Kate is a former veterinarian's assistant of five years. She maintains a passion for training and caring for dogs of all types.
What Is Hip Dysplasia?
From exercise partners, to sleep buddies, to adoring companions, even to reliable foot warmers—our dogs are irreplaceable members of our families. That's why it's important for us to safeguard their well-being and educate ourselves on the health risks they may face.
Hip dysplasia is one of those risks. It's a skeletal disorder that affects the ball and socket and surrounding muscles in your dog's hips. As it progresses, it can become a source of misery and pain for your beloved pet which, let's face it, is a source of misery and pain for you and me. Fortunately, armed with a little knowledge and foresight, you can often recognize the early signs of this condition and keep your dog healthier and happier longer.
What Causes the Condition in Dogs?
Although some environmental factors like weight and exercise habits can affect your dog's predilection for hip dysplasia, it's usually caused by genetic factors. Certain breeds, especially the bigger ones like Saint Bernards or German Shepherds, are more likely to develop problems with their hips. Unfortunately, the condition also pops up in smaller breeds like Pugs and French Bulldogs, too.
To put it simply, hip dysplasia is a bad fit between the ball or head of the femur and the socket it fits into. Usually, the two bones come together smoothly, like puzzle pieces. Hip dysplasia is characterized by a poor fit of the bone and socket and looseness in the joint which causes stress over time.
Eventually, the socket widens and begins to flatten while the end of the femur grows larger. Ongoing irritation makes the situation worse and the condition continues to escalate, causing increasing pain for your dog. Although this condition usually develops over time and is more likely to affect, or at least present itself, in an older dog, puppies can also show symptoms.
Early Signs of Hip Joint Issues
There are several signs that your dog may have the beginnings of hip dysplasia. That's not to say that these symptoms can't be a sign of something else. The best rule to follow when it comes to your pet is that if you notice any of the following signs for more than a couple of days, take them into the veterinarian so you can start ruling stuff out. Here are a few possible signs your dog may be experiencing hip pain:
- An Aversion to Climbing and Jumping. If your dog is avoiding the stairs, seems reluctant to jump up onto the couch with you for a Netflix snuggle-fest, or hesitates before jumping into the car for her weekly ride along to In-N-Out then it could be because she's in pain.
- "Bunny Hopping." Bunny hopping is just what it sounds like. Cute name, but not a very cute situation. Picture a bunny hopping, with both back legs moving in unison. A dog feeling the effects of hip dysplasia may move about like this to avoid the soreness caused by a normal gait.
- Reluctance to Get Up. If your dog seems lazy and reluctant to get up after lying in one spot for a while don't just blame it on old age. If it's not typical behavior for your dog it could be a sign of hip dysplasia or another condition that needs to be checked out by your vet.
- Lack of Activity. Older dogs naturally slow down . . . don't we all? If this slowing down seems to be happening prematurely, it warrants a call to the vet. Dogs know when movement is the root of the discomfort they are feeling and will avoid it.
- Lameness or Stiff Joints. When a dog is walking with a limp in his back legs, whether it's off and on, or ongoing, it could be a sign of trouble brewing. In addition to a limp, an unnatural and stiff legged walk could also be telling you there's a problem.
- A Shift in Muscle Tone. Hip dysplasia can cause the muscles in the thigh to diminish as the work of moving falls more readily to the front, less sensitive legs. On the other hand, the shoulders may begin to bulk up as those muscles carry a larger role in movement.
- A Clicking or Grating Sound. Sometimes, you can actually hear the damaged/faulty joints click.
- Obvious Pain. You know when your pet is hurting. She may jump when her hips are touched, or even shy away from your hand when you reach out to pet her. If your dog isn't usually growly and snappy and has suddenly become aggressive, it could be a sign that she's feeling protective of her space because she's in pain.
- A Narrowed Stance. If your dog's back legs are planted on the ground closer together than they were before, it might be telling you that the former, wider stance is now a painful one.
Your dog may evidence a range of these symptoms, or you may only see one or two in his mannerisms. It's always better to err on the side of caution and talk to your veterinarian about your dog's new symptoms.
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Can Puppies Get Hip Dysplasia?
Yes, they can. Keep in mind that this is generally a genetic condition with some environmental influences. Being genetic means that it could actually be present at an early age and it's possible for a puppy to have hip dysplasia and have no telltale symptoms. For this reason, it's crucial to schedule regular checkups.
Only a trained doctor can tell if there is or will be a problem. If you find your puppy does have this condition, don't freak out. With early intervention, proper care, and a healthy diet, your pup should be able to live a happy, comfortable life.
Preventing Hip Dysplasia
If you're concerned that your dog might be at risk for hip dysplasia, here's some tips for preventing it.
- Feed Your Dog a High-Quality Diet (and Don't Overfeed): Make sure you're feeding your dog food that's not loaded with empty calories. Obesity can exacerbate problems with the hips. If you're not sure what type of food is best for your dog, ask your veterinarian's office what they recommend based on your dog's breed, current weight and age.
- Exercise Your Dog: Exercise is important but strenuous exercise can irritate already tired joints, and no exercise at all can lead to obesity and a lack of muscle support. Taking your canine companion for a short walk, say, 5-10 minutes after each meal is a good way for both of you to get some light exercise and a bit of fresh air too!
- Make Rules and Enforce Them: Establishing specific rules and expectations that safeguard your dog's joints will pay off later. If your dog is not in the habit of jumping on people, or galloping in wild abandon, when the joints become more fragile, she'll already behave in a way that doesn't damage her joints.
Treatment Options for Your Pup
If your dog is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, you and your veterinarian will go over which treatment options will work best for you and your dog's daily routine and they might include:
- A weight loss regimen that includes a healthy diet and moderate exercise like taking a ten-minute walk after dinner on level ground.
- Physical therapy
- Medications, including anti-inflammatory meds that will help to reduce your dog's pain and swelling.
- Surgery, which can include a hip replacement.
Dr. Anthony Cambridge Explains How to Recognize Hip Dysplasia in Your Dog
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.
© 2018 Kate Stroud