Canine Hip Dyspasia: What's the Rub?

(Photo by Ken Reid on Unsplash)

A Note From Dr. JR:

Canine hip dysplasia is one of the more common orthopedic developmental disorders seen in veterinary medicine.  In fact, you may have heard of it before. But what exactly is this condition?  

Hip dysplasia causes a malformation of the coxofemoral joint, or the joint where the femur (thigh bone) meets the hip.  In healthy dogs, the joint makes a tight ball-and-socket fit.  This allows for back and forth, side to side, and rotational movements.  In dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, the sockets are typically too shallow, thus the ball of the femoral head does not fit deeply enough into the socket of the femur.  This can lead to a partial dislocation (subluxation) or complete dislocation (luxation) of the joint as well as subsequent lameness or abnormal gait.

Which Breeds are Typically Affected?
Hip dysplasia is predominately seen in large breed dogs, though small to medium breeds can also be affected.  German Shepherds are the poster child for the disease, however, responsible breeding has helped to reduce the frequency and severity of the disease in many lines.  Other breeds that are often associated with the condition are Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Rottweilers.

How is the Condition Diagnosed?

Hip dysplasia is diagnosed based on a number of factors- these include your dog’s breed, a physical examination, and x-rays.  We should note, however, that while x-rays are helpful in diagnosing the disease, not all dogs with clinical evidence of hip dysplasia will have radiographic evidence.  The opposite can also be true; some dogs will be clinically normal, but will have x-rays that look very abnormal.  

At home, there are a number of signs you can look for.  In older dogs, signs of hip dysplasia may include lameness, difficulty getting up and down, and decreased activity.  In younger dogs, you may notice lameness or a “bunny hop” gait.  If you notice any of these symptoms, mention it to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will then have to evaluate all factors present to determine whether hip dysplasia is affecting your pet.

How Can I Keep My Dog From Developing Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia is a multifactorial disease process with both genetic and environmental influences. If you are going to purchase a breed of dog that is predisposed to developing hip dysplasia, be sure to start with a responsible breeder. If possible, obtain a thorough family history of the breed line.  Some breeders will have their pets either OFA or PennHIP certified.  These certification programs are designed to help reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia through sound breeding methods.

You can also help minimize the progression of osteoarthritis associated with hip dysplasia by raising your pet in the right environment.  Studies have shown that feeding large breed dogs a mildly calorie-restricted diet can help to reduce the chances of developing osteoarthritis compared to litter mates that were fed ad libitum (free fed).  As your pet ages, you can reduce strain on the joints by managing weight and decreasing repeated hard impact through moderated exercise (swimming, on-leash activity, reduced exposure to slippery floors, etc). Doing so will help protect your pet’s joints over the years.

Is There a Fix?
There are very advanced surgical methods to correct hip dysplasia, such as total hip replacement.  Though these techniques are becoming increasingly common, they are still practiced almost exclusively at large referral hospitals and cost several thousand dollars. These surgeries also require extensive physical therapy post-surgery.  Therefore, corrective surgery is not typically the most realistic or economical option.

Luckily, most cases of hip dysplasia can be managed using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), joint supplements, weight management, and exercise modification. Talk to your veterinarian about the best approach for your dog.  Together, you will be able to formulate a long term strategy for your pet.

Our information is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.  Do not use this information for diagnostic purposes. Always take your pet to your veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis and course of treatment.