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Understanding Hip Dysplasia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment for Dogs

Updated: Nov 12, 2023


healthy dog jumping free of hip dysplasia

Has your veterinarian diagnosed your dog with hip dysplasia, but you don't see any lameness? You may feeling that they misdiagnosed your pup, but your veterinarian is most likely correct in the diagnosis. Your doubt can be resolved once you understand more about hip dysplasia. This article involves a basic understanding of hip dysplasia in dogs, how it occurs, and the possible counter-strategies.


First of all, you need to understand that hip dysplasia is a deformity of the hip joint that occurs to a variable degree. You may have studied in your high school biology class that the hip joints are ball and socket joints. It is composed of a ball, the head of the femur, and a socket, the acetabulum of the pelvis. For this joint to work properly, both these structures need to develop synchronously.


If for any reason, these structures don't develop synchronously, it results in dysplasia. When these structures are not developed at equal rates, the nonuniformity results in arthritic changes followed by degenerative joint disease. The degree of lameness depends on the extent of these arthritic changes. Small abnormalities may not cause obvious lameness, which makes your concerns true. But it doesn't mean that your dog is not suffering from hip dysplasia. Let us dig deep into hip dysplasia to get its complete understanding.


Exploring Canine Hip Dysplasia: A Multifaceted Skeletal Challenge

x-ray of a dog with hip dysplasia
You can see the ball and socket joint are not fitting correctly.

Canine hip dysplasia stands as a prevalent skeletal concern, frequently manifesting in large dogs during their crucial growth phases. This condition holds a significant gravity, as it prompts the loosening of the hip joint, paving the way for pain and functional impairment.


Developmental Aberrations and Joint Dynamics:

  • Critical Growth Periods: Hip dysplasia typically takes root during the pivotal growth stages of large dog breeds. Abnormalities in joint development during this critical period set the stage for the emergence of this skeletal challenge.

  • Ball and Socket Joint Anomalies: At the heart of hip dysplasia lies the misshapen development of the ball and socket joint. Rather than evolving harmoniously, the joint undergoes deformities that disrupt its intended smooth articulation, leading to irregular movements.

  • From Smooth Slides to Grinding Friction: The consequence of abnormal joint development is a transition from the intended smooth gliding of bones within the joint to a disconcerting scenario of rubbing and grinding. This friction-induced wear and tear compromise the joint's integrity over time.

Progression: The Unfolding Impact Over Time:

  • Degeneration and Functional Loss: As the joint experiences rough movements, degeneration becomes an inevitable companion. The ongoing wear and tear lead to functional loss, impairing the joint's ability to perform its intended range of motion.

  • Arthritis Takes Center Stage: The initial aftermath of hip dysplasia is often marked by the onset of arthritis. This inflammatory condition, triggered by the irregular joint dynamics, amplifies the challenges by introducing stiffness, discomfort, and limited mobility.

  • Cascade of Challenges: Mobility and Muscle Atrophy: Arthritis sets the stage for a cascade of challenges, further exacerbating the impact of hip dysplasia. Limited mobility becomes a prominent issue, and muscle atrophy—resulting from reduced activity—adds an additional layer of complexity to the condition.

As we delve into the intricacies of canine hip dysplasia, we unravel a multifaceted challenge that spans critical growth phases to the onset of degenerative conditions. The journey from abnormal joint development to the emergence of arthritis paints a vivid picture of the complexity involved. Understanding this skeletal landscape equips caregivers and veterinarians alike to navigate the terrain of canine skeletal health with a comprehensive and proactive approach.


What can be the possible causes of hip dysplasia?

German Shepard puppy laying down

Hip dysplasia is a complex condition influenced by various factors, making it multifactorial in nature. While there isn't a singular cause, genetics stands out as a primary contributor to hip dysplasia, particularly prevalent in larger dog breeds. It can be considered a genetic disorder that underscores the significance of hereditary influences on its occurrence.


In addition to genetics, several physical factors play a pivotal role in determining the likelihood and severity of hip dysplasia. Notable contributors include the rapid growth rate during a dog's developmental stages, uncontrolled weight gain, the nature and intensity of exercise, and the quality and quantity of nutrition provided. These elements collectively shape the destiny of hip dysplasia, either mitigating or exacerbating its likelihood in dogs.


Tailoring the diet for puppies based on their breed becomes imperative in mitigating the risk of hip dysplasia. Specially formulated diets for large dog breed puppies are designed to meet their unique nutritional demands, helping to prevent undesired rapid growth that could contribute to skeletal disorders. Achieving a balanced nutrition ensures the optimal growth of the skeletal system, acting as a preventive measure against the development of hip dysplasia and other joint-related issues.


Conversely, an unbalanced diet poses risks similar to improper exercise, potentially leading to adverse health conditions, such as obesity. Obesity is a significant contributor to the development of hip dysplasia, exerting excessive pressure on the joints and exacerbating the condition. Recognizing the interplay of genetic, physical, and nutritional factors is crucial in developing comprehensive strategies to minimize the occurrence and impact of hip dysplasia in dogs.


What are the symptoms of hip dysplasia?

There are two times in a dogs life in which the chances of development of dysplasia are high. Some dogs tend to develop dysplasia at the young age of almost four months. Whereas some other dogs develop dysplasia in association with osteoarthritis as their age progresses.

old dog laying down because of hip dysplasia

Regardless of the timing, vigilant owners should be attuned to certain symptoms, recognizing that their manifestation varies among individual dogs and is influenced by factors such as the degree of function loss, condition severity, inflammation levels, and the duration of suffering from the disease.

  • Lameness: An observable change in gait or difficulty in movement can signify the presence of hip dysplasia, with lameness being a prominent symptom.

  • Depression: Dogs experiencing hip dysplasia may exhibit signs of depression, potentially stemming from discomfort and limited mobility.

  • Decreased Movement: A noticeable reduction in overall movement, including reluctance to engage in activities such as running, jumping, climbing, or even rising on their feet, could be indicative of hip dysplasia.

  • Compensatory Muscle Growth: Dogs might develop an undesired growth of shoulder muscles as a compensatory mechanism to offset hind limb weakness caused by hip dysplasia.

  • Bunny Hopping: A distinctive hopping motion, resembling a bunny, can be observed in dogs with hip dysplasia, reflecting the challenges they face in their hind limbs.

  • Stiffness: Stiffness, especially after periods of rest, can be a telltale sign of hip dysplasia, highlighting the discomfort and reduced joint flexibility associated with the condition.

Understanding and recognizing these symptoms is pivotal for early intervention and management of hip dysplasia. The variability in their presentation emphasizes the importance of considering individual factors when assessing a dog's condition, ensuring a comprehensive and tailored approach to care.


Breeds That Are Prone to Canine Hip Dysplasia

n the realm of canine health, the risk of developing hip dysplasia is notably associated with certain breeds, predominantly those on the larger end of the spectrum. While it's a broad understanding that large dog breeds are generally prone to this orthopedic condition, specific breeds often find themselves more susceptible to its development. Delving into this predisposition, the following breeds emerge as commonly affected by canine hip dysplasia:

large dog laying down showing pain of hip dysplasia
  • German Shepherds: Renowned for their intelligence and versatility, German Shepherds are unfortunately prone to hip dysplasia, adding a layer of consideration for owners of this beloved breed.

  • Great Danes: The majestic Great Dane, with its impressive stature, is among the breeds with an increased susceptibility to hip dysplasia, underscoring the importance of proactive health management.

  • Labradors: Labradors, known for their friendly demeanor and versatility, are not immune to hip dysplasia, emphasizing the need for attentive care and monitoring.

  • Mastiffs: The robust Mastiff, characterized by its powerful build, is among the breeds where hip dysplasia can manifest, necessitating a vigilant approach to their orthopedic well-being.

  • Bulldogs: Bulldogs, with their distinctive appearance and amiable nature, also find themselves on the list of breeds prone to hip dysplasia, prompting considerations for preventive measures.

  • Rottweilers: Known for their strength and loyalty, Rottweilers are susceptible to hip dysplasia, prompting responsible ownership practices to address and manage this potential health concern.

  • Golden Retrievers: Despite their friendly disposition, even Golden Retrievers are not immune to the challenges posed by hip dysplasia, necessitating early detection and intervention.

  • Pugs: While smaller in size compared to some other prone breeds, Pugs can also be affected by hip dysplasia, highlighting the importance of breed-specific health awareness.

  • St. Bernards: St. Bernards, celebrated for their gentle nature, are among the larger breeds prone to hip dysplasia, urging owners to be proactive in their care.

Understanding the breed-specific predisposition to hip dysplasia empowers dog owners and breeders alike to adopt preventive measures, fostering a proactive approach to canine health within these susceptible breeds.


Decoding the Diagnostic Journey: Identifying Canine Hip Dysplasia

veterinarian doing exam on dogs for hip dysplasia

Diagnosing hip dysplasia in dogs is a methodical yet accessible process, typically initiated during routine veterinary checkups or specific consultations related to orthopedic concerns. The diagnostic journey begins with a comprehensive physical examination conducted by the veterinarian, aiming to assess joint viability and identify any potential signs of discomfort, grinding, or loss of function.


Physical Examination:

  • Joint Assessment: The veterinarian employs palpation and manipulation techniques to evaluate the hip joint's condition, looking for irregularities, pain, or limitations in movement.

  • Observing Signs: Observable signs, such as changes in gait, reluctance to bear weight on the affected limb, or signs of discomfort during certain movements, contribute to the initial suspicion of hip dysplasia.


Confirmatory Tests:

  • Blood Profile Test: To complement the physical examination, a blood profile test may be conducted. This test helps assess overall health and may provide insights into any inflammatory processes or systemic conditions associated with hip dysplasia.

  • Radiograph (X-ray): A pivotal step in confirming hip dysplasia involves obtaining radiographs or X-rays of the hip joint. This diagnostic tool allows for a precise visualization of the joint structure, revealing the degree of deformity, the extent of joint laxity, and the presence of secondary signs such as arthritis.

X-ray Analysis:

  • Degree of Deformity: The X-ray provides a detailed image that allows the veterinarian to assess the degree of deformity present in the hip joint. This information is crucial for determining the severity of the condition.

  • Joint Laxity and Arthritis: The X-ray not only reveals the primary signs of hip dysplasia but also allows for an evaluation of joint laxity and the presence of arthritis, contributing to a comprehensive understanding of the condition.

The combination of a thorough physical examination and confirmatory tests, especially X-rays, equips veterinarians with the necessary information to make an accurate diagnosis of hip dysplasia. This diagnostic clarity paves the way for tailored treatment plans and interventions to address the specific needs of dogs affected by this orthopedic challenge.


Navigating Treatment Paths: Addressing Canine Hip Dysplasia

The treatment landscape for canine hip dysplasia unfolds as a nuanced journey, offering various options tailored to the severity and extent of the condition. Veterinarians carefully assess the individual case to determine the most appropriate course of action, considering factors such as the dog's overall health, lifestyle, and the degree of damage present. The treatment approaches can be broadly categorized into nonsurgical methods, focusing on lifestyle modifications, and surgical interventions for severe cases.


Nonsurgical Treatment:

  1. Lifestyle Modifications: For dogs with mild to moderate hip dysplasia, nonsurgical approaches revolve around lifestyle modifications. These may include the elimination of strenuous exercises from the daily routine, reducing weight to alleviate joint stress, and making adjustments to the living environment to enhance comfort.

  2. Physical Therapy: Incorporating physical therapy becomes integral in managing hip dysplasia. Targeted exercises, stretching routines, and therapeutic activities aim to improve joint flexibility, strengthen supporting muscles, and enhance overall mobility.

  3. Medication: Anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed to manage pain and reduce inflammation associated with hip dysplasia. Additionally, fluid modifiers for joints and joint supplements may be recommended to support joint health and function.

Surgical Treatment:

  1. Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO): In cases where nonsurgical methods may not suffice, femoral head ostectomy is a surgical option. This involves the removal of the femoral head (the ball of the hip joint), eliminating the source of friction and pain. Over time, the body forms a 'false joint,' enabling improved mobility.

  2. Double or Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (DPO/TPO): Another surgical approach is double or triple pelvic osteotomy, aimed at repositioning the hip socket to enhance joint stability. This procedure is particularly suitable for younger dogs with hip dysplasia.

  3. Total Hip Replacement (THR): In severe cases where joint degeneration is extensive, total hip replacement may be considered. This involves replacing the entire hip joint with a prosthetic implant, offering a long-term solution for improved function and reduced pain.

The choice between nonsurgical and surgical methods hinges on the individual circumstances of the dog and the collaborative decision-making between veterinarians and pet owners. Each avenue of treatment holds its own considerations, and a personalized approach ensures the most effective and compassionate care for dogs navigating the challenges of hip dysplasia.


Nourishing Joint Health: Understanding Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Dogs

In the realm of canine health, glucosamine and chondroitin emerge as pivotal components, especially for large breed dogs grappling with skeletal issues. When a veterinarian diagnoses skeletal problems in a dog, the addition of glucosamine to their diet often becomes a recommended course of action. Typically available in chewable forms along with chondroitin, these supplements play a crucial role in supporting joint health and addressing conditions such as degenerative joint disease.


Role in Joint Cartilage Growth:

dog eating glucosamine treat for hip dysplasia
  • Essential Nutrients: Glucosamine stands as an essential nutrient for large breed dogs, offering foundational support to their skeletal well-being. When incorporated into the diet, it can aid in maintaining and promoting joint health.

  • Chondroitin's Complementary Role: Often found alongside glucosamine in supplement formulations, chondroitin complements its counterpart by contributing to the growth of joint cartilage. This dynamic duo becomes particularly relevant in the context of degenerative joint disease, where cartilage and bones face deterioration.

Addressing Skeletal Disorders:

  • Prevention of Arthritis and Dysplasia: Veterinarians may recommend incorporating glucosamine into a dog's diet as a preventive measure, especially if the dog is deemed prone to skeletal disorders like arthritis and dysplasia. The aim is to proactively support joint health and deter the onset or progression of these conditions.

  • Safe Long-Term Use: Joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin are considered safe for long-term use. Given the progressive nature of arthritis, early intervention becomes crucial, and these supplements are deemed safe for extended periods as part of a comprehensive treatment strategy.

  • Reducing Severity of Dysplasia: While research on the efficacy of these supplements in reducing the severity of dysplasia is limited, their role in promoting overall joint health is acknowledged. The growth of new cartilage in joints, facilitated by glucosamine and chondroitin, contributes to the dog's skeletal resilience.

In the pursuit of canine wellness, the incorporation of glucosamine and chondroitin as supplemental nutrition underscores a proactive approach to skeletal health. As vital components for joint cartilage growth, these nutrients offer a valuable means of supporting large breed dogs, enhancing their quality of life and mitigating the impact of degenerative joint conditions.


Exploring Alternative Horizons: Support Therapies for Canine Skeletal Health

Beyond conventional treatments, a spectrum of alternative support therapies has emerged, each offering unique approaches to enhance the well-being of dogs facing skeletal system disorders. Acupressure, red light therapy, and various alternative modalities are not only in use but are increasingly recognized as complementary strategies, augmenting the efficacy of traditional treatments. Delving into these alternative horizons reveals the potential wonders they can perform for your canine companion.

woman doing canine acupressure on dog

Canine Acupressure

Acupressure, rooted in Chinese Medicine, has transcended centuries to find relevance in modern veterinary care. This technique involves applying pressure to specific energy pathways, or acupoints, to address imbalances and promote overall wellness. The underlying principle of acupressure revolves around correcting the flow of energy in the body. By applying targeted pressure, practitioners aim to alleviate inflammation, pain, and muscle spasms caused by skeletal disorders.


According to Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center, acupressure is the ancient form of massage that has proved itself a wonderful preventative and complementary care option for countless body problems. The goal of acupressure is to maintain the flow of Chi through the 14 channels of the body. The constant flow of Chi is responsible for keeping the body at its maximum potential. It increases the body’s potential to heal and maintain a steady state of health.


Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), utilizes specific wavelengths of light to penetrate tissues and stimulate cellular energy production. This non-invasive approach has garnered attention for its potential in promoting healing. This therapy is believed to stimulate the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecular unit of energy in cells. By enhancing cellular energy, it facilitates the healing and recovery of damaged cells in the skeletal system.


As a safe and effective method, red light therapy serves as an alternative that can be seamlessly integrated into a holistic care plan. Its accessibility and non-invasiveness contribute to its popularity among pet owners.

red light therapy on dog with hip dysplasia
  • It increases the blood flow towards the joints to promote healing. It does so by vasodilation, promoting more nutrients and blood cells to promote healing.

  • It triggers the release of serotonin to reduce inflammation.

  • It promotes the elimination of edematous fluid through lymphatic drainage.

  • It significantly increases the production of ATP, synthesis of DNA and RNA.

  • It stimulates natural endorphin release to decrease pain

  • It boosts the collagen production to support between the joints

Employing acupressure, red light therapy, and other alternative modalities in conjunction with traditional treatments creates a synergistic approach. This collaboration addresses the multifaceted nature of skeletal disorders, promoting a more comprehensive and effective healing journey for dogs.


Embracing the wonders of alternative support therapies opens up new possibilities for canine care, emphasizing a holistic approach that considers both traditional and unconventional avenues. As the realms of veterinary medicine continue to evolve, these alternative therapies carve a valuable niche in fostering the well-being of dogs facing skeletal challenges.


Conclusion: Nurturing Canine Mobility

In the intricate tapestry of canine health, the journey through understanding and addressing hip dysplasia unveils a landscape of knowledge and compassion. From recognizing early symptoms to embracing both conventional and alternative therapies, our exploration has been a holistic endeavor aimed at enhancing the quality of life for our loyal companions.


The versatility of treatment options, spanning lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, and surgical interventions, empowers pet owners to make informed decisions tailored to their dog's unique needs. Beyond the realm of traditional care, alternative therapies such as acupressure and red light therapy add a complementary layer, enriching the spectrum of possibilities for skeletal well-being.


As we navigate the challenges of hip dysplasia, the significance of early detection and proactive measures cannot be overstated. Breed susceptibility sheds light on the importance of breed-specific awareness and preventive care. It's a collaborative effort between pet owners and veterinarians, a journey where knowledge meets action for the betterment of our canine companions.


In concluding our exploration of hip dysplasia, let us continue to advocate for the well-being of our furry friends. With a blend of traditional wisdom and contemporary insights, we pave the way for a future where canine mobility is nurtured, and the bond between humans and their beloved companions remains steadfast and enduring.

dog rolling on the ground doesn't have hip displasia

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