Dogs can have joint problems, just as humans can. Many people associate hip dysplasia with canine arthritis and old age, but hip dysplasia is not a side effect of getting old. It is actually a genetic disease that causes abnormal development of the hip socket.
What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
Hip dysplasia occurs 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. There is also a cartilage covering that gives the joint a smooth and tight fit, allowing 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 loose and does 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 dislocates with normal movement. Although hip dysplasia is more common in large breed dogs, it can also occur in medium and small breeds and in crossbred dogs, as well.
Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Although hip dysplasia in dogs generally appears later in life, it starts developing in puppies as young as six months. 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 upstairs.
As the issue progresses, you may notice some of these signs of hip dysplasia in dogs:
- Decreased activity level
- Pain in hip joints
- Difficultly rising
- Reluctance to exercise, stand, or jump on rear legs
- Decreased range of motion in hip joints
- Loss of muscle mass in the hip area and hind legs
- “Bunny-hopping” – moving both legs together while running or walking
- Narrow stance in hind limbs (back legs unnaturally close together)
Does My Dog Have Hip Dysplasia?
An X-ray is used to diagnose hip dysplasia. X-rays and hip scoring tests at two-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 often use this scoring to be sure they are breeding the best possible genetics in their puppies. Two popular hip scoring tests include OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) and PennHIP (Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program).
How to Help a Dog With Hip Dysplasia
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, supplements 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. Weight control 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 reduce pain, inflammation, and arthritis. It also helps prevent muscle loss or atrophy, keeping dogs strong while helping control their weight. While using and maintaining muscle is important, too much exercise can cause more harm than good. Swimming is a great form of physical therapy, as it encourages activity without increasing the severity of joint injury.
- Nutritional joint supplements for dogs with ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM all increase the lube and slow the cartilage loss in the joint. Allow six weeks for these products to be at full strength. The goal is to keep the dog comfortable and slow progression of the disease without drugs for as long as possible. Once pain medication is prescribed, a supplement like Doc Roy’s® Aches Away will help the medication work more effectively.
- Medication can help reduce the pain and discomfort of hip dysplasia. Your veterinarian may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as Carprofen® to help control pain and inflammation.
Non-surgical options have their limit, so surgery may eventually be necessary. Once your pet has progressed to a non-functional joint, surgical solutions are available. Total hip replacement is an option.
How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Genetics do not define what will happen, but they give a good indicator of what might happen – diet and environmental influences tell the rest. Giving excessive protein and calories to puppies can cause rapid growth of the bone framework, and the puppy cannot often keep up with this growth. Bones become soft as calcium is not laid down fast enough. There are large-breed diets for puppies that encourage maximum joint growth while allowing normal size development. Injury, overexertion, or repetitive motions (jumping) in young puppies may also affect the shape of the joints during critical formation months.
Dietary supplements for fast growth have been helpful. Doc Roy’s® Healthy Bones formula is a mineral and vitamin balance to ensure calcium, phosphorus, and other minor minerals are available to calcify bones. Healthy Bones also ensures 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 that is high in protein—they will only make the issue worse.
There is no cure for hip dysplasia, but breeders are doing a good job of reducing the occurrence. By feeding puppies appropriately 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 have more questions about how to help a dog with hip pain, call a Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.