Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: An Introduction

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a common disease in large breeds and mature dogs but can affect any breed. Some breeds are more likely to inherit or develop this disease including Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Great Danes and Saint Bernard's.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is often an inherited disease but it can develop due to environment and upbringing. The disease loosens the canine hip joint by affecting the muscles, ligaments and connective tissues of the ball and socket joint which can cause severe arthritis and pain. Hip dysplasia in dogs can affect one or both sides of the hip.

Other than inherited factors, hip dysplasia may be caused by poor or improper nutrition during development, rapid growth, obesity or an early injury. Early detection is essential so treatment can start to prevent further pain and deterioration of the hip joint and to increase mobility.

Hip Dysplasia Symptoms

Dogs can develop symptoms at any age, sometimes as early as five months. Look for pain and discomfort after physical activity as an initial sign of hip dysplasia. Other symptoms to look for in dogs include:

  • limping
  • a "bunny-hop" or other change in gait
  • preference for sitting rather than standing
  • difficulty climbing stairs
  • stiffness
  • reluctance to stand or extend their rear legs
  • crying, yelping or whimpering when the affected joint is moved or touched
  • lethargy
  • loss of muscle mass around the hips and rear legs

Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia in dogs can be diagnosed with x-rays and a physical exam. If a dog is not showing arthritis symptoms a veterinarian can still diagnose hip dysplasia using x-rays and methods approved by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the PennHIP method to examine the hip joint. These methods are helpful for breeders looking to prevent hip dysplasia from being passed on to future generations of dogs.

Treatment for Hip Dysplasia

Treatment options will depend on your dog's age and health along with price considerations. Surgery is one option and can help prevent symptoms from developing in puppies that are diagnosed early but it is an expensive and major procedure. Older dogs can have a total hip replacement or less invasive surgeries to minimize pain and increase mobility.

Pain management is also possible with oral medications, steroids and painkillers. Never give your dog any over-the-counter pain relief medication without consulting your veterinarian.

To relieve pain caused by arthritis there are lifestyle changes that owners can adopt to increase their dog's mobility and help with pain management. Ramps in the house and car can help your dog get around more easily. Your vet can show you massage and physical therapy methods that may also improve flexibility and relieve stiff joints in your dog. A warm and comfortable sleeping area is also helpful for painful hip dysplasia symptoms which can be especially bad in the mornings. A healthy amount of exercise and weight management also helps symptoms.

Diet and nutrition are important factors and may help prevent hip dysplasia and relieve symptoms of arthritis in dogs that have already been diagnosed. Feeding your puppy the right food is essential; too many or too little nutrients can cause growth problems and affect the hip joints.