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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, 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 and provide a few treatment options you can discuss with your vet.
Normal dog hips
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 that properly formed hips should.
This poorly formed joint prevents 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).
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 food, activity level and other factors can play a roll in your dog’s hip health.
Accordingly, you’ll want to know if your dog is one of the breeds that is 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.
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.
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.
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 pain in the hip joint
- 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
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
- St. Bernard
- Black Russian terrier
- Cane corso
- Argentine dogo
- Presa Canario
- American bulldog
- Pit bull
- Chesapeake Bay retriever
- Labrador retriever
- Chow chow
- Norwegian elkhound
- German shepherd
- Old English sheepdog
- English setter
- 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.
For example, according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, more 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.
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.
Some of the health problems that are most commonly confused with hip dysplasia in dogs include:
- Cauda equina 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.
- Osteochondritis dissecans – 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
In severe cases, hip dysplasia in dogs may require surgery. There are a number of different surgical options available, ranging from minimally invasive, arthroscopic procedures to complete hip replacement.
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.
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.).
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 hip dysplasia. 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
A good orthopedic mattress 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 booties.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.