Hip Dysplasia in Dogs and What You Can Do About it

As dog owners, we may have all heard the term “hip dysplasia,” which typically conjures up major concerns as dog parents. But even though you may have heard of it, do you know what it is? And can your precious fur baby be susceptible to this condition?

Luckily, innovations in the veterinary world have made it possible with dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia to live a full, healthy, comfortable life despite their condition.

What exactly is hip dysplasia in dogs, and what can be done about it?

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Hip dysplasia can be a debilitating disease of the hip joint. Dogs that are diagnosed with this disease can suffer from pain, immobility, and lower quality of life if measures aren’t taken to deal with it. Luckily, there are plenty of things that can be done to make the life of a dog with hip dysplasia better.


What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a common skeletal disease of the hip. It’s characterized by a partially dislocated hip joint whereby the ball and socket don’t form properly or fully. The ball portion of the hip should fit comfortably and snugly into the socket component for proper range of motion and comfort.

But in the case of hip dysplasia, the ball doesn’t quite fit right into the socket, which causes the hip to dislocate easily.

Many times the actual hip socket itself is what causes the problem. If it’s not properly formed or deep enough, the ball portion of the hip joint won’t sit in there properly, which is why dislocation can more easily occur.

Hip dysplasia can cause pain, as the ball and socket are vulnerable to a lot of wear and tear. Eventually, arthritis can set in, which can exacerbate the condition and make the pain even worse. Eventually, mobility will start to be more difficult.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia is predominantly a genetic condition, which means that it is passed down from the parents to the pups. Once the dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, a number of external factors can make the condition worse, including:

When a dog is diagnosed with this skeletal condition, great care needs to be taken to make sure that the dog’s weight remains in check in order to avoid placing any undue stress on the hip joint. The dog should also be put on a healthy diet to help keep the bones strong.

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Dogs with hip dysplasia may not want to be mobile and will show signs that they are not comfortable with specific activities. But there are many things that can be done to help keep your dog comfortable. 

Which Dog Breeds Are More Susceptible to Hip Dysplasia?

While hip dysplasia can technically happen in any dog breed, it’s much more common to see hip dysplasia in larger breeds. Generally speaking, you’ll find hip dysplasia more commonly in the following dog breeds:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • St. Bernards
  • German Shepherds
  • Bull Mastiffs
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • Rottweilers

What Should You Look For in Your Dog to Identify This Condition?

As a responsible dog owner, it’s important to be on the lookout for any signs of trouble, whether it’s in regards to hip dysplasia or any other medical and health issues. In terms of hip dysplasia, there are certain symptoms and signs to watch out for, including the following:

  • Limited range of motion
  • Decreased activity
  • Difficulty performing simple physical tasks, such as walking, running, jumping, or climbing stairs
  • Narrow stance
  • “Bunnyhopping” when climbing stairs (both hind legs hop forward at the same tie rather than one after the other)
  • Lameness in the hind legs

Upon closer inspection, you or your vet might notice:

  • Looseness in the joint
  • Inadequate muscle mass in the hip and thigh area
  • Larger shoulder muscle mass to compensate
  • Grating when the hip joint moves
  • Stiffness at the joint

Dogs can start showing signs of the disease in their early years, while others won’t show symptoms until they’re older. It’s always a good idea to be mindful of any changes or signs of discomfort at each stage of your dog’s life.

The severity of these symptoms can vary based on:

  • Progression of the disease
  • How loose the joint is
  • Inflammation levels
  • Length of time that hip dysplasia has been present

How Can You Get a Definitive Hip Dysplasia Diagnosis?

You might have noticed a few signs in your dog that may point to possible hip dysplasia, but how can you know for sure? What measures can be taken to officially diagnose – or rule out – hip dysplasia in dogs?

It’s absolutely recommended that you take your pooch in to see the vet if you notice any signs of trouble. That way, your dog can receive the diagnosis and care needed.

When you first bring your dog in, your vet will conduct a physical exam which will help identify if there is a limited amount of range of motion or discomfort with the manipulations the vet performs.

There may be blood work involved as well to identify any inflammation. The vet will also ask you about your dog’s history, such as whether or not there are other medical issues involved, if there were any accidents or injuries that could be the cause, and any information about your dog’s parents.

If the vet feels that there may be some underlying condition, or if the physical exam doesn’t reveal what the problem could be, an X-ray will likely be suggested.

Taking a picture of your dog’s hip joint will provide a definitive image of what may be going on. If your dog has hip dysplasia, it will be revealed in an X-ray. The images will also show to what degree the disease has progressed.

Having this exact diagnosis made will then help you and your vet come up with the appropriate treatment plan to keep your dog comfortable.

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Treatments for hip dysplasia can vary in severity from something as simple as nutritional supplements to something as drastic as surgery. Ozzie has hip dysplasia but is doing great!

What Types of Remedies Are Available For Hip Dysplasia?

There are various levels of treatment available, depending on how severe the condition is and what you’re comfortable with.

Nutritional supplementation. If the condition is not severe and your dog doesn’t look like he’s in a great deal of pain, sometimes all that may be needed is some nutritional supplementation to help strengthen the joint and ease the pain. For example, glucosamine may be given to reduce the symptoms of hip dysplasia.

Pain medication. If your dog experiences some degree of pain, providing him with pain medication, such as NSAIDs, might be warranted.

Joint fluid modifiers. These can help relieve arthritis inflammation.

Weight reduction. This will help take stress off of the hip joint.

Exercise restriction. If your dog seems uncomfortable performing certain physical actions, limit his exercise, especially on hard surfaces.

Physical therapy. Regular sessions of physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles in the area and expand the range of motion at the joint.

Surgery. If the situation is severe, your vet may recommend surgery, including any one of the following:

  • Pelvic osteotomy – This procedure is usually reserved for younger dogs less than 10 months old and involves cutting the pelvic bone and rotating the portions of the joint to improve overall function.
  • Femoral head ostectomy – This surgery involves cutting off the “ball” of the femur, or femoral head, inevitably creating a false joint that cuts back on pain and discomfort. This procedure does not result in 100% normal hip function, but can still be effective for pain management.
  • Total hip replacement – This is the most effective surgical procedure for hip dysplasia in dogs and involves replacing the entire hip joint with a metal implant. This results in normal hip function while minimizing or eliminating pain. It should be noted that this procedure requires quite a bit of time to heal and therapy to get back to performing day-to-day activities.

Just keep in mind that surgery, though predominantly effective, can come with complications, including:

  • Infections
  • Potential fracture of the femur
  • Dislocations
  • Loosening of the hip implant
  • Nerve damage

Be sure to educate yourself on what the possible complications are before you decide if surgery is the right avenue to take.

Speak with your vet about all possible treatments and the pros and cons of each to make a more informed decision. You may also want to be referred to a specialist, especially if you’re considering surgery.

Final Thoughts

Finding out that your dog has hip dysplasia can be very disconcerting. However, there are treatment options available. Whether you choose to go through with a more invasive surgery or choose to keep your dog comfortable with nutritional supplements and pain meds, it’s important to do what is possible to keep your dog as comfortable and pain-free as possible.

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