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The One About Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is unfortunately a very common condition, most often seen in large or giant breed dogs, although it can occur in smaller breeds too. In dogs with hip dysplasia, the ball and socket do not fit or function properly, and in some cases they never develop properly. This malformation, whether appearing with age or from puppyhood, causes them to rub and grind against each other rather than sliding smoothly. This results in further deterioration over time and an eventual loss of function of the joint itself; lameness.

There are many things that can lead to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs, beginning with genetics. Hip dysplasia is hereditary and is especially common in larger dogs, like the Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Labrador Retriever, and German Shepherd. Factors such as excessive growth rate, types of exercise, improper weight, and unbalanced nutrition can worsen this genetic predisposition.

Some puppies have special nutrition requirements and need food specially formulated for large-breed puppies. These foods help prevent excessive growth, which can lead to skeletal disorders such as hip dysplasia and growth plate problems, along with elbow dysplasia and other joint conditions. Slowing down these breeds’ growth allows their joints to develop without putting too much strain on them, helping to prevent problems down the line.

Improper nutrition can influence a dog’s likelihood of developing hip dysplasia, as can giving a dog too much or too little exercise. Obesity puts a lot of stress on your dog’s joints, which can exacerbate a pre-existing condition such as hip dysplasia or even cause hip dysplasia.

Large breed dog foods and foods designed with senior canines in mind often contain joint supplements like glucosamine. If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with arthritis, glucosamine may be part of the treatment or pain management plan. They will most likely recommend a chewable supplement with a veterinarian-grade dose of glucosamine and chondroitin, and products such as Flexadin Plus may also be recommended.

Some dogs begin to show signs of hip dysplasia when they are as young as four months old. Others develop it in conjunction with osteoarthritis as they age. In both cases, there are a few symptoms that owners should be familiar with. These symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the disease, the level of inflammation, the degree of looseness in the joint, and how long the dog has suffered from hip dysplasia:

  • Decreased activity

  • Decreased range of motion

  • Difficulty or reluctance rising, jumping, running, or climbing stairs

  • Lameness in the hind end

  • Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait

  • Grating in the joint during movement

  • Loss of thigh muscle mass

  • Noticeable enlargement of the shoulder muscles, as they compensate for the hind end

  • Pain

  • Stiffness or limping

At your dog’s regular checkup, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam. Sometimes this exam is enough for your veterinarian to suspect hip dysplasia. In other cases, it’s up to owners to let veterinarians know that when dogs are experiencing discomfort.

One of the first things that your veterinarian may do is manipulate your dog’s hind legs to test the looseness of the joint. They’ll likely check for any grinding, pain, or reduced range of motion. Your dog’s physical exam may include blood work because inflammation due to joint disease can be indicated in the complete blood count. Your veterinarian will also need a history of your dog’s health and symptoms, any possible incidents or injuries that may have contributed to these symptoms, and any information you have about your dog’s parentage.

The definitive diagnosis usually comes with a radiograph or X-ray. Your veterinarian will take radiographs of your dog’s hips to determine the degree and severity of the hip dysplasia. These will help determine the best course of treatment for your dog.

There are quite a few treatment options for hip dysplasia in dogs, ranging from lifestyle modifications to surgery. If your dog’s hip dysplasia is not severe, or if your dog is not a candidate for surgery for medical or financial reasons, your veterinarian may recommend a nonsurgical approach. Depending on your dog’s case, the vet may suggest the following:

  • Weight reduction to take stress off of the hips

  • Exercise restriction, especially on hard surfaces

  • Physical therapy

  • Joint supplements

  • Anti-inflammatory medications (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids)

  • Joint fluid modifiers

If your dog is a good candidate for surgery, there are more options. While there are quite a few different surgical strategies, the most common surgeries veterinarians use to treat hip dysplasia in dogs are:

  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO)

  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO)

  • Total hip replacement (THR)

Not all cases of hip dysplasia can be prevented. However, there are some steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing this disease. Keeping your dog’s skeletal system healthy should start when your dog is young. Feeding your puppy an appropriate diet will give them a head start on healthy bone and joint development and help prevent the excessive growth that leads to the disease.

As your dog grows, providing appropriate levels of exercise and a healthy canine diet will prevent obesity, which is a major contributing factor to hip dysplasia. Also, obesity causes many other health problems in dogs, so hold off on the table scraps and fatty foods. As a prospective owner of a new dog, do your research on the breed of your choice. Find a responsible breeder that does the appropriate health screenings, such as radiographs for hip dysplasia and more.

The best way that breeders can prevent hereditary hip dysplasia is to screen their breeding dogs for the disease. This is a process done by any ethical breeder. If you are looking into purchasing a puppy and the parents have not been screened and have public results with the OFA, we recommend looking elsewhere. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) health testing can help breeders determine the condition of their dogs’ hips, ensuring that they only breed dogs with hip joints rated normal grade or higher.


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