Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

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Some dog parents confuse arthritis with hip dysplasia but, unlike arthritis, hip dysplasia in dogs develops when a dog is young. Read on to learn everything you need to know about this condition.

What Is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Canine hip dysplasia arises during a dog's juvenile growth phase and results from a malformed hip joint. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, hip dysplasia is the most common orthopedic condition in medium and large breed dogs, with an incidence rate of more than 70 percent in some pure breeds.

In dogs with canine hip dysplasia, parts of the hip joint grow at different rates, leading to instability and looseness. This instability allows excess movement and abnormal bony rubbing, which causes pain and even small fractures.

Signs of Canine Hip Dysplasia

One of the first clues your dog may be suffering from hip dysplasia is if they're reluctant to rise from a sitting or lying position. This behavior can be seen in puppies as young as a few months old but is most common in dogs less than 2 years old.

Lameness resulting from hip dysplasia in dogs is usually chronic and progresses slowly. Thus, lameness isn't always a primary sign of the condition. Instead, dogs may show signs of exercise intolerance or weakness. When your veterinarian examines your dog's hips, they'll watch for indicators of pain or resistance to pressure.

Your dog likely doesn't have hip dysplasia if their lameness begins suddenly or progresses rapidly, the lameness is severe, they can't move well on their rear legs or if they have an uncoordinated gait.

What Causes It?

The American College of Veterinary Surgeons explains that there are two primary causes of hip dysplasia in dogs: genetics and nutrition. While genetics determine whether a dog develops hip dysplasia, nutritional research shows that consuming food that's too high in calcium or calories also plays a role in the condition's development.

Although any dog can be affected, hip dysplasia is typically seen in larger dogs, such as German shepherds, Saint Bernards, mastiffs, rottweilers, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Old English sheepdogs and bulldogs . Mixed-breed dogs are also at risk.

If you have a medium, large or giant breed puppy, you can reduce their risk of developing the condition by feeding them a balanced puppy food designed for large breeds. Also, help them to avoid rapid weight gain during their first year of life. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian about your dog's food, and have them recommend one that would be best for your dog's growth and development.

Tibetan Mastiff standing in a park on the grass during fall.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your vet will likely screen for hip dysplasia during your dog's regular checkup. They do this by evaluating your dog's gait and examining their body for signs of pain.

Because the condition can cause hip muscles to atrophy, your vet may X-ray the area, if suspected.

What Treatments Are Available?

Minimally affected dogs may benefit from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Most vets also recommend over-the-counter joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about dog foods that are specially formulated for mobility health that contain many of the same joint health nutrients that these supplements contain.

If your dog is overweight, you'll want to make a weight-loss plan right away, as reducing the weight-bearing load and friction upon the joints will likely improve your dog's mobility and comfort. Your veterinarian can help determine the best method, including a proper nutrition plan (including potentially switching to a dog food formulated for getting your dog to the proper weight) and exercise as long as your dog can tolerate it with the stress on their hips.

If your dog is severely affected, surgery may be the best option. Several surgical procedures are available to treat canine hip dysplasia, with the most common being total hip replacement and femoral head ostectomy. Your vet will work with you to choose the best procedure for your dog and may refer you to a board-certified veterinary surgeon.

There are also a plethora of new alternative therapies. Biologic therapeutics, such as platelet-rich plasma therapy and stem cell therapy, are now available in veterinary clinics across the nation. Many dog parents and vets alike find that such therapeutics provide temporary relief — albeit of varying degrees. Acupuncture and laser therapy are also popular adjunctive treatments. Your veterinarian will be to help you determine the best course of treatment for your dog's particular condition.

If you think your dog might be showing signs of hip dysplasia, talk to your vet today and have your pet diagnosed.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Laci Schaible

Dr. Laci Schaible, is a small-animal veterinarian and veterinary writer. She has won numerous awards for her commitment to pet owner education and is considered a leading veterinary telehealth expert.

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