Hip dysplasia are two words that terrify large- and giant-breed dog owners, but the truth is that canine hip dysplasia can happen to any size or breed of dog. This painful condition can drastically reduce a dog’s quality of life and is difficult for owners to watch. The good news is that embracing responsible dog ownership and educating yourself about potential health conditions like hip dysplasia can go a long way toward keeping your dog comfortable.
Learn what all owners should know about hip dysplasia in dogs, including the symptoms, treatment options, and preventative measures you can take to keep your dog healthy, happy, and active.
What Is Canine Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia is a common skeletal condition, often seen in large or giant breed dogs, although it can occur in smaller breeds, as well. To understand how the condition works, owners first must 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, and they rub and grind 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 larger dogs, like the Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Labrador Retriever, and German Shepherd Dog. Factors such as excessive growth rate, types of exercise, improper weight, and unbalanced nutrition can magnify this genetic predisposition.
Some 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 giving a dog too much or too little exercise. 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 them in good physical condition.
Glucosamine for Dogs With Joint Disease
Large 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 supplement with a veterinarian-grade dose of glucosamine and chondroitin.
You can also purchase supplements with these ingredients for dogs that might be prone to developing arthritis and hip dysplasia down the line. Joint supplements are often used as an early intervention and throughout the progression of arthritis, as they are safe for long-term use in most patients. While research is still limited, these supplements may help reduce 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. Others develop it in conjunction with osteoarthritis as they age. In both cases, there are a few symptoms that 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
- 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
- Stiffness or limping
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’s up to owners to let veterinarians know that when dogs are experiencing discomfort.
One of the first things that your veterinarian may 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 or 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
- Joint supplements
- Anti-inflammatory medications (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, 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 function of the ball and socket joint is improved 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. This results in the body creating a “false” joint that reduces the discomfort associated with hip dysplasia. While FHO does not recreate normal hip function, 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. This returns 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. However, 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 will give them 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 appropriate levels of exercise and a healthy canine diet will prevent obesity, which is a major contributing factor to hip dysplasia. Also, obesity causes many other health problems in dogs, so hold off on the table scraps and fatty foods.
As a prospective owner of a new dog, do your research on the breed of your choice. Find a responsible breeder that does the appropriate health screenings, such as radiographs for hip dysplasia and more.
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 may be affected, talk to your veterinarian. Treatment options and lifestyle changes you can make to keep your dog comfortable well into old age.