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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Nicole Cosgrove

Hip dysplasia is a distortion of the hip that happens while the dog is growing in puppyhood.  The hip joint is made up of a ball and a socket. During puppyhood, these two parts must grow in the same proportion. However, there are many factors that can mess with this rate. For instance, overconsumption of calories can cause the puppy to grow too quickly, which can upset the balance of the hip joint.

This unevenness results in unnecessary wear and tear. Eventually, the joint will start to break down. Osteoarthritis may occur as the body attempts to stabilize the hip joint. Usually, this disorder results in lameness. However, the extent of the lameness depends largely on the extent of the arthritic changes. It doesn’t always necessarily correlate with the appearance of the joint on x-rays.

Some dogs have minor changes but are affected very heavily. Others have very bad X-rays but don’t appear to be very affected at all.

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What is the Cause of Hip Dysplasia?

German Shepherd
Image Credit: Osetrik, Shutterstock

Hip dysplasia is caused by a variety of different factors. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to it. Larger breeds seem to have the most problems, but technically any breed can be affected. Certain environmental, exercise, growth, and hormone factors do play a role in this disease.

Puppies should be kept at a normal, lean. If they consume too many calories, they may begin to grow too quickly, which can cause hip dysplasia. You should not feed your puppy based on how hungry they are, as this isn’t always an accurate estimate of their caloric needs.

Studies have found that puppies who are fed as much as they want to eat have a higher risk of developing hip dysplasia. On the other hand, fewer puppies that were fed measured meals developed hip dysplasia.

Larger breed dogs should be fed large-breed specific dog food. This is specifically formulated for larger dogs, so it provides the more exact nutrition they need to grow properly.

What Breeds are Affected by Hip Dysplasia the Most?

Large and giant breeds are more likely to be affected. This includes dog breeds like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Old English Sheepdogs, Golden Retrievers, and Bulldogs. These dogs should be fed a special diet through the first year and possibly longer.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

Sick Corgi
Image Credit: Nataliya Vaitkevich, Pexels

Weakness and pain are the most common signs of hip dysplasia. Usually, the dog will be reluctant to use the leg. They may not want to rise from a sitting and lying position. Many dogs will limp and occasionally be reluctant to climb stairs.

Puppies may exhibit these symptoms when they are a few months old. Other times, the dogs only show symptoms when they are older, after the joints have had time to wear down substantially. Often, hip dysplasia develops when the dog is a puppy, but they don’t necessarily show symptoms until much later.

Hip Dysplasia Diagnoses

A hip radiograph is usually used to diagnose hip dysplasia. However, the actual symptoms the dog has don’t always line up with a hip x-ray. Clinical signs like pain and limping can usually be used to diagnose this disorder.

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Hip Dysplasia Treatments

Treatment
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Treatment varies considerably depending on the severity of the condition, as well as what seems to help the dog. Often, NSAIDs are extremely effective and usually the first choice for treatment. They have minimal side effects. However, multiple drugs may need to be tried out before one that is particularly effective is found. Dosages often need to be changed to find one that works best for the dog. As the dog ages, these medications may need to be changed, so regular vet visits are required.

On top of hip dysplasia, many dogs should also receive glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids supplementation. These have been shown to help dogs with hip dysplasia and are often recommended by the vet.

Lifestyle changes may be necessary as well. For instance, high-impact activities should be avoided. This includes jumping and similar activities. Some dogs may need to avoid stairs, though this can be difficult in some homes. However, moderate activity is often recommended to strengthen the joints. Physical therapy is sometimes recommended and can greatly improve your dog’s quality of life. Typically, younger dogs benefit most from physical therapy.

The alternative option is surgery. However, this is typically not recommended. They are expensive and often just as good as other options. The choice of surgery will depend on your pet’s age and other factors.

There are many alternative therapies as well, including acupuncture and stem cell treatments. However, these are not widely available, often expensive, and have not been thoroughly tested by science.  Therefore, they are not recommended by most vets.


Featured Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.