Simply explained, hip dysplasia in dogs is the name for a hip joint that hasn’t developed correctly.
Early onset of hip dysplasia in dogs usually begins while a dog is still a pup, usually around four or five months old. Older dogs with osteoarthritis, a type of joint inflammation, are also prone to it.
It is a degenerative disease that causes extreme pain and discomfort, as well as mobility problems and if left untreated, your dog will eventually be unable to use his back legs.
Unfortunately not much can be done to prevent it, but with early diagnosis and treatment, dogs can lead active and happy lives.
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Let’s Get Scientific: What is Hip Dysplasia?
According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, hip dysplasia in dogs is an orthopedic or skeletal disease that affects the hip joint.
For most dogs, and as well as humans, the hip joint works like a ball (femoral) and socket (acetabulum) that slides smoothly as we walk or run. In the case of hip dysplasia, the joint doesn’t develop correctly, and the ball damages the socket.
The combination of a loss of the tendon or cartilage, along with the development of scar tissue and bone spurs results in a crippling lameness and extreme pain.
Causes of Hip Dysplasia or Hip Joint Pain
Hip dysplasia can be caused by a number of factors including:
- Environmental factors
- Medical conditions like arthritis and osteoarthritis
Let’s take a look at each of them in more detail.
Some breeds are more prone to hip dysplasia and are born with it.
Unfortunately, it is a fairly complex disorder with a number of genes involved, which means it can’t easily be removed from affected breeds or a particular lineage.
A dog’s environment can also play a role.
External factors like nutrition, rapid weight gain, obesity, a lack of exercise, repetitive strain and pelvic injuries as well as poor back leg development can cause hip dysplasia in dogs.
Often, the late onset of the disease is due to osteoarthritis. When this is left untreated the condition progresses into hip dysplasia.
Signs of Canine Hip Dysplasia
Recognizing the signs of hip dysplasia isn’t always straightforward. Sore hip joints could be the result of a number of things.
However, if you notice your dog displaying any one of the signs below, it could be the onset of hip dysplasia.
- A swaying gait
- Stiffness of the joints
- Using both back legs at the same when running
- Difficulty standing up, lying down or climbing stairs
- A reluctance to exercise or play
- Limping and lameness
- Bunny Hopping
- Sitting in a frog position with one hip splayed out
- Painful when touched
- A narrow stance with his back legs closer together than his front ones
The video shows Elliott, a boxer pup with a few of the symptoms of hip dysplasia:
The Diagnosis of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Early diagnosis of hip dysplasia is important, as treatment can slow the condition down, and there are more options available.
There are several ways to diagnose it, with x-rays often being the first step. This will show how advanced the disease is and if there has been any effect on the dog’s spinal cord.
Your vet will also do a blood chemical profile, which includes a blood count, a urinalysis and electrolyte panel.
Checking for joint looseness or laxity is also a way of diagnosing the disease. It is done under general anesthetic so that the hip joints can be rotated without causing the pup any discomfort.
While having information on the dog’s parentage can help, there are instances where the parents haven’t had the disease, but their offspring do.
Osteoarthritis and Hip Joint Pain Go Hand in Hand
Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is a type of chronic joint inflammation due to the deterioration of the hip joint cartilage. It’s more common in older dogs, and when left untreated, the result is hip dysplasia.
Are Different Breeds Prone to Hip Dysplasia More Than Others?
The skeletal disease affects all breeds, as well as mixed breeds but it is more prevalent in larger dogs including:
- German Shepherds
- Labradors and Golden Retrievers
- St. Bernards
- Great Danes
Smaller breeds affected include:
- French Bulldogs
Treatment for Hip Joint Pain
Treatment very much depends on the size of your dog, his age and how far advanced the disease is. Therefore, the sooner hip dysplasia is diagnosed, the better.
This treatment includes physical therapy, medication, and homeopathy as a way of managing it. Other factors, like diet and weight, are looked at too.
Conservative treatments for hip dysplasia in dogs include:
- Pain medications
- Dietary supplements
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Physical therapy, hydrotherapy, and massages
- Weight management
Exercise is important; however, some activities are better for your dog than others.
Low impact activities like swimming, walking, and jogging are recommended as these help build the muscle. But running and jumping are discouraged.
Also, ensure your dog isn’t jumping on and off beds or sofas and limit stair climbing as much as possible.
Surgery is an option that your vet will recommend depending on your dog’s age and the severity of the disease.
Surgery treatments include:
Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis
Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis has to be done when the dog is between 16 and weeks of age. There must also be no signs of arthritis.
By fusing two pelvic bones together, the other pelvic bones are able to develop properly.
As a result, the angle of the hips changes, which reduces the chances of osteoarthritis.
Triple Pelvic Osteotomy
A Triple Pelvic Osteotomy or TPO is often recommended for dogs younger than two years old.
The procedure involves repositioning the socket (acetabular) to create a tighter fit for the ball. This results in less tension and movement, reducing the risk of osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia.
Femoral Head Ostectomy
Femoral Head Ostectomy is when the ball part of the ball and socket is removed completely. Because there is no bone contact, there is no pain.
This procedure is done on smaller dogs that weigh 50 pounds or less.
Total Hip Replacement
A total hip replacement is the most complex of all the procedures and is often considered the last resort.
With a THR, the ball and socket are replaced. It is the most effective surgery, especially for dogs with painful arthritis.
There are always possible risks when it comes to surgery, including dislocations, nerve damage, and infections. Also, implants can become loose over time.
The Top FAQs for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
What Causes Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia in dogs is genetic or it can be a result of environmental factors. Also, if a dog has osteoarthritis and it isn’t treated, hip dysplasia can develop.
What are the Symptoms associated with Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
There are a number of symptoms to look out for. Clinical signs are pain and weakness in the back legs. There is often discomfort when a dog stands from a lying or sitting position and movement gradually slows down.
Depending on the severity, it could be painful to the touch. If an older dog has late onset hip dysplasia as a result of arthritis, he will jump differently and avoid physical activity.
Can Small Dogs Get Hip Dysplasia?
It is commonly thought that only large and giant breeds are prone to hip dysplasia but any size dog can have hip joint issues.
If for example, a small dog is bred for specific traits such as short legs, it is more likely to have problems.
Should you notice your little dog displaying any of the signs mentioned previously, he may be experiencing the onset of hip dysplasia.
How is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs Diagnosed?
There are a number of ways to diagnose the bone disease but hip x-rays are the most noninvasive.
A blood chemical profile can be done as well as a joint laxity check.
If you think your dog has hip dysplasia, it is important for your vet to do x-rays immediately.
What Treatments for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs are Available?
The course of treatment depends on the size, age, the progression of the disease and the amount of discomfort your dog is in.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs are an effective way of treating hip dysplasia, with the least side effects.
Massages, physical therapy, and hydrotherapy are also used to manage the disease.
What Happens If NSAIDs Don’t Work?
Unfortunately, if NSAIDs don’t work, the only other option is surgery.
There are a few procedures available, with the most common being triple pelvic osteotomy in younger dogs without arthritis, and FHO or femoral head ostectomy for dogs that are older.
Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis is for very young pups, aged between 16 and 20 weeks, and there is also a total hip replacement.
What Can Be Done to Reduce the Risks of Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia in dogs is common.
However, larger breeds and puppies that are considered high-risk should be on special growth feed diets and nutritional supplements.
To find out which is the best for your pup, large breed or senior dog, you can speak to your vet.
What Is An OFA Certification?
One of the first things to do if you’re planning on adding a large or giant breed pup to your family is to make sure the parents are certified as not having hip dysplasia.
The Orthopedic Foundation of Animals or OFA is able to do this for you. Should the parents of a puppy you want not be OFA certified, it is best to choose a different breeder.
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How to Prevent Hip Joint Pain in Dogs
While there isn’t much you can do to prevent hip dysplasia, especially if your dog is susceptible to it, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of it and its progression.
Find a responsible breeder
It goes without saying you should always use a responsible breeder, but even more so when it comes to conditions like hip dysplasia.
Puppy mill breeders have no regard for the genetic health of the male and female dogs and will have very little knowledge of lineage.
If you discover your dog has hip dysplasia, you should not breed it out and the parents of your puppy shouldn’t be bred again.
Nutrition and Diet
Owning a dog is a huge responsibility and it often starts before you have even chosen the dog you want. Finding out as much as possible about a breed’s nutritional needs is important, as is understanding its growth patterns.
For example, feeding a dog that is prone to hip dysplasia a high protein, high-calorie diet is wrong – the rapid weight gain will increase their chances of getting the disease because the muscles and bones grow too quickly.
Also, feeding your dog too much will result in weight gain and obesity. This places additional and unnecessary pressure on the hip joints, exacerbating the disease.
Balanced and Low-Impact Exercise
Too much of a good thing can be bad, especially when it comes to your dog, hip dysplasia, and exercise.
Large breeds and dogs predisposed to the condition shouldn’t do vigorous or high-impact activities like jumping. Any exercise that puts a strain on his back legs should be avoided as it will lead to a deterioration of the joints and speed up the advancement of the disease.
Jumping and off sofas and beds or climbing stairs will also put unnecessary strain on a dog’s hind legs. Low impact activities like swimming and walking are encouraged.
If your dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia or osteoarthritis, your vet can advise on the best nutrition and exercise to manage it, and slow down its progression.
Keep Him Warm
Arthritis in people and animals is the same thing, and just as the condition worsens when a person is cold, it is the same for your dog.
Make sure he is kept warm with a dog sweater during the day and additional blankets at night.
Finding out that your dog has this painful and sometimes debilitating disease can be devastating, however, if treated and managed, the majority of dogs are able to lead normal lives.
Your vet will assist with a treatment plan including nutrition, moderate exercise and the correct medications to ensure your dog’s quality of life.