Hip dysplasia in dogs

Hip dysplasia is an inherited disease. Dogs with hip dysplasia develop secondary osteoarthritis of the affected joint. Large-breed dogs are more likely to develop this condition, although it can affect dogs of any size or breed. 

Hip dysplasia may be associated with hip joint laxity and hip subluxation.  This disease is caused by abnormal development of the hip while the dog is growing. A system has been implemented to check for hip dysplasia before breeding dogs. This reduces the number of puppies born with this painful condition.



What is hip dysplasia in dogs?

The hips are “ball and socket” joints, which normally fit together perfectly to allow easy movement. 

Hip dysplasia is an inherited problem where there’s a tendency to develop loose hips early in life, resulting in dysfunction and pain.

This abnormal development of the hips can be caused by genetics, nutrition and hormones. 

As the dog grows, the cartilage and bones of the hip begin to wear down. Over time, this causes arthritis, muscle loss, and limited mobility.

Hip dysplasia

In the short term, most dogs with hip dysplasia will improve when they’re managed properly.

Long-term improvements aren’t always as successful.

It is common for dogs to live to an old age with exercise restrictions and medication.



How to identify the signs of hip dysplasia in dogs 

You might notice some or all of the following in your dog: 

  • Limping on one or both of the hind limbs 
  • Bunny-hopping: running/walking with both back legs moving together
  • A swaying walk
  • Difficulty jumping or walking upstairs 
  • Stiffness or limping after exercise 
  • Difficulty rising after periods of rest



Are some dogs more at risk of hip dysplasia than others?

Hip dysplasia can occur in any size dog.

Large-breed dogs: are more prone, such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Alaskan Malamutes, Newfoundland, Old English Sheepdogs, Rottweilers, Saint Bernards, and Samoyeds.

Nutrition: large-breed puppies with excessive calcium in their food. Puppies that grow too quickly or become obese due to inappropriate feeding.

Hormones: there is some evidence that puppies that are neutered while their bones are still growing may be more likely to develop hip dysplasia.

Excessive exercise during puppyhood does not necessarily contribute to the development of hip dysplasia. 



How to diagnose hip dysplasia in dogs

Hip dysplasia is usually diagnosed between 6 and 12 months of age.

To help determine whether your dog has hip dysplasia, a vet will:

  • Talk through the history of your dog’s life
  • Do an orthopaedic examination 
  • Take radiographs (x-rays)
  • Evaluate the hip laxity by manipulating the joint under sedation or under general anaesthesia


Vet treatment

How to treat hip dysplasia in dogs

Treatment for hip dysplasia depends on many factors, but the most important is the severity of the condition.  Your vet might recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  1. Weight Management
  2. Prescription Medications
  3. Supplements 
  4. Complementary/Alternative Therapies
  5. Intra Articular Interventions
  6. Controlled Exercise In Acute Onsets
  7. Surgery

Weight management 

It is important that your dog is kept at an ideal body condition score of 4-5 to prevent excessive weight on their joints. Vet nurses can help you with this.

Body Condition Score (BCS) is a scale that gives a practical evaluation of the fat coverage of your dogs body. By checking how easy or not it is to feel certain bony areas of the body, a score is then produced. There are several scales, from 1 to 5 or 1 to 9. The ideal body condition lies in the middle, so either 3/5 or 5/9.

The body areas normally checked for fat coverage are:

1. ribs and spine

2. hips and shoulders

3. waist

Body condition scoring (BCS) in dogs

Here are a few tips on how to do it.

With your pet in a standing position:

  • Place your hands on the rib cage and gently feel for each rib, without pressing too hard
  • Feel the waist and look from the top and the side (if you have a very furry breed, it may be harder to assess)
  • Feel the spine, which runs down the middle of the back
  • Feel the top of the hips and shoulders


The choice of medication is made on an individual basis, and various drugs may be tried before finding the most effective one. 

The most commonly used are:

  • Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)

Followed by other pain relief used together or as a stand-alone:

  • Gabapentin
  • Amantadine
  • Paracetamol
  • Codeine
  • Tramadol
  • Amitriptyline

Joint supplements 

Veterinary-approved nutritional supplements have been shown to:

  • Decrease inflammation within the joints
  • Slow the progression of arthritis 
  • Improve general mobility 
  • Decrease the amount of anti-inflammatory medication required 

The key ingredient a joint supplement should contain is: marine-based sources of omega 3 (such as green lipped mussels). Other ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid may also be beneficial. 

Alternatively, there are foods available that already contain joint supplements.

Note that many supplements available online and in pet shops do not have proven health benefits. If you need guidance speak to a vet.

Complementary/alternative therapies

Complementary therapies are often used alongside conventional treatment to help control hip dysplasia and arthritis symptoms.

Below are the various options. Use the following links as a useful tool to find qualified professionals.

Hydrotherapy: National Association of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists , Canine Hydrotherapy Association

Physiotherapy: The Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners (RAMP), The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT), National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists (NAVP)

Laser Therapy

Acupuncture: Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists

Homeopathy: British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons

Intra articular treatments

This is a local joint injection that aims to help with arthritis caused by hip dysplasia. There are many different intra-articular injection treatments: 

  • Steroids 
  • Hyaluronic Acid 
  • Platelet-rich plasma 
  • Stem Cells
  • Hydrogels 

Unfortunately, there is still insufficient scientific work to encourage the use of these treatments more frequently. 

Controlled exercise during painful episodes

Exercise should be restricted during any flare-up of lameness. 

Your dog should not run, jump, climb stairs, or have any boisterous activity for a period of 3 weeks.

Surgical management

If your dog has severe hip dysplasia that doesn’t respond to daily management, your vet may suggest surgery.

There are a few different surgical options, such as: 

  • Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis 
  • Triple pelvic osteotomy 
  • Total hip replacement 
  • Femoral head and neck excision 

Your vet will help you select the most suitable surgery on an individual basis. Most hip dysplasia operations require referral to a specialist veterinary hospital.


Home treatment

How to help your dog with hip dysplasia at home

As part of your vet’s treatment plan, the best you can do is:

  1. Keep your dog slim 
  2. Controlled exercise in acute onsets 
  3. Cold therapy during painful episodes
  4. Adapt activity levels for long-term management

Since this is a long-term illness, it is vital that you consider the prevention tips to improve and prolong the quality of life of your dog.

Keep your dog slim

It is important that your dog maintains an ideal BCS of 4-5 to prevent excessive weight on their joints. 

You can achieve this by:

  • Using a weight control diet.
  • Making sure you are giving the correct amount and frequency of food per day.
  • Avoiding extra treats or choosing healthy and low-calorie treats.
  • Avoiding giving human food.
  • Exercising your dog enough and correctly.
  • Contacting a vet nurse for guidance.

Controlled exercise during painful episodes

Exercise should be restricted during any flare-up of lameness. 

Your dog should not run, jump, climb stairs, or have any boisterous activity for a period of 3 weeks.

We suggest:

  • Mind/puzzle games to keep them busy
  • Keeping your dog on the lead
  • Short walks, on average a 10 minutes walk 3-4 times a day

Cold therapy during painful episodes

Applying cold to the hips after a flare-up of lameness can reduce inflammation and pain in a natural way.

For most dogs, applying a cold pack to the hips for 10 minutes, especially after exercise, can be helpful.

We still recommend you contact a vet before applying cold therapy to your dog. 

Adapting activity levels for long-term management

In the long term, dogs may benefit from short and frequent walks, and you will learn what they can cope with. 

The following guidelines are encouraged:

  • Avoid vigorous off-lead exercise, which will put excessive stress on their hips.
  • Short, frequent walks are better than long, infrequent walks.
  • Exercise patterns should be regular: avoid short walks during the week and long walks during the weekend.
  • Consider avoiding or reducing time spent ball/stick chasing in the park and/or boisterous play with other dogs.
  • High-impact activities such as running, jumping, twisting, and turning would be expected to cause lameness, so these activities may need to be avoided or reduced even in the long term.

Living with a dog with hip dysplasia:

Cost of surgery for dogs with hip dysplasia

Treatments for hip dysplasia can become expensive. 

If your dog has pet insurance, it’s worth chatting with your insurance provider to understand if they can provide support for any treatment required.

Surgery can eliminate pain that sometimes even life-long medical management cannot.

The cost of surgery varies tremendously and is based on many factors, such as:

  • Type of procedure
  • Dog’s age, size, breed, and pre-existing conditions
  • Type of clinical setting (academic, private practice, referral hospital, non-profit, or government agency)

Speak openly to your vet about any treatment cost concerns, along with what you think is right for your dog. 

Often, there are multiple treatment options, so if one doesn’t work for you and your pet, then your vet may be able to offer an alternative.



Can hip dysplasia in dogs be prevented?

Not all cases of hip dysplasia can be prevented. Nevertheless, there are some steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing this disease.

Tips on how to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia:

Check breed characteristics

Research the breed when getting a new dog.

Find a responsible breeder who performs health screenings, such as radiographs for hip dysplasia and genetic control tests.

Regular vet health checks

For early diagnosis and to help monitor any relevant changes. 

Puppies at high risk of hip dysplasia need to be closely monitored in the first 5 months of life.

To determine how healthy your dog’s hip joints are, there are several tests we can do:

  • hands-on examination tests under sedation or general anaesthesia 
  • radiographic studies with specific scoring systems

Weight control

As your dog grows, providing them with appropriate exercise and a healthy diet will help prevent obesity, one of the major contributing factors to hip dysplasia.

Giving the correct food and quantity for the age and stage of development of your dog is vital. 

Diet And Nutrition

Feeding your puppy an appropriate age and breed diet will give them a head start on healthy bone and joint development and help prevent the excessive growth that leads to the disease.

Exercise Caution

Staying fit and exercising regularly will help your dog’s muscles stay strong and reduce joint stress.

Dogs with hip dysplasia should never be exercised to the point of fatigue. 

Avoid high impact, sharp starts or stops, twisting, and repetitive movements such as ball throwing for prolonged periods.

Neutering guidance

If you plan to neuter your dog, do so with guidance regarding the most appropriate age for their breed. Early neutering can increase the risk of hip dysplasia.

As the disease is hereditary, it is recommended not to breed a pet that has hip dysplasia. 


When to worry

When to worry if your dog has hip dysplasia

Call a vet if your dog shows any of these signs or if you have any concerns:

  • Not improving or worsening despite treatment 
  • Sudden and dramatic worsening of stiffness or limping 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea, especially if taking medications 
  • Increased drinking or urination 

Pain can also appear in more subtle ways over a longer period of time, such as over weeks or months (chronic pain). If you want to learn more about these subtle symptoms, see “Symptoms of Arthritis or speak to us vets at Joii. 


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