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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Everything You Want To Know

Chances are if you have a large breed dog you've heard of hip dysplasia. The disease of the hip joint is prevalent in larger dogs, causing them an incredible amount of pain, and can be heartwrenching for a pet parent to watch.  

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is more commonly diagnosed in breeds such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, St. Bernards, and Great Danes. However, small breeds are not immune to the disease.

Luckily, there are ways to prevent the condition from developing and things to look out for in order to ensure that it doesn't progress and worsen. The more information that pet parents know regarding hip dysplasia in dogs, the better equipped they can be at ensuring their beloved four-legged companion lives a long, healthy life. Let's get started!

What is Hip Dysplasia

hip dysplasia in dogs

Hip dysplasia is an orthopedic disease that affects the dog’s hip or coxofemoral joint. In order to understand how hip dysplasia develops, dog owners should have a basic understanding of the anatomy of the hip.

The hip joint works as a ball and socket. In a healthy hip joint, the ball and socket (acetabulum) move together, sliding smoothly. The round end of the femur should fit inside of the joint and move snugly without friction. In dogs with hip dysplasia, the joint doesn't develop properly and the ball and socket grind and rub against one another. Over time, the constant grinding causes an overall deterioration and ultimately loss of function of the joint.

While hip dysplasia may sound like a disease that affects senior dogs, it is entirely possible for puppies to show symptoms of the disease. In other cases,  dogs develop problems later in life as a result of inflammation of the joint (also known as arthritis) or osteoarthritis.

Define Dysplasia

The word dysplasia comes from the Greek word dys-, meaning "bad" or "difficult" and plasis, meaning "formation." The term is used commonly in pathology to refer to an abnormality in development. 

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Studies have found that there are several factors that can lead to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs. The most common cause of hip dysplasia in dogs is solely based on genetics. Large breed dogs, such as the Great Dane, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retrievers, St. Bernard, and German Shepherd dogs are among those who are at a genetic predisposition for developing the disease.

Additionally, environmental factors, improper nutrition, as well as too much or too little exercise, are also factors when it comes to the development of hip dysplasia. Also, dogs that struggle with weight issues and obesity are at a higher risk of preexisting hip dysplasia rapidly worsening and are even responsible for the development of hip dysplasia in some cases.

Again, hip dysplasia can also affect smaller dog breeds, both males and females, and ultimately, dogs of all ages. Because no dog is fully immune from the disease, it is incredibly important that dog owners are aware of the clinical signs so that they can act appropriately in making sure it doesn't worsen.

what breeds are more susceptible to hip dysplasia in dogs

Dog Hip Dysplasia Symptoms

The clinical signs of the disease will vary on from dog to dog. Many symptoms will depend on whether the dog is suffering from acute or chronic hip dysplasia. Other symptoms are associated with the age that the disease is diagnosed and how long the dog has been continuing to put pressure on the damaged joints.

Acute hip dysplasia typically affects young dogs. It can cause them to experience severe hip pain and lameness. Even when the hip pain isn’t as intense, it is still generally presence and causes the dog discomfort. The varying stages of acute hip dysplasia can cause symptoms that last for months.

Within a year, an acute stage of hip dysplasia can become a chronic stage. The process can also develop slowly over time and take multiple years. When hip dysplasia becomes chronic, the varying degrees of pain continues and the range of motion within the hips become significantly reduced. This is the stage that arthritis develops and continues to worsen as time progresses.

All dogs will be affected somewhat differently as the degenerative joint disease develops. It is possible for some dogs with severe hip dysplasia and arthritis to exhibit little to no clinical signs of the disease. Other dogs may have horrific symptoms that greatly affect their quality of life.

As the disease progresses you will likely see the dog favoring one side of their body in order to compensate for instability in the hip. Some dogs also move in ways to put less pressure on the painful hip socket such as running with both hind limbs together, resembling a bunny hop.

Additional symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs include:

  • Significantly reduced energy levels
  • Pain, weakness, and stiffness
  • Hesitation or resistance to movement
  • Trouble standing, jumping, running, or climbing stairs
  • Lameness in the back legs
  • Loss of muscle mass in the thigh

Additionally, it is important to note that dogs are notorious for hiding pain. Therefore, if your dog is showing signs that they are in any amount of discomfort, chances are the pain is quite severe and whatever they are suffering from has significantly progressed. One of the very first signs of hip dysplasia is simply weakness in the hind legs and can be fairly easy for a dog to hide. Staying alert and aware of your dog's "normal" day-to-day habits is the first step in being able to recognize when something is off.

Furthermore, if hip dysplasia is caught at an early stage there are various treatment options available in order to prevent the disease from rapidly progressing and ensuring that your dog is in the least amount of pain as possible. Therefore, noticing that there may be an issue with your dog's hip joint early on is paramount in their recovery.

Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

If you notice any of the aforementioned clinical signs of hip dysplasia, we highly recommend making an appointment with your veterinarian. Some dog owners may think that they can wait to their dog's next annual checkup to bring up the concerns, but by that time the disease may have progressed into a stage that is causing your dog to be in pain. Addressing the issue from the earliest sign of its development is the best way of ensuring a proper treatment plan.

In order to properly diagnose hip dysplasia, your veterinarian will perform a series of tests. First, they will typically perform a physical exam that involves manipulating the hind legs to show the range of motion (or lack thereof) within the hip joint. The vet will also watch for any signs of pain as well as signs of grinding in the hip socket.

Next, the veterinarian will likely order x-rays to be done in order to make a final diagnosis as well as to see the progression of the disease and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Finally, it is not uncommon for the physical exam to also include the following tests:

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

All of these tests allow the vet to accurately diagnose your dog's condition and rule out any other possibilities for the symptoms. 

Treatment for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

hip dysplasia in dogs

Once the veterinarian has made a diagnosis, a treatment plan can be devised. Treating hip dysplasia will vary case by case and depend on the severity and progression of the disease.

In some cases of mild hip dysplasia, a change in the dog's diet and exercise regimen may be all that is needed in order to keep the symptoms controlled. In more severe cases of hip dysplasia, surgery may be recommended.

The following are nonsurgical treatment options that may be advised. Typically, the nonsurgical treatment options will be tried first and if they do not work, surgery will be the next step. Again, all cases of hip dysplasia are slightly different. 

Weight Loss

A reduction in the dog's weight is one of the commonly recommended nonsurgical options. Dogs that are overweight, particularly those that are obese, have a significant amount of pressure placed on their hips. The excess weight can lead to the progression of the joint disease and thus cause your dog to be in a significant amount of pain. Getting rid of any excess weight is an important part of hip dysplasia treatment.


Another common treatment for dogs with hip dysplasia is physical therapy such as swimming. Swimming is an effective form of exercise that doesn't put any unnecessary pressure on the dog's joints while still encouraging muscle activity.

Reduce Inflammation

In order to reduce the inflammation surrounding the hip joint, your vet may prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). 

However, we urge our readers to use NSAIDs with caution. The list of potential adverse reactions associated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for dogs is pretty horrifying. While you may be relieving their pain temporarily, NSAIDs have the ability to cause a slew of problems, some irreversible. Luckily, there are other options for easing your dog's pain. More on that in a minute.

Nutritional Supplements

Finally, if your dog has hip dysplasia we recommend looking into adding a supplement like glucosamine to their diet. Glucosamine can help reduce pain and overall stiffness associated with hip dysplasia.

If the aforementioned nonsurgical treatments don't work or in specific cases where reconstruction is possible, surgery will be advised. 

Double or Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (DPO/TPO)

A double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO) is typically performed on puppies who are diagnosed with the disease at an early age. The procedure entails cutting the pelvic bone, fusing part of the pelvis together, and rotating the segments. This method aims to improve the way the ball-and-socket joint functions.

Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO)

A femoral head osteotomy (FHO) is a procedure that is performed on young and old dogs. The procedure involves cutting the femoral head of the hip joint and creating a new, false joint. This method aims to relieve the dog of their preexisting pain.

Total Hip Replacement (THR)

A total hip replacement (THR) involves removing and replacing the entire joint with an implant. Experts state that a THR is the best surgical approach for giving a dog full, normal function of the joint. A total hip replacement surgery is typically performed on older dogs with severe osteoarthritis.

Additional Alternative Medicinal Options

Additionally, some pet parents choose means of alternative treatment such as acupuncture, class 4 laser, stem cell treatments, and traditional Chinese medicine in order to relieve their dog of the pain and inflammation associated with hip dysplasia.

We likely don't have to tell you that no two dogs are exactly alike. A form of treatment for one dog may work wonders and have virtually no effect on another dog. We encourage our readers to be open about the potential and possibilities of alternative medicine. If it means that Fido is out of pain and doesn't have to experience the adverse reactions of conventional drugs, isn't it worth a try?

Preventing Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Due to the fact that a primary cause of hip dysplasia in dogs is a genetic predisposition, not all cases of the disease can be prevented. However, with that said, there are several ways to prevent the disease from developing and/or worsening depending on the state of your pup.

Weight and Health

As we previously mentioned, maintaining a healthy weight and a nutritionally balanced diet is one of the easiest ways that pet parents can prevent hip dysplasia. Dogs that are obese have an exorbitant amount of excess weight that puts unnecessary pressure on their joints. Obesity also leads to a slew of other potential conditions such as cardiovascular issues, skeletal diseases, and elbow dysplasia. Ensuring that your dog maintains a healthy weight is an effective way to prevent the degenerative joint disease from developing and/or worsening.

Appropriate Excercise

Making sure that Fido has the appropriate amount of daily exercise goes hand in hand with maintaining a healthy weight and overall health. However, this doesn't only mean making sure Fido gets enough exercise, but also making sure your dog is over-exercised. Both a lack of and an excess of exercise have direct correlations with hip dysplasia. Luckily, they are both also easily avoidable. If you are unsure about the appropriate amount of exercise that your individual dog needs be sure to speak with your veterinarian.

Feed Specific Formulated Dog Food

Additionally, if you have a large breed puppy it is important to keep their skeletal health in mind from an early age. Feeding your puppy a specifically formulated diet will not only give them a head start on healthy joint development, but can also prevent excessive growth or growing too quickly, both of which lead to hip dysplasia.

Furthermore, if you own a puppy at a higher risk of developing hip dysplasia it is important to make sure that they are being fed an appropriate amount of food. One study of puppies at high risk for hip dysplasia found that 2/3 of the puppies that were allowed to eat as much as they wanted went on to develop hip dysplasia. Conversely, only 1/3 of the puppies who were fed measured meals went on to develop the disease.

Another study of at-risk puppies showed that overweight German Shephard puppies were nearly twice as likely to develop hip dysplasia compared to their healthy weight counterparts.

Joint Supplements

Also, as we previously mentioned, implementing a specifically formulated supplement to your dogs diet can prove to do wonders for their joint health. Supplements such as glucosamine can help prevent arthritis and hip dysplasia and dogs that are at a higher risk of the diseases. Studies have also found that supplements designed it for joint health can also reduce the symptoms associated with hip dysplasia.

Screen Breeding Dogs

Finally, if you are breeding large breed dogs, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent hereditary hip dysplasia. Advancements in science now allow breeders to be able to screen their dogs for the disease. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) has health testing that allows for breeders to know the condition of their dogs' hips before breeding them in order to prevent the hereditary disease from being passed onto puppies.

Prognosis For Dogs With Hip Dysplasia

When the disease is diagnosed in the early stages and a treatment plan is established, most dogs with hip dysplasia lead full, active lives. For this reason, among others, it is extremely important to get an accurate diagnosis from your veterinarian if you feel that your dog may have the disease. Chances are, with treatment and lifestyle changes, your dog will be able to continue living their best life.

hip dysplasia in dogs

Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: A Final Thought

At the end of the day, no one said that being a doting pet parent was going to be easy. In fact, recognizing that your beloved furry companion is in pain can be extremely hard for a pet parent. In many cases, hip dysplasia cannot be entirely prevented. However, by being able to recognize the early clinical signs of the disease, dog owners can ensure that they are able to act appropriately and in a timely manner in order to prevent any rapid progression.


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