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Great Dane with hip dysplasia
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Severity: i Medium
Life stage: All
  • Hip dysplasia is the abnormal formation of the hip joint in dogs.
  • It occurs more frequently in large-breed dogs.
  • Hip dysplasia can cause a change in gait, hip pain, and lameness.
  • Treatment may involve medications, physical therapy, or surgery in severe cases.

If you have a larger breed dog, or you are researching getting one, you have probably heard the term canine hip dysplasia. 

Though this condition is most commonly found in large dogs, it can happen to dogs of any breed and size. Approximately 15-20 percent of dogs are affected by some form of hip dysplasia (1

Certain breeds have an even higher incidence of hip dysplasia. According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, canine hip dysplasia affects more than 62 percent of all Saint Bernards, Old English Bulldogs, and Pugs

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is the abnormal formation of the hip joint—also called the coxofemoral joint—in dogs.  It occurs during a dog’s growth stages and is a common condition that can be treated and managed.  

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. The ball is the head of the femur and the socket (also called the acetabulum) is where the femur fits into the joint. If either part of this complex joint is malformed and the femur does not fit correctly into the hip, hip dysplasia results. 

This condition is more prevalent in larger breed dogs and can cause symptoms ranging from a slightly abnormal gait to crippling arthritis and pain as a dog ages. 

Many contributing factors may lead to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs, including genetic predisposition and rapid weight gain or growth.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

x-ray showing hip dysplasia in dog

Canine hip dysplasia can be caused by several factors, such as a dog growing too quickly or being predisposed to the disease. The condition progresses over time, as a dog ages. It results in a loose-fitting joint, which then causes the clinical symptoms of a change in gait, hip pain, and lameness.  

Dog breeds that are predisposed to hip dysplasia include:

Stages of Canine Hip Dysplasia 

Dogs can be diagnosed with mild, moderate, or severe hip dysplasia.

Mild hip dysplasia is used to describe a hip that has a mild increase in the distance between the ball and socket. This causes the ligaments that hold them together to stretch and develop tears, causing looseness in the dog’s joint. In many cases, a dog with mild hip dysplasia will require monitoring and may need additional medical management in the future. 

Moderate hip dysplasia describes a hip in which the head of the femur barely rests inside the socket. Dogs with moderate hip dysplasia may experience pain, joint degeneration, and osteoarthritis.  

Severe hip dysplasia occurs over time, especially without treatment. In severe cases, the head of the femur may be barely within the socket or completely dislocated from the joint. On radiographs (X-rays), significant degenerative bony changes are present. The dog may be unable to walk or have great difficulty walking. Pets with severe hip dysplasia may require surgery. 

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Black Labrador lying on the floor

Depending on the severity of the changes to the hip joint, your dog may display a variety of symptoms. Some pet parents may not notice any difference in their dogs, as the progression of hip dysplasia can happen slowly as a dog ages.  

Some of the most common symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs are:

  • A swaying gait or “bunny hopping” style of running
  • Reluctance to jump, climb stairs, run, or exercise
  • Difficulty rising from laying down or having difficulty laying down
  • Decreased range of motion in the hind end or rear leg lameness
  • Decreased activity level
  • Narrowing stance of the hind end
  • Muscle wasting in the hind end

Diagnosing This Condition in Dogs

To diagnose hip dysplasia in your dog, a physical examination is necessary to observe the dog’s gait and stance. You should be prepared to provide your veterinarian with a thorough history of your dog’s condition including onset of symptoms, nutritional information, and exercise regimens.  

Next the doctor will need to examine and touch the dog’s hips and entire body to feel for range of motion, muscle abnormalities, and to determine if there are any other orthopedic issues that may be contributing to the symptoms.  

Radiographs (X-rays) will need to be performed to truly diagnose hip dysplasia in dogs. Light sedation is often required in order to position the dog properly for the correct views needed to clearly visualize the hip joint. Your veterinarian will also be able to palpate the joint more freely while the dog is sedated, and the muscles are not tense.  

General screening blood tests and urine tests will also be useful, as they can help veterinarians determine assess for the presence of inflammation and muscle damage. Additionally, these tests can help your veterinarian make appropriate treatment recommendations for your dog.

How to Treat Dog Hip Dysplasia

German Shepherd at veterinarian

There are different treatment options for hip dysplasia depending on the severity of the disease. Medical management may be possible for pets that are not surgical candidates, though sometimes surgery may be the best option. 

Medical management for the disease may include the following: 

Weight loss. For overweight dogs, this will help take any extra stress off the hip joint.

Joint supplements. Supplements can aid in the reduction of joint pain. Consult a veterinarian before giving your dog any kind of supplements. 

Anti-inflammatory medication. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids bring down inflammation in the body and can help ease joint pain.

Physical therapy. Manual therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and laser therapy can all be used to help alleviate some of the symptoms of canine hip dysplasia. These methods can help increase range of motion and decrease joint inflammation.

Hip Dysplasia Surgery for Dogs

If medical management is not enough, or surgery is recommended, there are a few different procedures that can be performed.   

A femoral head ostectomy (FHO) may be performed, where the head of the femur is cut out and removed. This leaves muscles to form a “false joint,” which may be less painful than a severely diseased hip joint.  

A total hip replacement can also be performed. This procedure is usually done in mature dogs that are not responding well to medical management and that are suffering from severe osteoarthritis. As with any surgery, there are always risks involved, including anesthetic risks and surgical failure rates. 

If hip dysplasia is detected at an early age (before the puppy is approximately 10 months old), a double or triple pelvic ostectomy (DPO/TPO) may be recommended. The goal of this surgery is to change the shape of the pelvis to provide better alignment of the hips, minimizing the need for a future FHO or total hip replacement.

Due to the great variation in treatment and surgical options, it is best to speak with your veterinarian in detail about this condition. 

General Cost to Treat

The cost to treat hip dysplasia in dogs can range greatly depending on your geographic location and the severity of your dog’s disease. 

Medical management may range from just a few hundred dollars to specialized surgery by an orthopedist that could range into the thousands of dollars. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss which option is the best for you and your pet.

How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia

It is difficult to fully prevent canine hip dysplasia, since it is usually attributed to genetics. However, feeding your puppy an appropriate diet for their size, breed, and age will give them a good chance for healthy bone and joint development and help prevent the excessive growth that leads to the disease.   

If a dog is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, they should not be bred, as the likeliness of passing the disease on is very good.  

You can help your dog by identifying any early onset of symptoms and addressing them with your veterinarian as soon as possible.