Hip dysplasia. These two words terrify large and giant breed dog owners, and with good reason. This condition can drastically reduce a dog's quality of life and is painful for owners to watch. The good news is that embracing the responsibilities of owning a large dog breed, and educating yourself about potential health conditions like hip dysplasia, can go a long way toward keeping your dog comfortable.
Here is what all dog owners should know about hip dysplasia, including the symptoms, treatment options, and preventative measures you can take to keep your dog healthy, happy, and active.
What Is Canine Hip Dysplasia?
Canine hip dysplasia is a common skeletal condition, especially in large or giant breed dogs, although it can occur in smaller breeds, as well. In order to understand how the disease works, owners first need to understand the basic anatomy of the hip joint.
The hip joint functions as a ball and socket. In dogs with hip dysplasia, this joint fails to develop properly, rubbing and grinding instead of sliding smoothly. This results in deterioration over time and an eventual loss of function of the joint itself.
What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
There are several factors that lead to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs, beginning with genetics. Hip dysplasia is hereditary and is especially common in large and giant breed dogs, like the Great Dane, St. Bernard, Labrador Retriever, and German Shepherd Dog. This genetic predisposition can be amplified by environmental factors, such as excessive growth, exercise, your dog's weight and your dog's nutrition.
Large and giant breed puppies have special nutrition requirements and need specially formulated large breed puppy foods. These foods help prevent excessive growth, which can lead to skeletal disorders like hip dysplasia, along with elbow dysplasia and other joint conditions. Slowing down these breeds’ growth allows their joints to develop without putting too much strain on them, helping to prevent problems down the line. Keep in mind, hip dysplasia is not limited to large or giant dog breeds.
Improper nutrition can also influence a dog’s likelihood of developing hip dysplasia, as can too much exercise – or too little. Obesity puts a lot of stress on your dog’s joints, which can exacerbate a pre-existing condition like hip dysplasia or even cause hip dysplasia. Talk to your vet about the best diet for your dog and the appropriate amount of exercise your dog needs each day to keep him in good physical condition.
Owners of small dogs are not off the hook either. Small and medium breed dogs can also develop hip dysplasia, although it is less common.
Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Some dogs begin to show signs of hip dysplasia as young as four months of age, while other dogs develop it in conjunction with osteoarthritis as they age. In both cases, there are quite a few symptoms associated with hip dysplasia that larger breed dog owners should be familiar with. These symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the disease, the level of inflammation, the degree of looseness in the joint, and how long the dog has suffered from hip dysplasia.
- Decreased activity
- Decreased range of motion
- Difficulty or reluctance rising, jumping, running, or climbing stairs
- Lameness in the hind end
- Looseness in the joint
- Narrow stance
- Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait
- Grating in the joint during movement
- Loss of thigh muscle mass
- Noticeable enlargement of the shoulder muscles as they compensate for the hind end
Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
At your dog’s regular checkup, your veterinarian will most likely perform a physical exam. Sometimes this exam is enough for your veterinarian to suspect hip dysplasia. In other cases, it is up to you, as the owner, to let your veterinarian know that your dog is experiencing discomfort.
If you or your veterinarian suspects hip dysplasia, one of the first things that your veterinarian will do is perform a complete physical exam. He or she will test the flexibility of the joint. He or she will manipulate your dog’s hind legs to test the looseness of the joint and to check for any grinding, pain, or reduced range of motion.
The definitive diagnosis usually comes with a radiograph (x-ray). Your veterinarian will take radiographs of your dog’s hips to determine the degree and severity of the hip dysplasia, which will help him determine the best course of treatment for your dog.
Treating Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
There are quite a few treatment options for hip dysplasia in dogs, ranging from lifestyle modifications to surgery.
If your dog’s hip dysplasia is not severe, or if your dog is not a candidate for surgery for medical or financial reasons, your veterinarian may recommend a non-surgical approach. Depending on your dog’s case, the vet may suggest the following:
- Weight reduction to take stress off of the hips
- Exercise restriction, especially on hard surfaces
- Physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory medications (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), aspirin, corticosteroids)
- Joint fluid modifiers
If your dog is a good candidate for surgery, there are more options. While there are quite a few different surgical strategies, the most common surgeries veterinarians use to treat hip dysplasia in dogs are:
- Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO)
- Femoral head ostectomy (FHO)
- Total hip replacement (THR)
DPO/TPO surgery is usually performed in young dogs under 10 months old. In this surgery, the surgeon improves the function of the ball and socket joint by selectively cutting the pelvic bone and rotating the segments.
FHO surgery can be performed on young and mature dogs. The surgery involves cutting off the femoral head, or "ball," of the hip joint, which results in the body creating a “false” joint that reduces the discomfort associated with hip dysplasia. FHO does not recreate normal hip function, but it can be a successful pain management strategy.
The most effective surgical treatment for hip dysplasia in dogs is a total hip replacement. The surgeon replaces the entire joint with metal and plastic implants, returning hip function to a more normal range and eliminating most of the discomfort associated with hip dysplasia.
Preventing Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Not all cases of hip dysplasia can be prevented, but there are some things that you can do to reduce your dog’s risk of developing this disease.
Keeping your dog’s skeletal system healthy should start when your dog is young. Feeding your puppy an appropriate diet, especially if you have a large breed puppy, will give her a head start on healthy bone and joint development and prevent the excessive growth that leads to the disease.
As your dog grows, providing her with appropriate levels of exercise and a healthy diet will prevent obesity, which is a major contributing factor to hip dysplasia. Obesity also causes many other health problems in dogs, from diabetes to elbow dysplasia, so hold off on the table scraps and other fatty foods.
Large breed and giant breed dog foods often contain joint supplements like glucosamine, and you can also purchase additional glucosamine supplements for dogs that might be prone to developing arthritis and hip dysplasia down the line. While the research is limited, these supplements may help reduce the symptoms of hip dysplasia.
The best way that breeders can prevent hereditary hip dysplasia is to screen their breeding dogs for the disease. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) health testing can help breeders determine the condition of their dogs’ hips, ensuring that they only breed dogs with normal grade hip joints.
Prognosis For Dogs With Hip Dysplasia
Dogs with hip dysplasia often lead long, full lives, especially with treatment. If you think that your dog has hip dysplasia, or if your dog has recently been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, talk to your veterinarian about the treatment options and lifestyle changes you can make to keep your dog comfortable well into old age.