Canine Hip Dysplasia

Canine Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is not something that a dog owner—especially one of a large or giant breed—ever wants to hear. Hip dysplasia is a condition that has the ability to drastically reduce the quality of life of a dog, and it is can be incredibly painful for the owner to have to watch a dog suffer through. Luckily, it is possible to stay on the front side of all this be educating yourself—as a dog owner—on the potential health conditions of a large dog breed, which includes hip dysplasia, as this can go a long way in maintaining a long, healthy life for your dog.

Below, you will find a wealth of information on what you need to know about hip dysplasia, such as the symptoms, potential treatment options, as well as a preventative measures that can be taken to keep your canine happy, healthy, and active.

What Exactly Is Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia is a relatively common condition of the skeletal system, particularly in large and giant breed dogs, though it can sometimes occur in smaller breeds. In order for you to understand how this disease works, you need to first be familiar with the basic anatomy of a dog’s hip joint.

The hip joint works as a ball and socket. In dogs with hip dysplasia, however, the joint doesn’t develop as it should, so instead of sliding smoothly, it rubs and grinds. This movement results in severe deteriorate over time, and eventually, the joints loses function.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia?

There are numerous factors that can result in the hip dysplasia development in canines, beginning with genetics. This is a condition that is considered hereditary, and it is particularly common in large and giants breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, St. Bernards, Great Danes, and German Shepherds. The genetic predisposition is often amplified by various environmental factors like exercise, excessive growth, weight, and nutrition.

Large and giant breed puppies have specific nutrition requirements and require specially formulated puppy foods that are designed specifically for large breeds. These types of foods help to prevent excessive growth, which can result in skeletal disorders such as hip dysplasia, in addition to elbow dysplasia along with other joint-related conditions. Slowing down the growth of these breeds helps to ensure that the dog’s joints properly develop with minimal strain on them, which helps to prevent problems later on. Keep in mind, though, hip dysplasia is not only limited to large and giant breeds of dogs.

There is a chance that improper nutrition can impact the likelihood of a dog developing hip dysplasia, in addition to too much—or little—exercise. Obesity can put a significant amount of stress on a dog’s joints, which can aggravate a pre-existing condition or even cause hip dysplasia. Take the time to talk to your veterinarian about the most appropriate diet for your canine and the most appropriate amount of daily exercise to ensure that your dog remains in good physical health.

Don’t assume that because you own a small dog that you don’t need to do any of this stuff. It is still possible for small and medium breed dogs to develop hip dysplasia; the only difference is that it is just less common.

Symptoms of Canine Hip Dysplasia

Some canines will start showing signs of the condition as early as four months old, while others canines will develop it as they age and begin developing osteoarthritis. In either case, there are numerous symptoms that are associated with hip dysplasia that owners of large breed dogs should familiarize themselves with. These symptoms could vary depending on the exact severity of the condition, the level of inflammation, degree of joint looseness, and the length of time that the canine has been suffering from the disease.

  • Decreased range of motion
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Difficulty/reluctance rising, running, jumping, or climbing stairs
  • Pain, stiffness
  • Looseness in the joint
  • Lameness in the hind end
  • Narrow stance
  • Grating in the joint during movement
  • Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait
  • Loss of thigh muscle mass

Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia

At a regular checkup for your dog, the veterinarian will generally perform a physical exam. In some cases, this single exam is enough for the vet to have suspicions about hip dysplasia. In other cases, though, it is up to the owner—and that’s you!—to inform your veterinarian about your suspicions, such as the discomfort that you have noticed your dog having.

If you or your vet suspects canine hip dysplasia, among the first things that need to be done is a complete physical examination. Your vet will test the joint’s flexibility. He or she will manipulate your canine’s hind legs to determine how loose the joint is and check for any reduced range of motion, pain, or grinding.

The definitive diagnosis will generally come when an X-ray is performed. The veterinarian will typically take X-rays of your canine’s hips to determine the severity and degree of the disease, which will help determine the most appropriate form of treatment for your dog.

Treating Canine Hip Dysplasia

There are several different treatment options available for dogs that have been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, ranging from simple lifestyle changes to more severe surgery.

If the hip dysplasia condition is not severe, or if surgery is not an option because your dog isn’t a candidate due to financial or medical reasons, your veterinarian will likely recommend a non-surgical approach to treatment. Depending on your dog’s individual case, the following may be suggested by your veterinarian:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications (like NSAIDS, aspirin, and corticosteroids)
  • Joint fluid modifiers
  • Weight reduction, which will help to minimize the stress on the hips
  • Exercise restriction, particularly on hard surface areas
  • Physical therapy

If your dog is actually a candidate for surgery, there are even more options available. While there are several different surgical strategies, there are some that are more common than others. Some of the common surgeries that are used to treat canine hip dysplasia by veterinarians include the following:

  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO or TPO)
  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO)
  • Total Hip Replacement (THR)


This particular type of surgery is generally performed in canines under 10 months of age. This surgery calls for the surgeon to improve the functioning of the joint by selectively cutting the pelvic bone and then rotating its segments.

FHO (Femoral Head Ostectomy)

This surgery can be performed on both young and mature canines alike. It involves cutting of the ball, or femoral head, of the hip joint, which essentially results in the body creating a “fake” joint, thereby reducing the dog’s discomfort that is associated with the hip dysplasia disease. This particular form of surgery doesn’t recreate normal function of the hip, but it can be considered a successfully strategy for pain management.

THR (Total Hip Replacement)

The total hip replacement surgery is considered the most effective treatment for canine hip dysplasia. The entire joint is replaced by the surgeon with metal and plastic implants, which helps to restore hip function to a more normal range, and it also eliminates the majority of the discomfort and pain associated with the disease.

Preventing Canine Hip Dysplasia

While it is important to understand that all hip dysplasia cases cannot be prevented, there are some preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the overall risk that your canine will develop this terrible disease.

You should begin while your dog is young maintaining a healthy skeletal system. To begin, you should make certain that you are feeding your puppy a healthy, appropriate diet, and this is most important if you have a large or giant breed puppy, as this will give your pup a jump start on bone and joint development. It will also help to prevent excessive growth that is known to lead to hip dysplasia.

As your dog begins to grow, you will want to ensure your dog is getting the appropriate amounts of exercise, along with a healthy diet that will help to prevent obesity, which is a contributing factor to the disease. Obesity is also a contributing factor to many other canine healthy problems like elbow dysplasia, diabetes, and more, so try to avoid table scraps, fatty foods, etc.

Large and giant breed dog foods tend to contain joint supplements—such as glucosamine—and glucosamine supplements can be purchased for canines that may be prone to developing hip dysplasia and arthritis later down the road. Research may be limited, but these supplements could potentially help to lower the risk of developing the condition.

For breeders, the best and most effective way to prevent hereditary hip dysplasia is to take the time to have their breeding dogs screened for the hip dysplasia disease. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) health testing can assist breeders in determining the condition of the hips of their dogs, which will ensure that only dogs that have normal grade hips are bred.

Prognosis for Canines with Hip Dysplasia

Dogs that have been diagnosed with the hip dysplasia disease tend to go on to lead long, happy, full lives, especially if they have received treatment for the condition. If you suspect that your dog has the disease, or if your canine has recently been diagnosed with the condition, reach out to us at Huntsville Veterinary Specialists & Emergency about lifestyle changes and various treatment options that are available to help keep your dog comfortable and make life easier for your dog well into his or her old age.