Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Dogs have joint problems just as humans do. Arthritis and age take it’s toll on cartilage and fluid that the joint normally moves pain free at a younger age. When people consider their dog’s joint problems, hip dysplasia comes up in conversation eventually. Though it does cause arthritis and hip problems, dysplasia is a genetic problem causing the joint to be abnormal and predisposing to issues, not simply a side effect of getting old. You can see why breeders take great pains in breeding away from Hip Dysplasia! Breeders want the best pet possible in your hands and they do not want an issue that they can breed away from.


Though more common in large breed dogs, it also occurs in medium and small breeds and in cross bred dogs as well. Hip dysplasia happens when the hip socket develops abnormally. With a normal hip joint, the ball of the femur bone fits tightly into the concave socket of the pelvis; with a cartilage covering that gives the joint a smooth and tight fit and allows the animal free range of motion! With hip dysplasia, this ball-and-socket joint may have a loose, incorrect fit, or one or both parts of the joint may be misshaped, causing friction and abnormal wear. The ball and socket joint becomes a cup and saucer joint that is loose and will not stay in place during rotation. The joint becomes inflamed from the damage, starting a continuous cycle that results in a non functional hip that will dislocate with normal movement.


Genetics will not define what will happen, but it does tell us what might happen – diet and environmental influences tell the rest. Excessive protein and calories can cause rapid growth of the bone framework and the puppy cannot keep up with. Bones become soft as calcium is not laid down fast enough. There are large breed diets for puppies that are designed to encourage maximum joint growth while allowing normal size to develop. Injury, overexertion, or repetitive motions (jumping) in young puppies may also affect the shape of the joints in their critical formation months.

Dietary supplements for fast growing and giant breeds have been helpful. Doc Roy’s® HEALTHY BONES formula is a mineral vitamin balance to ensure calcium, phosphorus, and other minor minerals are available to calcify bones and that the diet has enough Vitamin D and Vitamin C to get calcium into the body and then into the bone. Be cautious with bone meal or any supplement high in protein as it will worsen the issue!


Hip dysplasia can show in dogs as young as 6 months, though it generally appears later in their life. Because of this, some dogs have dealt with the disease for the majority of their lives, and they’ve learned how to adapt. Early dysplasia isn’t noticeable until the secondary effects of hip dysplasia cause visible problems. They may walk or jump with less energy or be reluctant to go up stairs.

As issues progress, you will notice stiffness after rising and reluctance to exercise, stand, or jump on their rear legs. As the hips worsen, your dog will adjust to the pain by reducing the movement of their hips by “bunny hopping" or moving both legs together with noticeable muscle loss in the hip area.


An X-Ray will diagnose dysplasia if you think you have it. X-Rays and hip scoring tests at 2 years old can determine your dog’s risk for hip dysplasia. Veterinarians use radiographs to evaluate size, shape, and looseness of the hip joint. Breeders use this scoring to be sure they are breeding the best possible genetics in your puppy. Two popular hip scoring tests include OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) and PennHIP (Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program).


Once your dog has hip dysplasia, there is no complete cure. The goal of treatment is to improve the animal’s quality of life. Non-surgical options include weight control, exercise, and medication.
  • Weight Control - is important because it reduces the stress on the joints, especially the pressure from normal movement. This is important for any joint problem, not just hip dysplasia. This can be difficult as your pet slows down and exercises less, which is why weight control is especially important while the dog is young.
  • Exercise - helps stimulate cartilage growth, maintain hip movement, and reduces pain, inflammation, and arthritis. It also helps prevent muscle loss or atrophy, keeping them stronger while helping control their weight. However, while using and maintaining muscle mass is important, too much exercise can cause more harm than good.
  • Nutritional supplements - supplements with ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM all increase the lube and slow the cartilage loss in the joint. Allow 6 weeks for these products to get to full effect. The goal is to keep the dog comfortable and slow progression without drugs as long as possible. Once pain medication is prescribed, Doc Roy’s® ACHES AWAY will help the medication work more effectively.
  • Medication - can help reduce the pain and discomfort that hip dysplasia causes. Your veterinarian may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as Rimadyl® to help control pain and inflammation. Supplements that include glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM can also give the body additional nutrients for fluid and joint repair allowing medication to work more effectively.
Non-surgical options have their limit and surgery may eventually be necessary. Once your pet has progressed to non functional joint, surgical solutions are available. Total hip replacement is an option.

There is no cure for hip dysplasia, but breeders are doing a good job of reducing the occurrence! By feeding puppies correctly and catching the symptoms early, you can decrease the clinical severity and reduce the problems your dog has to deal with later in life.

If you need help, call us at 1-800-786-4751.

- Dr. B
Don Bramlage, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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