Hip dysplasia in dogs is a potentially serious health problem, which can drastically reduce your dog’s quality of life. It can, among other things, limit your pet’s mobility, cause her significant pain and lead to depression.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help treat the condition in your canine, and in some cases, prevent it from manifesting at all. With plenty of compassion and effort on your part, you can usually ensure that your pet still enjoys a long, happy life.
Below, we’ll explain the basics of hip dysplasia in dogs, detail some of the risks you’ll want to avoid, outline some clinical signs to look out for, and provide a few treatment options you can discuss with your vet.
What Is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
Hip dysplasia occurs when a dog’s hip joints do not develop properly. Afflicted dogs typically have very shallow hip sockets, that do not form the tight ball-in-socket joint (known as the acetabulum) that properly formed hips should. Often, this “shallow” socket that does not fully cover the femoral head.
If the acetabulum does not cover the femoral head effectively, this will prevent the dog’s legs from moving properly, and it often causes the bones in the socket to grind against each other. It can also lead to the destruction of the cartilage in the joint – a condition known as osteoarthritis. This causes further pain, discomfort, and reduced mobility.
Additionally, abnormal muscles in a dog’s back, hips and legs can also cause hip dysplasia in dogs. In such cases, the muscles can fail to hold the leg in the proper position, which can lead to pain and reduced mobility.
What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
Dog hip dysplasia is generally considered a genetic (inherited) condition. Unlike some other genetic conditions, which are the result of a single gene mutation, hip dysplasia appears to be polygenetic – meaning that several different genes interact to produce the condition.
This means that hip dysplasia in dogs generally occurs within familial lines. If one of your dog’s parents or siblings has hip dysplasia, your pet is at greater risk of suffering from the condition too.
However, this doesn’t mean that your pet is guaranteed to develop the condition, either. It really comes down to a roll of the dice (actually, several rolls of several dice).
It could be the case that your canine’s hip socket is absolutely fine, despite a genetic predisposition to the disease. However, it is always a good idea to keep an eye out for signs of hip problems, especially in older dogs.
There are also environmental factors that factor into the issue. Not all dogs that are predisposed to the condition will actually develop it. This is because veterinarians and researchers believe that things like a dog’s diet, activity level, and other factors can play a roll in canine hip health.
Accordingly, you’ll want to know if your dog is one of the breeds that are at high risk for dysplasia, or if she has any close relatives with the condition. This will allow you to take steps to prevent the problem. It is always best to keep an eye out for any signs of hip conditions, especially if your dog has these unfortunate genetics.
You should also monitor her for the first sign of symptoms so that you can try to limit the progression of the disease or prevent it from developing at all. Thus, it is very important to know the symptoms of hip dysplasia, which we will cover next.
Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Hip dysplasia can cause a number of symptoms in dogs, and some dogs will exhibit unusual symptoms that aren’t often associated with the condition. Some dogs may never develop symptoms at all, despite having hips that appear malformed.
Nevertheless, it is very important to know the symptoms of hip dysplasia so that you can identify them as soon as they become noticeable in your canine.
Some of the most common dog hip dysplasia symptoms include:
- Laxity (looseness) of the hip joint
- Aversion to walking, running, jumping or playing
- Difficulty getting up, laying down or moving around
- Reluctance to go up or down steps. Intermittent or constant lameness in the hind legs
- “Bunny hopping” walking or running with the back legs moving synchronously rather than individually
- Standing with the rear legs close together
- Obvious hip pain
- Decreased range of motion in the hip joint
- Reduced thigh muscle mass
- Enlarged shoulder muscles, which develop in response to the increased burden placed on the front limbs
- Unexplained lethargy or depression
- Vocalizing while running or playing
- It is quite important as a dog owner to keep an eye out for these signs of hip dysplasia. If you notice any of these, a visit to your vet is a good idea.
Treatment for Canine Hip Dysplasia
While hip dysplasia is certainly a dreaded diagnosis, there are a number of ways it can be treated. Some of these treatments will obviously require your veterinarian’s assistance, but you can implement a few treatment strategies at home. Obviously, non-surgical treatment is very preferable, so hopefully one of these treatments will work for your dog.
The more your dog weighs, the more stress will be placed on her joints. Accordingly, it is important to keep her body weight within the ideal range to avoid any unnecessary stress or pain. Your dog’s diet might be the key to preventing and treating their hip dysplasia.
Just be sure to help your dog lose weight gradually – don’t put her on a crash diet. She didn’t become overweight overnight, so it will take time for her to slim down.
Physical therapists can put your dog through a variety of stretches, teach you both exercises and massage her aching muscles to help reduce pain and inflammation. These techniques may also help to improve her range of motion.
There are a variety of pain medications and joint supplements that may help your dog – just be sure to contact your vet before offering any medicine (including over-the-counter varieties) to your dog.
After ascertaining your dog’s condition, your vet may find that NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen and similar drugs) may be sufficient to help her, but in some cases, opioid medications may be necessary.
In cases of severe hip dysplasia, surgical treatment may be required. There are a number of different surgical options available, ranging from minimally invasive, arthroscopic procedures, to a total hip replacement.
These are worst-case-scenario options, and you certainly want to do everything you can to avoid surgical treatment becoming a necessity. So pay careful attention to your dog, take any preventative measures you can, and take them to a vet at the first signs of discomfort.
Surgery is never cheap, but it’s hard to put a price on your dog’s health and happiness. Note that the sooner you have your dog evaluated, the more likely it is that minor surgery will suffice, so always contact your vet at the first sign of dysplasia. A total hip replacement is the last thing you would want, so be sure to take them to a vet sooner rather than later!
How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Treating and managing hip dysplasia in dogs can help keep your dog feeling her best, but it is always wisest to avoid the problem entirely. So it is not a bad idea to start preventative measures even in young dogs, and your older dogs will thank you for it.
While few things will completely eliminate the possibility that your dog will develop the condition, there are a few things you can do to help improve her odds.
1. Scrutinizing Dogs Carefully Before Making Your Purchase
If you are planning on purchasing a breed that commonly suffers from hip dysplasia, be sure to inquire about the health of the parents (and other relatives to the extent that it is possible). Knowing a dog’s genetic history is always good to know when trying to predict a dog’s health ailments.
Most well-intentioned breeders will withhold dogs with hip dysplasia from breeding projects and many will be able to provide documentation demonstrating that the parents have been screened for hip dysplasia and judged healthy.
2. Visit Your Vet Early and Often
The earlier your vet diagnoses hip dysplasia, the more treatment options that are available. Additionally, early treatment can help prevent the progression of the disease.
The best way to ensure an early diagnosis is to visit your vet early and often, even with your young dogs, and to communicate any troubling symptoms that you may observe.
3. Consider Delaying Spay and Neuter Operations
There is some evidence that suggests that early spaying or neutering can lead to the development of hip dysplasia.
However, early alterations can also reduce the chances that your dog will suffer other health problems, including some cancers. So, it is important to discuss your plans with your vet and heed his or her advice. This can be a complicated decision, so it is really best left to medical professionals.
Conditions That Are Sometimes Confused with Hip Dysplasia
It’s important to understand that there are a few other conditions that can mimic hip dysplasia.
This highlights the importance of having your dog evaluated by a veterinarian if you suspect she may be suffering from the disease. After all, you don’t want to begin trying to treat your dog for hip dysplasia, only to find that she is suffering from a completely different condition. So while you may think you know the signs of hip issues in your dog, a visit to the vet is always a good idea, rather than self-diagnosing.
Some of the health problems that are most commonly confused with hip dysplasia in dogs include:
- Cauda equine syndrome– This condition occurs when the nerves near the base of a dog’s spine become damaged or pinched. Symptoms include rear leg pain, limping and incontinence, among other things.
- Damaged anterior cruciate ligaments– The anterior cruciate ligament is located inside your dog’s knee, and it is responsible for keeping the shin bone in place. Dogs can damage this ligament fairly easily during vigorous activity.
- Osteochondritisdissecans– Characterized by cracked or damaged cartilage and bone, this disease is typically caused by blood-flow interruptions to the afflicted area. Pain, inflammation and impaired mobility are the most common symptoms of this disease.
- Elbow dysplasia – Elbow dysplasia is very similar to hip dysplasia in dogs, except that it affects a different joint. However, it elicits symptoms that closely mimic hip dysplasia in some cases.
Summing Up Canine Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a fear for many dog owners. You should know the risks that accompany your breed, and take measures to reduce the risk level throughout your dog’s life. Additionally, know the symptoms so that you can minimize the effect of hip dysplasia if possible. Hip dysplasia can progress into arthritis, and even require drastic surgeries such as a total hip replacement.
Knowing the signs and knowing the risks is half the battle, and you owe it to your dog to keep a careful eye on them and keep their hips in top shape!
Have you ever cared for a dog with hip dysplasia? We’d love to hear about your experiences – particularly any treatments you tried that proved effective. Let us know all about your pet’s struggles with this disease in the comments below.
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.