A Simple Guide to Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Updated on January 23, 2020
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Whitney has over 10 years of experience in dog training, rescuing, and healthcare.

Diagram of Hip Dysplasia
Diagram of Hip Dysplasia

The hip joint is composed of a ball-and-socket joint. The ball is the head of the femur (hind leg bone) and the socket is in the pelvis. In a normal hip joint, the ball and socket are perfectly matched to each other like puzzle pieces, with the socket surrounding the ball. There are connective tissues and ligaments that attach the ball and joint for stability.

Hip dysplasia is characterized by abnormal joint structure and weakened supporting tissues. This weakening often begins while the dog is still young and physically immature. Early-onset hip dysplasia usually develops as early as four months. Later onset can develop due to osteoarthritis when the dog is older.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors.

  • Genetic predisposition: If one or both of the parents have hip dysplasia, the puppies are more susceptible to developing the disorder.
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Nutritional factors: Feeding puppies a diet with too little calcium or other minerals may have a detrimental effect on the development of the hip joint.
  • Pelvic-muscle mass
  • Over-exercise: Dogs that were over-exercised as puppies may have an increased risk, especially if already predisposed.

There is no connection in gender, but larger dog breeds are more likely to have a genetic predisposition for hip dysplasia. Common large and giant breeds that are affected include Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds.

Signs of Canine Hip Dysplasia

The signs of hip dysplasia are similar to arthritis. Puppies may show pain and discomfort during and after exercise or play, and it may worsen until normal activities are painful. In adult dogs, the signs can include stiffness, pain and an altered gait.

Depending on the severity, the symptoms may vary.

  • Decreased physical activity
  • Difficulty standing
  • Reluctance to run, jump or climb stairs
  • Intermittent or persistent hind-limb lameness
  • A swaying gait
  • Narrow stance where the back legs are unnaturally close together
  • Pain in the hip joints
  • Joint looseness (more common in early onset; may not be seen in late-onset hip dysplasia due to arthritis)
  • Decreased range of motion in the hips
  • Loss of muscle mass in the thighs
  • Enlarged shoulder muscles mass

Treatments for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia can be treated surgically or managed non-surgically. There are several surgical procedures that your vet may choose depending on the dog's age, size and the severity of the hip joints.

  • Triple Pelvic Osteotomy: Typically performed in younger dogs less than ten months old that have severe looseness in the hips but haven't developed damage to the joints.
  • Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis: A less invasive surgery that prematurely fuses the two pelvic bones together so that the other pelvic bones will develop normally. This procedure must be performed in puppies 20 weeks or younger before any arthritic signs are evident.
  • Total Hip Replacement: This option is for dogs that have degenerative joint disease caused by chronic hip dysplasia.
  • Femoral Head and Neck Excision: This procedure is typically performed on dogs that weigh 50 pounds or less. It removes the head of the femur and creates a pseudo-joint. The dog will live pain-free and be able to regain normal daily activities, but a full range of motion nor joint stability will be decreased.

Depending on the severity of the disorder, you can medically manage it without surgery. Through proper diet, exercise, supplements, anti-inflammatories and pain medications, the dog may be able to regain some or most of its daily activities pain-free.

Supplements and Holistic Remedies

Since many of the signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia are similar to arthritis, you can supplement with similar vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Some research shows that 75% of dogs with hip dysplasia will lead a normal life with appropriate supplements and management.

Note: Before putting your dog on an over-the-counter supplement, make sure to consult your veterinarian first, especially if your dog is already taking a prescription medication.

Supplements That Can Help With Hip Dysplasia

Glucosamine and chondroitin
Repair joint wear-and-tear
Relieves pain and joint inflammation
Omega 3S
Relieves pain and joint inflammation
Facilitates the body's regenerative processes
Hyaluronic acid
Decreases pain and improves mobility

Herbs Thought to Alleviate Hip Dysplasia Symptoms

Dandelion and Nettle
Aid in joint repair and eliminating metabolic waste
Relieve pain and discomfort
Licorice and Yucca
Anti-inflammatory properties
Ginkgo, Hawthorne, Rosemary, Cayenne and Ginger
Improves blood circulation

Although hip dysplasia is a progressive and irreversible disease, surgical and non-surgical treatments can be successful in creating almost-normal, pain-free functions and overall life.


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2016 Whitney


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