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What You Need to Know About Hip Dysplasia

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a relatively common skeletal abnormality in large and giant breed dogs, however, it can also be found in small and medium breeds as well. It’s caused by improper growth in the hip joint and can be very painful. 

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. In this type of joint, the head of one bone rotates freely in a cup-shaped indentation in another bone allowing for a full range of circular movement. In a dysplastic joint, the acetabulum (the socket part of the joint found in the pelvis) is more shallow than in a healthy hip joint. This lack of depth means the ball of the femur doesn’t fit well and results in looseness or laxity in the joint.

Because of this laxity, the ball of the femur scrapes and grinds against the acetabulum, wearing away cartilage and causing severe arthritis as the dog ages.

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What Dogs Get Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia can affect any type of dog but is most commonly seen in large and giant breeds. Labradors, German Shepards, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, and Mastiffs are highly at risk due to breed predispositions to develop the condition. Mixes of any of those breeds are also at risk. 

For owners who purchase their dog from a breeder, especially a large or giant breed that is likely to develop hip dysplasia, there are screenings that can be performed on breeding dogs to ensure they are free from the condition before they are bred. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals will certify dogs two years old and older as not having hip dysplasia. Owners should ask their breeder if their dogs are OFA certified before purchasing an at risk breed.

What are the Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia?

In young dogs, symptoms of hip dysplasia can be hard to detect. A veterinarian can examine the hips and palpate the joint, feeling how the femur interacts with the pelvis. After about 16 weeks of age, radiographs can be performed to check for evidence of the condition. 

According to the Morris Animal Foundation, symptoms in puppies and young dogs can include: 

  • Bunny-hopping gait
  • Rear-leg lameness (in one or both limbs)
  • Difficulty rising
  • Clicking sound from hips when moving or rising
  • Weight shifting to front limbs
  • Inability to exercise for long periods

In older dogs, symptoms more closely resemble arthritis and are commonly chalked up to old age by owners unfamiliar with the condition. Symptoms can include:

  • History of progressive rear limb lameness
  • Lameness after exercise
  • Loss of muscle mass in one or both rear legs
  • Difficulty jumping or climbing stairs
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Can Hip Dysplasia be Cured?

Hip dysplasia cannot be cured and is a progressive disease but it can be managed with medications and therapies designed to ease joint pain and increase cartilage. Pain management with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications can improve quality of life and help your dog get around without pain. In severe cases, analgesics like gabapentin or mild opioids are added to the treatment protocol. 

In younger dogs, as the dog matures, the body compensates for the condition by adding tissue to the affected joints in an attempt to stabilize the joint. Occasionally, a dog will show symptoms as a juvenile but not as an adult. In cases like this, the hips should still be monitored as it’s likely they will need treatment for the condition in their middle- or senior years.

Surgery is an option for severe cases of hip dysplasia. There are three surgical procedures that can be used: triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO), total hip replacement, and femoral head osteotomy (FHO). All three are invasive surgeries that require extended recovery times and physical therapy. If you are considering surgery for your dog, consult with a surgeon is warranted to discuss your options and whether or not your dog is a good candidate.

Other treatments include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin
  • Fatty acid supplements
  • Regular injections to help increase joint fluid

About Kristi Pahr

Kristi Pahr is a long-time writer and former emergency and critical care veterinary technician. As a writer her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Parents magazine and many others.

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