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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

By: Dr. Nicholas Trout

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Canine hip dysplasia is found in nearly every breed, but it is more common in medium and large dogs. Hip dysplasia develops in young growing dogs and stems from the abnormal development of the hip joint – a ball-and-socket type joint – in which the balls of the hip bone do not fit snugly in the hip socket. It can be mild and slightly disabling, or it can be severe and cause crippling arthritis. The earliest age at which clinical signs may be noticed is usually around four months, although some dogs may not show any abnormality until they are mature or even geriatric.

Although hip dysplasia is common, there are other common causes of lameness in dogs. Your veterinarian will want to rule out some of these:

  • Panosteitis is a painful inflammation of the long bones of young dogs. Pain is produced by squeezing the bone itself and not by manipulation of the hip joint.

  • Hypertrophic osteodystrophy produces painful bony swelling just above the growing region of young long bones. Again, pain is produced by manipulating the bone and not the joint.

  • During the physical examination, while flexing and extending the hips, pain may be referred from the lower spine or the knees. In this way, a lumbo-sacral spinal problem may be attributed to the hips or a dog with a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament or osteochondrosis lesion in the knee may be inadvertently diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Your veterinarian will take care to try to examine and assess these systems independent of each other.

  • In older dogs, a degenerative disease of the spinal cord, degenerative myelopathy, can produce weakness of the back legs resembling hip dysplasia. Your veterinarian should assess the neurological status of an older dysplastic dog, since concurrent neurological disease would severely impact the result of, say, a hip replacement surgery.

  • Other causes of hip arthritis or even bone tumors might be considered when examining the hips of older dogs.

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