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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Do you have a large or giant breed dog? If so, chances are you’ve heard of hip dysplasia, a painful disease that affects the canine hip joint. 

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a troubling condition for people who own bigger breeds, such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, St. Bernards and Great Danes. While these larger breeds are more at risk for this disease, smaller dogs are not immune. But what exactly is hip dysplasia, can you avoid it, and if your dog does develop it, what should you do?

What is canine hip dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia is a developmental orthopedic disease that involves a dog’s hip or coxofemoral joint. In a normal hip joint, a ball and socket (acetabulum) move together smoothly and snugly. The rounded femur end fits perfectly inside the joint and allows for easy, smooth movement. 

But for dogs with hip displasia, the joint may not fit snugly but rather rub and grind and even start to pull away from the socket as the disease progresses. All of this causes your dog discomfort and makes it difficult to move the hip freely.

Some puppies show symptoms early in life, by 4 months of age. Other dogs develop problems later as a result of inflammation in the joint (arthritis) or osteoarthritis. Over time, the inflammation leads to deterioration of the cartilage in the joint.

What causes canine hip dysplasia?

Genetics can predispose a dog to developing hip dysplasia, such as looseness in the hips, but there are other factors you can control. Doing the following can lower your pet’s risk:

  • Watch and control your pet’s weight because obesity puts pressure on the hip joints.
  • Feed your large breed puppy or young dog kibble or pet food formulated for larger breeds to control the speed of growth (and to help control excessive growth). This avoids too much strain on the joints as they develop.
  • Provide the right amount of exercise, as too much or too little can both cause hip problems. Keep in mind that young dogs usually develop strong muscles after 12 months of age, but their bone and joint structure may still be developing.

Breeders also usually screen their dogs for hereditary hip dysplasia to help prevent it from happening in the first place. They can choose the best dogs to breed by testing for normal grade hips with Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) health tests. If you are working with a breeder to adopt a new puppy into your home, be sure to ask about whether this testing has been done.

What are symptoms of canine hip dysplasia?

Dogs can suffer from acute or chronic hip dysplasia. The acute stage generally affects young dogs, causing intense hip pain and lameness that can range from mild to severe. These symptoms can last for weeks or months. 

Once hip dysplasia becomes chronic, it continues to be painful but also reduces the range of motion in the hips. Arthritis also develops and continues to  worsen over time. Hip dysplasia can move from an acute to a chronic stage within a year of a puppy’s life or it can develop slowly over the years.

This degenerative joint disease can affect dogs in vastly different ways. Some dogs with significant hip dysplasia and arthritis hardly show any symptoms while other dogs suffer from debilitating arthritis.

Generally, dogs experiencing pain from hip dysplasia will move in ways that compensate for instability in the hip. As the joint deteriorates, a dog may favor one side, stand with legs close together or run with both feet hitting the ground at the same time (bunny hops).

Other clinical signs include:

  • Less energy 
  • Pain and stiffness
  • Hesitation or resistance to movement
  • Difficulty standing,  running, jumping  or climbing stairs
  • Lameness in the back legs
  • Loss of muscle mass in the thigh (and potentially a larger shoulder to compensate)

In severe cases that are not addressed, the joint may no longer function at all. But if you address the problem, there are various treatment options you can discuss with your veterinarian.

How is canine hip dysplasia diagnosed?

You can talk to your veterinarian at your dog’s annual checkup or if you notice signs of problems, make an appointment.  It’s best if you can tell the veterinarian when you first noted any discomfort in your dog and also whether any particular injury or incident could have caused or worsened it.

The veterinarian will do a physical exam by gently manipulating the hind leg to test the range of motion in the joint. He or she will look for signs of pain during the exam, as well as looseness in the joint or grinding.

It’s common for the veterinarian to order x-rays to make a firm diagnosis, which also helps further to gauge the severity of the problem and best treatment.

A physical exam may also include:

  • Urinalysis
  • Complete blood count
  • Electrolyte panel
  • Blood chemical profile

What are treatment options for canine hip dysplasia?

If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with hip dysplasia, there are a variety of treatment options. In some cases, a change in diet or level of exercise may be all that is needed to control the symptoms of this condition. In other cases, surgery may be recommended.

Depending on the severity of the condition, including the degree of osteoarthritis, non-surgical options may be considered. One the most common first steps is weight reduction, which takes pressure off your dog’s hips. Physical therapy may include swimming, which is great exercise without putting as much pressure on your dog’s joints. You may be asked to restrict the length of walks and also consider if there are hiking trails or grassy surfaces rather than cement surfaces for walking to further ease pressure on the joints.

To reduce inflammation, your veterinarian also may suggest anti-inflammatory medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). You might also consider adding a joint supplement like glucosamine to your dog’s diet. This ingredient may help reduce hip pain and stiffness.

Your veterinarian may suggest daily supplements, and glucosamine is often an ingredient in large-breed dog foods.  

Does your dog need surgery? If so, it’s best to seek a board-certified veterinary surgeon. There are various surgical approaches to hip dysplasia, including:

  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO), a procedure generally performed in puppies. The surgeon strategically cuts the pelvic bone, fuses part of the pelvis together, and rotates the segments to improve the way the ball-and-socket joint functions. 
  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO), a procedure used for both young and older dogs. The surgeon cuts off the femoral head of the hip joint to create a new, false joint that doesn’t cause the dog as much discomfort.
  • Total hip replacement (THR) involves removing and replacing the entire joint with an implant, which is the best surgical approach for giving a dog full, normal function of the joint. This is often the best approach for older dogs with severe osteoarthritis.

If you have a dog with hip dysplasia, remember that it's a common condition with many available treatment options. Most dogs can live happily with the appropriate interventions. Work closely with your veterinarian to find the right remedies to ease your dog's discomfort.

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