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Hip Dysplasia: What Dog Owners Need to Know

Hip dysplasia, one of the most common skeletal diseases in dogs, is a hereditary disease characterized by the abnormal development of the acetubulum as well as the head of the femur. The hip joint is made up of the ball and socket.

Hip dysplasia develops through an interaction of both environmental and genetic factors, with multiple genes as well as a complicated pattern of inheritance for the disorder. Hip dysplasia often starts when a dog is young, usually at around four months of age, and occurs when the hip joints fail to develop as they should, and gradually deteriorate, until the hip joints cannot function properly.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

The symptoms of hip dysplasia depends on the degree of laxity or joint looseness, the duration of the disease, the degree of joint inflammation, as well as the following:

  • Early symptoms – joint looseness or laxity
  • Later symptoms - joint degeneration and osteoarthritis
  • Difficulty rising
  • Decreased activity
  • Persistent or intermittent lameness in the hind leg, often worse after activity
  • Reluctance to jump, run, or climb stairs
  • Back legs unnaturally close together when the dog stands
  • Swaying gait or “bunny hopping”
  • Pain in the hip joints
  • Reduced range of movement in the hip joints
  • Grating sound with joint movement
  • Loss of muscle mass in thigh muscles, and enlargement of shoulder muscles, due to the dog exerting more weight on his front legs to avoid putting weight on his painful hind legs

Treatment of Hip Dysplasia

There are several types of treatment for hip dysplasia:

Surgical – several surgical procedures are available for the treatment of hip dysplasia, all of which depend on the dog’s age, size, and the severity of degeneration in the hip joint.

These procedures include Triple Pelvic Osteotomy, usually used in dogs of less than 10 months old, and Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis, where early diagnosis is of utmost importance, since the procedure is best done by 16 weeks of age, and no later than 20 weeks of age, and also before there are any signs of arthritis.

Other procedures include total hip replacement, which is probably the best option for dogs that have degenerative joint disease, due to chronic hip dysplasia. Then there is also femoral head excision, where the head of the femur is removed and a fibrous, pseudo-joint substitutes the hip. 

Medical – Hip dysplasia can also be treated medically, but as it is an inherited disease, there is no product on the market that can stop it from developing. However, with weight management, supplements, exercise, anti-inflammatories, warmth, and proper sleeping areas, it is possible to reduce the progression of the disease. Massage and physical therapy will help to relax stiff muscles, and ramps help too, for dogs to navigate stairs and get in and out of cars in a less painful manner.

Diagnosis of Hip Dysplasia

Your dog will have a complete physical examination at the vet, including a urinalysis, an electrolyte panel, a complete blood count, as well as a blood chemical profile. Inflammation caused by joint disease will be noted in the complete blood count. As part of examining the fluid work-ups and physical symptoms, the vet will also need a complete history of your dog’s health, when the symptoms started, as well as any possible injuries or incidents that could have contributed to your dog’s condition. As the disease is hereditary, it will be helpful too, if you can provide the vet with information regarding your dog’s parentage as well.

Areas and Breeds Affected by Hip Dysplasia

Since hip dysplasia is a genetic disease, it occurs all over the world. Gender does not seem to be a factor, but there are some breeds that are inclined to have a genetic tendency toward the disease. Most commonly affected are large and giant breeds, such as German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Saint Bernard, and Great Dane. There are rare cases of smaller breeds being affected, but these are less likely to show clinical signs.

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