Hip Dysplasia in Dogs


Overview of Canine Hip Dysplasia 

Hip dysplasia is a painful, crippling disease that causes a dog’s hip to weaken, deteriorate and become arthritic. It stems from abnormal development of the hip joint – a ball-and-socket type joint – in which the head of the femur does not fit properly into the socket. Hip dysplasia can be mild and slightly disabling, or it can be severe and cause crippling arthritis.

Several factors contribute to the development of hip dysplasia. It occurs more in males than females, and is most common in large and giant breed dogs. Some breeds are genetically predisposed to the disease, including German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and rottweilers. Environmental factors like type of diet, weight gain and rate of growth also contribute to abnormal hip development.

By definition, hip dysplasia develops in young growing dogs. The earliest age at which clinical signs may be noticed is usually around four months, but some dogs may not show any abnormality until they are mature or even geriatric. Hip dysplasia occurs in young dogs between 3 to 12 months of age and mature adult dogs.

Rapid weight gain and growth and excessive calorie intake may increase incidence of disease.

What To Look For

If your dog has hip dysplasia, you might notice an abnormal gait, reduced function or lameness. Your young dog may exhibit a “rolling” hind leg gait, in which the hips appear to slide up and down like a Marilyn Monroe wiggle. Your pet may also be reluctant to exercise too far or have difficulty going up and down stairs, all of which might seem strange for a puppy. There may be overt lameness on one or both hind legs. Your older dog may show greater exacerbation of these signs and may struggle to lie down or get up from a lying position.

If your dog exhibits any of the following symptoms, consult your veterinarian:

  • Hind leg lameness (one or both legs)
  • Swaying or staggering
  • Discomfort when attempting to lie down or stand up
  • Reluctance to run and jump
  • Difficulty rising
  • Abnormal gait
  • “Bunny-hopping gait”
  • Changes in jumping behavior/reluctance to jump
  • Decreased activity/exercise intolerance
  • Some dogs can have a clicking sounds that you can hear when they walk or rise to get up
  • Diminished muscle mass in rear legs (in chronic cases)
  • Diagnosis of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

    When your dog is examined, your veterinarian will be checking the gait – looking for a lameness while walking or trotting, a “rolling” hind leg gait and difficulty standing up or lying down. Your veterinarian will move the dog’s hip joint to assess its range of motion and check for pain with the joint extended, and he or she will listen for the “click” of the hip popping out of joint and the grating sound of bone on bone that indicates cartilage loss.

    Radiographs (X-rays) may confirm the hip joint is dysplastic. X-rays will show the degree of dysplasia and the amount of associated arthritis.

    In playful young dogs, this thorough evaluation may require sedation or even anesthesia because palpation and manipulation of the hips can be very painful. Also, in young dogs with hip dysplasia, it’s possible to dislocate (subluxate) the hip by manipulation due to the poor fit of the ball of the femur in the hip socket.


    Treatment of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

    Various medical and surgical treatments are available today that can ease your dog’s discomfort and restore mobility. The type of treatment depends upon several factors, such as the age of your dog, the severity of the problem and financial considerations.

    Medical treatments such as weight loss, moderate exercise and anti-inflammatory medication will help to alleviate the pain and inflammation around the hip joint.

    If medical treatment fails to improve your dog’s condition, surgical treatment might be appropriate. Your young dog might benefit from a triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO). Older dogs respond favorably to two other procedures: a femoral head and neck ostectomy (FHO) and a total hip replacement (THR).

    Home Care

    For dogs being managed medically, it’s important that you monitor body weight and avoid obesity. You will also want to avoid strenuous exercise – exercise your pet regularly but moderately. Swimming can be very beneficial when available; it helps to maintain good muscle mass and tone while keeping weight off the hip joints. If your veterinarian has recommended medication, you will need to be aware of potential side effects.

    If your dog has had TPO or THR surgery, strict rest will be important for six weeks followed by a gradual increase in exercise. If your dog has had FHO surgery, controlled exercise with short, slow leash-walks should be started two weeks after surgery. Carefully observe the incision daily for swelling, redness or discharge.


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