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Hip dysplasia in dogs

Black and white dog by the sea advice © Pixabay

Hip problems in dogs are fairly common. Big dogs are more at risk, but hip problems can also develop in middle to smaller sized dogs 

By Ashley Murphy

The medical term is hip dysplasia and it often deteriorates over time. It can have severe effects on your dogs quality of life so early diagnosis is really important. Here's everything you need to know about hip problems in dogs:

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a skeletal condition that affects the hip joint. The hip is a ball socket joint, meaning that the ball part (otherwise known as the femur) sits inside the socket of the pelvis (the acetabulum.) This allows a wider range of movement and flexibility while maintaining the stability necessary for standing, walking, and running. In cases of hip dysplasia, the hip joint hasn't developed properly and the ball begins to grind and rub against the socket. Over time the socket begins to deteriorate, and if left untreated a dog is likely to become lame.

What causes hip dysplasia?

Genetics plays a big part; hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition that’s more common in larger dogs. Breeds that are especially susceptible include the Great Dane, the St Bernard, and the German shepherd. As always, environmental factors can worsen the condition. If your dog is too heavy then the extra weight puts more strain on the joint. Other aggravating factors include rapid growth spurts, too much or too little exercise, and poor diet.

Hip dysplasia can also develop in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. It usually develops in the later stages of the condition so managing the root cause is really important.

Smaller dogs who are also at risk include Pugs, French bulldogs, and American Staffordshire terriers.

9 signs that your dog has hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia can develop in puppies as young as four months old, while for other dogs it's an unfortunate part of the ageing process. There are many symptoms associated with hip dysplasia and they tend to vary from dog to dog. Much depends on the dog's age, size, and the severity of their condition. But here's what you need to look out for:

  • Decreased activity, coupled with restricted movement and flexibility.
  • Lameness, especially around the hind quarters
  • Looseness in the joint
  • A narrow stance. The dogs back legs will be closer together than the front legs.
  • Changes in the way your dog walks. They may start swaying or hopping.
  • Degeneration of the muscle tissue around the affected joint.
  • Enlargement of the shoulder joint as it starts to compensate for the weakened hip joint
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Stiffness in the joint

How is hip dysplasia treated?

There are no quick fixes for hip dysplasia, and treatments will vary depending on each dog's condition. For less serious conditions, a vet may recommend one of the following:

  • Diet. Less weight means less strain on the joint.
  • Restricted exercise. Your dog will still need a regular walk, but they may have to cut back on more rigorous activity.
  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medication or joint fluid modifiers

Some dogs may require surgery. This could include:

Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis

This is for younger dogs and the procedure involves fusing the pelvic bones together. This allows the joint to develop properly and also reduces the chances of osteoarthritis developing.

Triple Pelvic Osteotomy

Again, this one's for the younger dogs (two-year-olds and younger.) The vet will reposition the ball inside the socket, creating a tighter fit which reduces damage to the joint.

Total Hip Replacement

As you can probably imagine, this is a very complex procedure and will only be used as a last resort. A hip replacement removes the damaged joint and replaces it with an artificial joint. It's a very effective type of treatment, but it does come with risks, including dislocations, nerve damage, and infection.

Is there anything I can do to stop my dog from getting hip dysplasia?

Much of the time, hip dysplasia is genetic. It's an unfortunate side effect of larger frames developing quicker then they should, or not developing properly in the first place. Obviously, we can't rewrite our dogs' DNA, but we can certainly improve their general health by managing their environment. Start with giving your dog an appropriate diet. An obese dog is far more likely to develop hip problems so don't overfeed your pet. And make sure you're feeding them the right kinds of food. Go for high-quality, organic dog food, and resist the temptation to feed them scraps or leftovers. Some vets recommend cutting out grains and processed carbohydrates, both of which have been linked to inflammation of the joints. You can also introduce some supplements to your dog's diet. Omega 3 fish oils and flax seed oil have been linked with improving joint function, while the right amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and iron will keep bones strong and healthy.

Hip dysplasia can affect dogs' quality of life so it's really important to spot and manage the symptoms early on. This will prevent more drastic measures, such as surgery, and it will help your dog live its life to the fullest. As always, focus on preventing issues rather than curing them. If your dog is healthy today then do everything you can to keep them that way. A healthy diet, the right amount of exercise, and regular check-ups will keep them ticking nicely.