Hip dysplasia is a relatively common orthopedic condition in dogs that can range from mild to debilitating. Large- and giant-breed dogs are most commonly affected, but any pet can suffer from this health issue. To help make pet owners aware of hip dysplasia development and treatment, our team answers the most frequently asked questions about this canine condition.

Question: What is hip dysplasia in dogs?

Answer: Hip dysplasia in dogs occurs when the ball-and-socket joint does not form correctly and does not fit neatly together in the hip. In a correctly formed hip joint, the head of the femur is ball shaped and should fit smoothly into the hip socket (i.e., acetabulum). Pets with hip dysplasia either have a shallow acetabulum or a flat femoral head, and suffer joint laxity, pain, inflammation, and swelling. Eventually, arthritis can develop in the affected joint in a progressively painful cycle. 

Q: What causes hip dysplasia in dogs?

A: Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition that is influenced by diet, environment, growth rate, muscle mass, and hormones. In general, dogs who develop hip dysplasia often grow rapidly during puppyhood, and the muscle mass and bone grow disproportionately.

Q: Are some dogs more at risk for hip dysplasia?

A: As hip dysplasia is a genetic condition, dogs generally inherit the issue from one or both parents. Most commonly, hip dysplasia affects large-breed dogs, but can develop in any pet with poor orthopedic anatomy. Hip dysplasia tends to be worse in fast-growing dogs, overweight dogs, puppies with improper nutrition, and dogs who were exercised too harshly when young. Breeds genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia include German shepherds, Saint Bernards, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Great Danes, Old English sheepdogs, and bulldogs.

Q: What are hip dysplasia signs in dogs?

A: Dogs with hip dysplasia typically begin showing signs while they are still growing. Signs can be seen when dogs are as young as 5 to 6 months of age, and include:

  • Lameness or limping
  • Discomfort when walking or exercising
  • Difficulty standing up
  • Stiffness while moving
  • Running with a bunny-hopping motion
  • Loss of muscle mass in the affected hip
  • Reluctance to run and play as usual
  • Wobbling or swaying while walking
  • Difficulty jumping or using stairs

Mild hip dysplasia cases may not cause obvious signs until the dog is older and arthritis has developed in the affected joint.

Q: How is hip dysplasia in dogs diagnosed?

A: Our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service veterinarian will first take a history of the signs you see in your pet at home, and then will perform a thorough physical exam, including an orthopedic and gait assessment. X-rays will be required to accurately diagnose the condition, and to determine the degree of arthritis and the best medical or surgical treatment. Then, sedation or general anesthesia is necessary for your pet, so we can take good diagnostic images that we will send to an organization (e.g., the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals [OFA], PennHIP) for evaluation and grading.

Q: How is hip dysplasia in dogs treated?

A: Hip dysplasia cannot be prevented, but can be managed effectively enough to grant your dog a good quality of life. Key hip dysplasia treatments include:

  • Weight loss — Additional pounds lead to extra pressure on already struggling hip joints. Keep your dog lean through a healthy diet and regular exercise.
  • Low-impact exercise — Switch from exercise that incorporates jumping and sudden starts and stops (e.g., fetch, agility, other intense activity) to walking on soft surfaces, like grass or dirt, and swimming, which provide good exercise without putting stress on your pet’s joints.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — Inflamed joints are painful, and your pet will feel more comfortable if their joint inflammation is reduced. 
  • Pain-relieving medications — While NSAIDs are the front line of pain defense for dogs with hip dysplasia, many other medications can also help. Products that cater specifically to arthritis in dogs, initiate joint cartilage regeneration, and alleviate pain can round out a multimodal treatment plan.
  • Alternative therapies — Rehabilitation and alternative therapies complement traditional Western medicine, and can hugely benefit pets who cannot take medications. Examples include underwater treadmill, laser therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, passive range-of-motion exercises, and therapeutic massage.
  • Supplements — Joint supplements are best started early in the disease process to preserve joint health as much as possible. Products that contain omega-3 fatty acids, chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and MSM are typically the most effective at reducing inflammation and protecting joint cartilage.
  • Environmental modification — Dogs with hip dysplasia benefit from changes in their home that support poor mobility. Modifications include:
    • Mats — Providing traction to slick floors with carpet runners or yoga mats
    • Ramps — Installing ramps to help your pet go up and down stairs, reach their favorite piece of furniture, or go outside 
    • Beds — Firm orthopedic bedding offers more support than a fluffy bed
    • Location — Keeping all your pet’s resources (i.e., food, water, bedding) in the same area, so they do not have to go far to reach their food or bed
  • Surgery — Surgical procedures are typically a last resort, but several options are available. The recommended surgery will depend on your dog’s conformation, condition severity, and age.

Dogs with hip dysplasia can still enjoy a great quality of life with proper treatment and management. Give our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team a call to see how we can help support your pet with hip dysplasia and alleviate their pain.