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Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds

Hip dysplasia is a fairly common hereditary ailment that commonly affects larger breeds, especially German Shepherds.

Hip dysplasia is a fairly common hereditary ailment that commonly affects larger breeds, especially German Shepherds.

German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia

German Shepherds make wonderful pets. They are smart, athletic, and loyal, making them great pets and working dogs. Unfortunately, like most large breed dogs, they are prone to a number of health problems.

One of the most common of these problems is hip dysplasia; according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, about 19% of German Shepherds have the ailment. Hip dysplasia is a joint problem which can cause pain and mobility problems for your dog and lead to the development of arthritis later in life.

German Shepherds can often live happily with the condition for some time, but it’s important to provide treatment and proper care to minimize their discomfort. Every owner should be familiar with hip dysplasia so that they can look out for warning signs, keep their pet healthy, and pursue treatment options if necessary.

What Is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder that occurs when a dog’s hip joint is not formed normally. In dogs that have hip dysplasia, the socket of the hip joint fits loosely around the ball, and the ligaments that connect and support the joint are not as strong as they should be.

This creates a joint that fits together loosely, meaning that the femur (the leg bone) moves around too much in the joint, causing pain and damage over time. Hip dysplasia can occur in one or both rear hips. Over time, hip dysplasia can lead to degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, and lameness. Some dogs with the disorder, however, only have mild symptoms.

The condition can emerge at any age and sometimes becomes apparent as early as a few months into a dog's life. However, symptoms most commonly emerge when a dog is one or two years old. In some mild cases, you may not know your dog has the condition until they are old and begin to get arthritis.

German Shepherds are at particular risk for the disorder because they are highly active and because of inbreeding in the breed’s history.

German Shepherds are at particular risk for the disorder because they are highly active and because of inbreeding in the breed’s history.

Why Are German Shepherds Susceptible to The Condition?

All kinds of dogs can be affected by hip dysplasia, but it is most common in large dogs such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Bulldogs, and Saint Bernards. German Shepherds are at particular risk for the disorder because they are highly active and because of inbreeding in the breed’s history.

The condition is hereditary, meaning that it is passed on through genetics. If it is present in your dog’s lineage, it’s more likely that your dog will eventually get the disorder as well.

How to Minimize Your Dog's Risk

The condition is hereditary, so there’s only so much you can do to reduce the risk of your dog developing it. When choosing where to adopt your dog from, you should look for a dog whose parents do not or did not have hip dysplasia.

Responsible breeders will not breed dogs that are known to have the condition. You should be able to view certification based on x-rays from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or PennHip. Unfortunately, it is impossible to guarantee that your adopted dog will not develop the condition later.

Luckily, there are some other steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing the disorder or to keep symptoms less extreme if they do develop it. Being overweight can place strain on your dog’s joints and aggravate hip dysplasia, so it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s guidelines for feeding. You should also make sure that your dog is on a specialized diet for large breed dogs.

A proper diet is especially important during your puppy’s first year when they are growing quickly. You can also take steps to reduce risks from exercise. German shepherds are active dogs, but exercise that’s too extreme can cause joint damage. As much as possible, you should limit jumping, such as jumping for treats or Frisbees.

Running for a long time can also strain your dog’s joints. The ideal exercise schedule includes multiple short periods of moderate exercise each day rather than one long period. Exercise such as walking and swimming can help your dog to build stabilizing muscle without straining their joints. Of course, your dog will also love going out for walks multiple times a day!

For some dogs, mild hip dysplasia can go unnoticed for years.

For some dogs, mild hip dysplasia can go unnoticed for years.

When to Be Concerned

Hip dysplasia causes pain and stiffness in the hips, so symptoms will cause your dog to have difficulty moving. In particular, your dog may be reluctant to get up from lying down or avoid going upstairs.

They may also be stiff or appear to be in pain after exercising or first thing in the morning. If you notice that your dog isn’t as active or doesn’t seem to be enjoying physical activities as much as usual, it could be a sign that they’re beginning to suffer from hip dysplasia. One of the clearest signs of the condition is an altered gait.

If your dog hops with both rear legs together while walking or running, there’s a strong chance they are developing the disorder. You may also notice that your dog gains weight quickly, largely because physical activity has become painful. If you notice any of these signs, set up an appointment to have an x-ray and evaluation with your vet. If the vet identifies hip dysplasia, you can begin preventative treatment that will make things much easier for your dog.

Options for German Shepherds With Hip Dysplasia

There is no cure for hip dysplasia, but treatments can help reduce pain, improve mobility, and slow the disorder’s development. Treatments vary depending on the dog and the severity of the problem.

The most basic remedies are the same as the preventative measures to keep your dog healthy: monitor their diet to keep their weight healthy, encourage moderate exercise such as walking and swimming, and (with your vet’s advice) give your dog a daily supplement that keeps their joints healthy.

There are other things you can do to help around the house, such as placing rugs over slippery floors to make it easier for your dog to get around. Some dogs also benefit from a heated bed that can help reduce pain while they sleep.

If your German Shepherd is diagnosed, your vet will likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication. If your dog is experiencing moderate to severe pain, your vet may also prescribe pain-relief medication. In more extreme cases, your vet may offer to surgically replace the hip.

It’s always best to consult with your vet about what the best options for your dog might be. By taking steps to keep your dog healthy every day, you can do a lot to reduce the symptoms of hip dysplasia and help your German Shepherd live a long and happy 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.


Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on June 06, 2019:


Good food, moderate exercise like swimming at a place where he can walk in and out easily. For medications it is best you talk to the vet, I prefer not to give advice on painkillers and supplements or supportive medication in these cases. Our dog got a lot of anti-inflammation painkillers when he had severe issues at old age, they helped him with the pain and walking, but it damaged his kidneys after some time. He was already very old when this started, but with a dog that is only 5 years old, I would be very careful not to damage essential organs because of medication, but that you've to talk over with a vet and depends on the seriousness at this point.

Ann on April 02, 2019:

My shepard is almost 5 years old, he has been diagnosed with arthritis in his left back leg, and his back. Is there anything we can do to help him please. Thank You

Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on March 24, 2018:

I'm sorry, but I have no knowledge about good herbal remedies. In most cases I would rely on a vet. In our own case when trying to help an aging dog (no hip dysplasia) we used supplements and in the end even painkillers, but all have very serious downsides. Stomach issues from continued painkiller use etc.

Peeing issues from supplements. Because older dogs start can get renal issues etc.

Especially the painkillers was sad, because you would see the dog was 'happier', but you know it wasn't good for general health. You try to give him a painless last couple of years (12-13 years of age), but you know it's not very healthy either.

linda on March 21, 2018:

My german shepherd is now 12yrs old. she has mostly been healfhy all her life. at 8 months she did have a lump removed from her back leg on her foot. she does go to the vet and is on rimadyl but her muscles in her back legs have started to descinegrate. are there herbs i can give her to help her? We live in pennsylvania. any help would be appreciated. Shes my best friend. thank-you.

Pam on March 15, 2018:

What happens next, my dog has become lame however she can get outside with this special leash that supports her back legs. Its getting hard just to get her out. She does eat and sleep fine, I realize my options are not good.