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hip dysplasia hero

Hip dysplasia. These two words terrify large and giant breed dog owners, but the truth is hip dysplasia can happen to any size dog. 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, such as 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, more common in large or giant breed dogs, although it can occur in smaller breeds, as well. 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, the ball and socket do not fit or 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?

Several factors 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, Saint Bernard, Labrador Retriever, and German Shepherd Dog. Factors such as excessive growth rate, types of exercise, and improper weight and nutrition can magnify this genetic predisposition.

Large and giant breed puppies have special nutrition requirements and need food specially formulated for large breed puppies. These foods help prevent excessive growth, which can lead to skeletal disorders such as 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.

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 such as 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.

Glucosamine for Dogs

Large breed and giant breed dog foods often contain joint supplements like glucosamine. If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with arthritis, glucosamine will likely be part of a comprehensive treatment plan. They will most likely recommend a chewable, veterinarian grade dose of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM.

You can also purchase additional glucosamine supplements, like NaturVet’s ArthriSoothe-GOLD, 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.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Some dogs begin to show signs of hip dysplasia when they are 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
  • Pain
  • Stiffness

Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

At your dog’s regular checkup, your veterinarian will 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 suspect hip dysplasia, one of the first things that your veterinarian will do is 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. Your dog’s physical exam may include blood work because inflammation due to joint disease can be indicated in the complete blood count. Your veterinarian will also need a history of your dog’s health and symptoms, any possible incidents or injuries that may have contributed to these symptoms, and any information you have about your dog’s parentage.

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 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 nonsurgical 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 less than 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 steps you can take 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 help 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.

Foods for large and giant breed dogs often contain joint supplements, such as 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 on their effectiveness is limited, some veterinarians believe that these supplements may help reduce the symptoms of hip dysplasia.

As a prospective purchaser of a new dog, do your research on the breed of your choice and find an AKC responsible breeder that does the appropriate health screenings for that breed, such as radiographs for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, etc.

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 hip joints rated normal grade or higher.

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.

NaturVet offers joint supplements for every stage of your pet’s life; Level 1 for younger pets prior to visible signs of joint issues, Level 2 for adult pets, large breeds and overweight pets. Level 3 ArthriSoothe-GOLD for senior pets and when the most support is needed.  ArthriSoothe-GOLD is clinically tested* to increase activity and is veterinarian formulated with glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), chondroitin, and green-lipped mussel to support joint movement and the lubrication of joints. *In a 70-dog study, dogs on ArthriSoothe-GOLD had 2.6 greater odds of showing an increase in activity after 25 days (relative to baseline activity), compared to dogs on a placebo. Results may vary.
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