Hip dysplasia in dogs is a painful and debilitating joint condition of one or usually both hip joints (“ball-and-socket” joints). This disease originates from the abnormal development of the hip joint where the top end of the thigh bone (“ball”) does not fit properly into the pelvis (“socket”). Over time, premature and uneven wear and tear of the joint results in the gradual development of osteoarthritis.
All dogs with hip dysplasia inherit this problem, and the condition begins in young, growing dogs. Dysplastic hips have two abnormalities:
The socket of the pelvis is shallow so the ball does not fit properly.
The ball is misshapen (not round or smooth).
These abnormalities cause uneven stresses — wear and tear on the joint — that results in a vicious cycle of damage, inflammation and continual but slow repair in the joint. This process is termed “osteoarthritis” and can be very painful. Osteoarthritis causes joint remodeling, changes which can be detected with X-rays usually by two years of age.
As the joint pain and damage worsens, the dog has an increasingly reduced ability to support its body weight. The dog adapts to the pain by reducing the movement of his hip. You may notice abnormal walking, “bunny hopping” (when the dog runs with both hind legs together), less jumping or walking up stairs, less flexibility and joint stiffness.
Unfortunately, favoring the hip in this way causes extra stress on other parts of the body to compensate, almost always causing spine, knee and muscle injuries.
An unhealthy diet, being overweight and having a fast growth rate contributes to the development of this disease. Some dogs may begin to show signs of hip dysplasia as early as four months, but it usually appears by 18 months of age.
All large and giant breeds are prone to hip dysplasia. Breeds most commonly affected are German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and Mastiffs. Smaller dogs such as Cocker Spaniels and Shetland Sheepdogs are also affected. The only breed that is not affected is the Greyhound.
Stiffness and soreness after resting but improves after “warming up”
Pain and discomfort when sitting down or standing up
Reluctance to exercise
Reluctance to run or jump
Reluctance to stand on back legs
Reluctance to go up stairs
Hind leg limping
Sudden lameness and stiffness after too much exercise (over-exertion)
Gradual atrophy (muscle wasting) of hind leg and rump muscles
Different dogs have different levels of tolerance to pain, different exercise requirements and varying abilities to adapt to hip dysplasia. This means that some dogs can have very severe hip dysplasia but not show symptoms, while others can have mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis but be in significant pain.
Your veterinarian will conduct the following basic steps to diagnose the problem:
Question you about your dog’s medical history and symptoms
Observe the way your dog sits, stands, walks and runs
Perform a physical examination that concentrates on the hips of both legs, checking for clicking in the joint, flexibility, range of movement and pain with manipulation
To confirm the disease and determine its severity, additional tests include:
X-rays under general anesthesia to show arthritis and remodeling in the joint
Ortolani test under general anesthesia to check how secure the ball is in the socket
Hip scoring — a standardized test to interpret the fit of the ball in the socket on X-rays
Weight control and moderate exercise if your dog is overweight
A restriction in overall exercise, especially high-impact activities like ball chasing and retrieving
Mild-to-moderate cases can be treated with rest, and anti-inflammatory and injectable disease-modifying medications
Severe cases should be treated with surgery, which involves:
Removing the ball of the femur
Total hip replacement to permanently replace the damaged joint
Triple pelvic osteotomy — rotating the socket in the pelvis in young dogs
Supplementation with Omega 3 with Green Tea and Glucosamine & Chondroitin with Green Tea can assist in managing hip dysplasia with medication and post surgery.
Note about using Anti-inflammatory Medications
As individual dogs respond differently to different medications, you may have to try several medications to find the one that works best.
In general, anti-inflammatories are safe for dogs, but they can sometimes cause problems such as liver toxicity and renal (kidney) failure. Other side effects include vomiting, diarrhea and poor appetite. It is often recommended to have regular blood tests (at least twice a year) to confirm there are no negative reactions to the medications when they are given long term.
Glucosamine & Chondroitin with Green Tea supplements provide the raw materials to enhance the synthesis of cartilage that cannot be adequately produced in the diseased arthritic joint. They may also help inhibit the production of damaging enzymes. These supplements take approximately one month to reach therapeutic levels in the bloodstream. Minimal-to-no side effects have been reported with their use.
Do not overfeed or over-exercise puppies and young dogs, particularly giant breeds, as this may accelerate the development of hip dysplasia. Breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia should be kept light and lean until two years of age to allow the bones to mature and harden, thereby reaching full strength to support normal adult weight.
Weight control and obesity prevention is important in the prevention of hip dysplasia. Regular and moderate exercise is good to maintain muscle bulk and flexibility. Low-impact activities such as swimming are gentle on the hips.
Responsible breeders should have their breeding dogs’ hips scored before breeding from them. When selecting a puppy, find out the hip score of the parents. The scores should be good to excellent. You can also insist on the PennHIP test for dogs as young as four months of age to provide excellent objective information on its hips.
Supplementing your dog’s diet with glucosamine and chondroitin may help maintain joint health and preserve cartilage from wearing down prematurely.