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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms and How You Can Help

December 19, 2014

Hip dysplasia in dogs is one of the most common canine joint disorders. Running, jumping, and chasing critters is an important part of a dog’s day—but having a condition like hip dysplasia can prevent a dog from enjoying these activities. Read on to learn about this common joint disorder, help identify symptoms, and ways to cope. 

WHAT IS HIP DYSPLASIA IN DOGS?

Hip dysplasia is a common form of rear leg lameness in dogs that causes the joint to become loose (called subluxation). This can result in painful wear and tear on the joint. Some people call canine hip dysplasia the "ball and socket" disease. This wear and tear can eventually lead to arthritis and, as it progresses, can make the dog’s life unbearable. The infographic below illustrates a normal hip joint versus a dysplastic hip joint:

hip dysplasia in dogs_canine hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia in dogs is generally thought to be a hereditary condition. Most dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips but, as they grow, their joints develop abnormally (causing the subluxation). This subluxation places excessive stress on the joint and the subsequent remodeling of the hip leads to the painful symptoms we associate with this disease. Hip dysplasia may affect either of the hips (right or left) or both hips. A more scientific explanation of hip dysplasia can be found on the Pet Education website.

Dysplasia is not limited to the hips. Other joints, such as the elbows, are also susceptible. However, since pain in the front legs is harder to detect, elbow dysplasia often goes undiagnosed.

WHAT CAUSES HIP DYSPLASIA IN DOGS?

Dr. Frank Borostyankoi, DVM, DACVS (Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons), is a board certified veterinary surgeon specializing in orthopedics including joint replacements, corrective and traumatic bone, joint and spinal surgeries, arthroscopy and post-surgical physical rehabilitation. He shared with us that any dog, regardless of age and breed, can get hip dysplasia. Some puppies can get hip dysplasia through genetics while other dogs develop the condition as they age.

There are certain breeds which make a dog more prone to this disease. This is why Dr. Borostyankoi says it’s best to understand the breed of the dog. Each breed experiences different kinds of pain based on their physical structure and size. Hip dysplasia is found more often in large-breed dogs than smaller ones, especially German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes and St. Bernards. This is likely due to the extra stress placed on ligaments and joints from their body weight. In contrast, light-weight breeds, such as Grey Hounds or Whippets, may never experience hip dysplasia.

7 SIGNS OF HIP DYSPLASIA IN DOGS

Hip dysplasia is a structural abnormality in the hips, therefore the associated symptoms are visible through the dog's walking, exercise, and movement. Hip dysplasia is not limited to senior dogs; dogs as young as four months old can start showing signs.

Look for these following signs of hip dysplasia in dogs:

1. Unable to exercise
2. Stiffness/pain
3. Trouble getting up from lying or sitting positions
4. Unwillingness to jump, run, or climb the stairs
5. Shows pain when touched
6. Pain while sitting in the frog-leg position
7. Bunny hopping when running

Hip dysplasia can cause pain and affect a dog's quality of life. Dogs that are in pain may have a limited range of motion; they might quit playing or [just] lay around. The pain may also cause them to become aggressive because they cannot protect themselves. This is known as the “fight or flight” symptom. Some dogs suffering from hip dysplasia also do not experience any lameness; in mild cases, the disease can be undetectable.

HOW IS HIP DYSPLASIA IN DOGS DIAGNOSED?

Once you have started to see signs of hip dysplasia in your dog, a veterinary exam will be important for a formal diagnosis. You should never assume that lameness in dogs is automatically due to hip dysplasia, because there are over a dozen reasons why a dog may be limping or walking with an abnormal gait. 

 hip dysplasia in dogs_canine hip dysplasiaOnce you have taken your dog to the veterinarian, you should expect the following: a thorough orthopedic examination and x-rays. Some veterinarians may also request blood work to rule out any metabolic or cancer-related concerns. For a look into how veterinarians diagnose this condition, check out this overview provided by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons

 hip dysplasia in dogs_canine hip dysplasia

WHAT ARE SOME TIPS TO MAINTAIN DOG'S BONES AND JOINTS STRONG? 

Dogs, just like people, need proper nutrition, good genetics, and exercise to maintain strong bones and joints. For tips on how to keep your dog's skeletal system strong, check out our blog post on 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Dog's Bones and Joints

Check out this video for 5 other tips on strengthening your dog's bones and joints:

WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION ON CANINE HIP DYSPLASIA?

ASPCA

PetMD

Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Veterinary Referral

About the Author

Bevi Edlund, Blog Editor

Hi, I'm Bevi Edlund. I'm a graduate of communications and journalism from Cal State University, Fullerton. I am also an animal rights activist and a huge dog lover! I think there is nothing more comforting than coming home after a long day than to your furry best friend. Here at Bio-Rep Animal Health, I'll be in charge of writing posts about lifestyle, nutrition and connecting with all of our readers.