hip dysplasia in dogs

Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Treatment, Symptoms and Prevention Tips

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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.

Normal dog hips

Normal dog hips

Bilateral hip dysplasia in dogs

Bilateral hip dysplasia in dogs

What Is Dog Hip Dysplasia?

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.

hip dysplasia in dogs 3

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.

Hip Dysplasia Symptoms 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.

hip dysplasia in dogs 4

Breeds Susceptible to Hip Dysplasia

Large and giant breeds are the most common victims of hip dysplasia, but it can strike any dog – regardless of its size or breed.

Nevertheless, the following breeds are among the most commonly afflicted:

  • English bulldog
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Neapolitan mastiff
  • Bernard
  • Black Russian terrier
  • Cane Corso
  • Argentine Dogo
  • Presa Canario
  • American bulldog
  • Bloodhound
  • Pitbull
  • Boxer
  • Newfoundland
  • Bullmastiff
  • Rottweiler
  • Chesapeake Bay retriever
  • Labrador retriever
  • Chow chow
  • Norwegian elkhound
  • German shepherd
  • Old English sheepdog
  • English setter
  • Akita
  • Great Dane

Note that the breeds listed above do not all experience the same relative risk. Some of the breeds exhibit extraordinarily high incidences of hip dysplasia, while others are only affected in a small percentage of cases. While large breed dogs are most commonly afflicted, it is still a good idea to ask your vet what the risk level is for your breed of dog.

For example, according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animalsmore than 73 percent of the (English) bulldogs who were examined suffered from hip dysplasia.

Similarly, more than 50 percent of the Dogue de Bordeauxs and otterhunds examined were diagnosed with hip dysplasia.

By contrast, only about 11 percent of the boxers and 12 percent of the Great Danes examined by the foundation were diagnosed with the condition. And while you may not think that one-out-of-ten odds were very reassuring, they are certainly better than the odds for many of the other breeds on the list.

Mixed-breed dogs can also suffer from hip dysplasia, so no dog can be categorically described as “safe” from hip dysplasia.

However, the foundation has examined 169 Italian greyhounds to date, and nary a one has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, so they may represent one of the least likely breeds to suffer from the condition.

hip dysplasia in dogs

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.

dogs with hip dysplasia 3

Treatment for 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.

Weight Loss

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 Therapy

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.

Joint-Supporting Supplements

There are a variety of joint-supporting supplements available that may help protect the cartilage in your dog’s hips and restore some of that which has been lost. Many, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, also appear to have an anti-inflammatory effect, which provides further value. These anti-inflammatory medications could be very helpful in treating your dog’s dysplasia and also their pain.

Be sure to check out our comprehensive discussion of glucosamine and check out our recommendations for the best hip and joint supplements on the market.

Pain Medications

There are a variety of pain medications 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.

Surgery

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!

man with dog

Home Treatment for Canine Hip Dysplasia

While you will hopefully be able to treat and alleviate your dog’s hip problems entirely, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, you’ll simply have to make adjustments to your dog’s daily routine to help limit her pain and discomfort as much as possible and to help her get around.

Some of the best home treatments dog hip dysplasia include:

Using Slings and Mobility Aids

There are a variety of slings and mobility aids available that can help your dog get around better, no matter how bad her hips get.

Most such devices are very affordable, and they can drastically improve your dog’s quality of life, so they deserve serious consideration from owners of dogs with dysplasia.

Be sure to check out our comprehensive review of the best dog slings and mobility aids to find some of the best options available.

Rearranging Your Home

There are likely a number of ways you can rearrange the furniture (as well as your dog’s bed, food and water dishes) to help make things easier on your mobility-limited dog.

For example, try to give your dog a straight, unimpeded path between her major activity centers (her bed, her favorite place on the couch, her food bowl, etc.). With less things in the way, the less walking will be necessary to get where they need to go, and the less unnecessary strain will be put on their pelvis and hips.

Providing Your Dog with Stairs and Ramps

You never want to make your dog jump up or down very far if she is suffering from dysplastic hips. This means you’ll want to provide her with stairs or ramps so that she can access everything she needs to over the course of the day.

Ramps are generally easier for dogs to negotiate than stairs, but stairs can be more effective in tight spaces.

Providing Your Dog with an Orthopedic Mattress

good orthopedic dog bed will help give your dog a comfortable place to sleep, and the best models will cradle her hips and keep them warm throughout the night. Providing this type of comfort may even help her to get around better in the mornings.

We’ve reviewed the best orthopedic mattresses before, so be sure to check out our recommendations before making a purchase.

Fit Your Dog with Booties

Some dogs with hip dysplasia can have trouble gripping slick tile and hardwood floors. This can cause them additional pain and discomfort as they try to get around, and it can even lead to falls, which may cause injuries. But you can help your dog get a grip by fitting her with no-slip dog booties.

dog playing

Preventing 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.

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.

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.

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 the medical professionals.

dog running

Wrap-Up

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 the 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.

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X-ray photos from Wikipedia.

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