before becoming overweight or obese. The extra stress and strain put on their hips by their weight makes the situation worse and accelerates painful osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease.

Overexercise

Too much exercise early in puppyhood (before three months of age) has been linked to an increased risk of developing hip dysplasia. On the other hand, too little exercise in adulthood has been shown to increase the orthopedic disorder, likely because of obesity and/or the loss of lean muscle mass, which supports and cushions joints.

Early Spay and Neuter

Another component that contributes to hip dysplasia in dogs is the early spay and neuter of large breed puppies, particularly those already genetically predisposed. This factor is still being studied and debated. At this time, it is unclear just how much hormones influence hip development. And studies have shown that delaying the spaying of female dogs can lead to other issues, such as mammary cancer. 

Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Vet petting a Siberian Husky

The characteristic symptoms of hip dysplasia include, but are not limited to:

  • A hip-swinging (hula-hooping) gait in the rear legs
  • Bunny hopping with the back legs, often when going upstairs
  • Reluctance or difficulty rising
  • Weakness or loss of muscle mass in the back legs
  • Decreased range of motion in the hips
  • Lameness in the rear legs
  • Shifting the weight to the front legs while standing
  • Reduced activity or playfulness

Symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs may begin as early as four months of age in puppies with significantly loose hips. However, other dogs don’t show signs until the condition results in painful osteoarthritis.

It’s also important to note that even if a dog isn’t whining or crying, it can still be in pain. All the symptoms above are evidence of discomfort and pain. 

See our article on dog joint pain to learn about other joint problems and related symptoms and relief.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian may screen for hip dysplasia based on your dog’s history and physical exam. However, a radiograph (X-ray) of the hips is needed to make a definitive diagnosis. Many dogs with hip dysplasia have hip pain, making positioning for the images uncomfortable. This causes them to struggle or tense their muscles. To get proper images and prevent unnecessary discomfort, dogs typically need to be anesthetized to some degree.  

Treatment

There are multiple treatment options for hip dysplasia. The recommended treatment option will depend on:

  • The age and size of the dog
  • The severity of the orthopedic disorder
  • The level of pain
  • Any other medical concerns
  • Your finances 

Many dogs with hip dysplasia benefit from surgery, and there are several surgical procedures available through board-certified veterinary surgeons. Depending on the specific case, one or both hips may need surgery. 

Hip surgery is an extensive and expensive procedure, but most dogs who have hip surgery have a better quality of life and can resume a high level of activity and functionality. While surgery usually has the best results, other treatment options include drugs, dietary supplements, and physical therapy.

Treatment for Young Dogs With Hip Dysplasia

Young dogs between 10-18 weeks old suspected of having hip laxity can undergo a juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS). A JPS is a minimally invasive surgery in which the growth plate at the bottom of the pelvis is mechanically closed. This stops the lower hip bones from growing, leading to better coverage of the femoral head and less looseness in the joint. This procedure consistently results in pain-free, normal hip function, but early diagnosis and imaging are critical.

Another surgical option available for dogs younger than 12 months is a triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO). During this surgery, the bones of the pelvis are cut and repositioned to improve joint function and reduce or eliminate joint laxity. This procedure must be performed before dogs have evidence of osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, as these changes are not reversible, and the surgery may not be effective.  

The best surgical treatment option for treating hip dysplasia in dogs older than one year is a total hip replacement (THR). This procedure replaces the entire dysplastic and arthritic joint with artificial implants. Afterward, the hip has improved function, and pain associated with hip dysplasia is eliminated.  

If a patient is ineligible for a THR or funds aren’t available, a femoral head osteotomy (FHO) is an alternative. During this surgery, the head of the femur is removed and not replaced, avoiding the grinding and bone-on-bone contact that triggers pain. Over time, scar tissue forms a “false joint” to stabilize the hips. Although the false joint is not as functional as a real joint, the source of pain is eliminated, and the quality of the dog’s life will improve. 

If a case of hip dysplasia is mild, or surgery is not an option, there are many less invasive treatment protocols. These protocols will be continued life-long, as they won’t “cure” the problem but only manage pain and discomfort. Non-surgical treatment can include a combination of: 

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include pain medications such as carprofen, galliprant, etc.
  • Achieving and maintaining a lean physique to reduce strain on hips
  • Physical therapy and exercise modifications
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation like Native Pet’s Omega Oil
  • Veterinary approved joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin
  • Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan injections 
  • Laser therapy

Native Pet’s Relief Chews are designed to support dogs with mobility issues and to help adult dogs stave off joint pain or other inflammatory problems. These chews offer green-lipped mussel and turmeric to help regulate the inflammatory response around your dog’s body.

Preventing Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

While it is impossible to prevent hip dysplasia completely, dog owners can take several steps to help reduce their pet’s risks of developing the disorder.

You can search for responsible breeders who screen their animals for medical issues, such as hip dysplasia. When looking for a large or giant breed puppy, consider breeders who have had their dogs certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Breeders can send radiographs of a dog parent’s hips to the OFA. If a dog’s hips are rated as “good” or “excellent,” they receive a registration number. A similar program exists exclusively through the University of Pennsylvania, known as PennHip. Puppies from OFA- or PennHip-certified parents are less likely to develop hip dysplasia

Equally as important in the prevention of hip dysplasia in dogs is appropriate nutrition. Large or giant breed puppies should eat food specifically formulated for large or giant breed puppies. This diet should make up 90% or more of their daily caloric intake, avoiding too many treats. Treats can lead to a nutritional imbalance and excess calories, and keeping puppies lean and allowing them to grow slowly helps the proper development of the skeletal system. 

As dogs grow, exercising them the right way will help prevent obesity and lead to increased skeletal muscle mass to protect joints. Since obesity is closely linked to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs, not to mention plenty of other medical concerns, preventing it is crucial.

Prognosis

Dogs with hip dysplasia can have a good prognosis and live long, happy lives. If your dog has been diagnosed with the condition, work with your veterinarian and consistently follow treatment recommendations to keep your dog living comfortably well into their senior years. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the initial signs of hip dysplasia in canines?

The first important sign of hip dysplasia in dogs is decreased activity as the dog avoids motion. Your dog might face difficulty in jumping or running. Climbing becomes difficult, and even standing up might be a challenge for a dog suffering with dysplasia.

Can a dog with hip dysplasia live longer?

Your dog can live a full, normal life if they’re treated promptly and their health is promptly taken care of.

Is hip dysplasia recoverable?

No, your dog may not recover fully if it is suffering from hip dysplasia. But if you maintain a healthy diet and routine exercise schedule, your dog can stay healthy for a long time. There is no cure for hip dysplasia in dogs, but there are many treatments that relieve pain and stop the progress of damage.

What will happen if I do not treat my dog suffering from hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is painful and can affect the mobility of your dog if left untreated. Your dog might develop osteoarthritis that can further increase its pain and disable your dog's motion completely. Without movement, your dog might start losing muscles.

Want to know more about your dog’s health and wellness needs? Visit the Native Pet blog to read more articles. 


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