Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Causes, Prevention & Treatment

Hip Dysplasia sounds serious, and, unfortunately, as many pet parents find out, for a dog, and not just large breed dogs (as some mistakenly believe) it certainly can be. However, as the understanding of, and treatments for, this primarily gene based condition improve so do the chances that affected dogs have a better chance than ever of leading happy, active lives even after a diagnosis of hip dysplasia.

As dogs depend very much upon the humans who take care of them, it really is up to the pet parents of susceptible pups to take the time to educate themselves about the condition and what can be done to prevent, and, if needed, treat it. And that is what we hope to help with here.

What is Dog Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a relatively common skeletal condition. It does not just occur in dogs, it can be found in human adults and children, cats and other animals. Basically, in any living thing that has hip bones. Canine hip dysplasia, like other forms, occurs because the hip socket is not properly formed. As most people know the hip joint is a ball and socket mechanism and in dogs who develop hip dysplasia the joint does not develop as it should and instead of moving smoothly it rubs and grinds as the pup walks or runs.

Over time, as you might expect, this can lead to a deterioration of the joint. This can then lead to the eventual failure of the joint itself and a loss of movement for the pup.

When Does Hip Dysplasia Occur in Dogs?

There is no set timeline for the development of canine hip dysplasia. Puppies as young as four months old may begin to display symptoms but at the other end of the spectrum older dogs, who have been active and healthy to that point, may display symptoms that have been triggered - and/or worsened - by the onset of age related osteoarthritis.

Because there is no way to predict when vulnerable pups may develop the condition the best course of action for any pet parent is to be aware of the possibility and be prepared to act as soon as they observe symptoms and behaviors that may indicate there is a problem with the hip.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

There are several known causes of hip dysplasia in dogs. Most of them begin with genetics, as it is primarily a hereditary disease. This does mean that the pet parents of dogs who belong to breeds known to be prone to developing the condition are usually, if they have taken the time to do some research, aware that it is a possibility.

Genetics aside though not environmental factors can increase the chances that hip dysplasia will become problematic. These include weight, nutrition and the level of exercise that a dog is allowed.

Worst Affected Hereditary Hip Dysplasia Dog Breeds

In reality any dog could develop hip dysplasia. But there are certain breeds that are far more likely to than others. Many people do assume, as we previously mentioned, that the condition only affects large and giant breed dogs, but that is not the case. According to a study conducted by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals that focused on dogs born between 2011-2015, the following list breaks down which dog breeds are most likely to develop hip dysplasia.

  1. Pugs
  2. Bulldogs
  3. German Shepherds
  4. Rottweilers
  5. Great Danes
  6. Saint Bernards
  7. Neapolitan Mastiffs
  8. American Staffordshire Terriers
  9. Otterhounds
  10. Bloodhounds
  11. Newfoundlands
  12. Catahoula Hounds
  13. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  14. Golden Retrievers
  15. Norwegian Elkhounds
  16. Chows
  17. Old English Sheepdogs
  18. Pugs
  19. French Bulldogs
  20. Basset Hounds

As you can see, there are a number of small breed dogs on this 'Top Twenty' list. According to the report the occurrence of hip dysplasia in smaller dogs has increased - in some cases - significantly over the last few decades and the Foundation is now continuing its research work to try to pinpoint just why that is (although there are already a number of theories).

How To Tell If Your Dog Has Hip Dysplasia?

As we have mentioned several times now that pet parents should be 'on the lookout' for symptoms of hip dysplasia the obvious question for someone just beginning to learn about this condition is exactly what is it that they should be looking for?

All of the following are common 'warning signs' that something may be wrong and that a pup should be taken to their vet for further assessment:

  • A decrease - sometimes sudden - in activity
  • A new reluctance to climb stairs, or to run or jump as the dog used to.
  • A noticeable decrease in a dog's range of motion
  • An apparent 'looseness' in hip joint
  • Apparent hind end lameness
  • The development of a 'bunny hop' gait when walking or running
  • A loss of thigh muscle mass
  • Enlarged shoulder muscles, an indication that the pup is compensating for their hind end's new failure.
  • Apparent pain or stiffness - how can you tell if your pup is in pain? They may stop eating, whine or whimper, become more aggressive than usual and/or display rapid breathing and an increased heart rate.
The pain, which can be quite acute and suddenly be provoked after strenuous activity may be worse in cold and wet conditions. (Brass 1989).

Diagnosis

As soon as pet parents begin to notice any of the symptoms noted above they should make an appointment for their pup to visit their vet.

At that appointment a veterinarian will usually begin their assessment by performing a full physical - something that any dog should have at least once every twelve months anyway.

Often hip dysplasia can be tentatively confirmed during this exam alone, but it is then confirmed by x-rays.

These x-rays will not only confirm the presence of the condition but also the severity of the hip dysplasia, something that will then allow your vet to suggest the appropriate course of treatment.

Top 4 Ways of How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

At this point, let’s backtrack a little before we go on to discuss treatments for canine hip dysplasia and talk about how pet parents might be able to help prevent the condition from affecting their pups.

The fact is that not all cases of the condition can be prevented, however hard a pup’s owner tries and however much they spend. Some dogs are simply destined to suffer from the condition and treatment will be in their future. However, research and anecdotal evidence suggests that all of the following may indeed help prevent, or at least delay the potentially debilitating disease.

1. Weight Management

As is the case for humans being overweight can cause all kinds of health problems in dogs, and it is well known that it can certainly be a real problem for pups who are prone to developing hip dysplasia. The seemingly obvious way to ensure that a pup does not become overweight is to calorie restrict their diet and ensure they get lots of exercise. However, it is not quite as simple as that.

If you think back to the list of dog breeds that are most susceptible to hip dysplasia are bulldogs and pugs. Neither of these breeds can tolerate an excessive amount of exercise well at all. In fact, if a bulldog is pushed too far when it comes to physical exertion it can be dangerous for their health.

In addition, calorie restriction often means pet parents feed their pups less and that can mean they miss out on important nutrition, including the nutrition that they need to build, and maintain, a strong healthy skeleton and joints that function as well as possible. So if the standard wisdom of less food and more exercise - that often works well for humans - is not the answer, what is?

2. Nutritious Diet

One of the biggest keys to helping prevent hip dysplasia and a pup from becoming overweight is for pet parents to try to ensure that they offer the right food in the right amounts.

However, the array of dog food choices that a pet parent has can be mind-boggling. Most people feed their dogs a combination of wet food and dry kibble and that is, experts agree, a perfectly sensible approach. However when faced with several shelves bulging with dog food choices which is the right one to make for a pup who may be at risk for hip dysplasia.

A good dog food, in general, will contain meat, fruits, vegetables and, in some cases grains including dog supplements for hip dysplasia. The very best dog foods use high quality versions of these ingredients in order to provide pups with all the nutrition they need. While kibble may look totally unappetizing to us it is formulated to give a dog all the nutrition they need.  Some of our favorite dog foods that contain dog supplements for hip dysplasia include: Dogswell Happy Hips Dry Dog Food (View on Chewy) and Hills Science Diet Metabolic + Mobility Weight & Joint Care (View on Chewy).

While we often think of dogs as pure meat eaters the fact is that they are not, unlike cats, pure carnivores. They do need the nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and grains in order to enjoy the ideal nutritional balance. On the other hand there are also things that meat provides that it is hard to obtain in any other way, which is why a vegetarian diet is not the right choice for dogs either. It's not as bad for dogs as it for cats (the fact is cats need meat or they will die) but it is highly unlikely to provide any dog with the nutrients they need.

3. Ingredients for Healthy Bones and Joints

There are certain things that the pet parents of a dog at risk for hip dysplasia should look for when going through the ingredient lists of various food choices. For example, Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound that has been shown to be very helpful when used in the treatment of arthritis in humans, dogs, horses, and other animals. In dogs it is also often used to help keep the joints, especially the hip joints, healthy and seems to be able to help relieve pain in dogs who do suffer from hip dysplasia. It is often added to higher quality dog foods, especially those for larger breeds, and is certainly an addition worth looking out for.

4. Exercise

An under exercised pup is at greater risk of developing hip dysplasia but caution must also be used to make sure that they are not being over-exercised in the case of smaller breeds. If a pet parent is unsure about just what their dog's specific exercise needs really are a chat with their veterinarian should help clear things up.

Canine Hip Dysplasia Treatments

If, despite all their best efforts a pet parent does discover their furkid has hip dysplasia the condition is no longer as frightening as it once was as there are some excellent treatments available, both surgical and non surgical. Just what treatments any particular furkid goes through is a matter for their pet parent and vet to decide, but here's a look at some of the most common and effectively utilized options to treat canine hip dysplasia at the moment.

Best 8 Non-Surgical Hip Dysplasia Dog Treatment

Genes alone are not solely responsible for whether a dog with the genetic predisposition for hip dysplasia develops the condition. There are other factors at play.

Environment factors in genetic predisposition breeds such as: being overweight, excess of protein and energy rich foods, rapid growth rate, excess exercise, high calcium intake and other factors have been suggested to influence the onset of hip dysplasia. (Hedhammar and Others 1974,)

A diagnosis of hip dysplasia does not always immediately mean that surgery is the best course of action. If the condition has yet to become very severe many vets prefer to avoid surgery and in some cases it may not even be an option due to other health conditions or even for financial reasons. In these cases all is not lost as there are a growing number of dog hip dysplasia home treatments that don't involve surgery. 

Here are 8 ways in tackling hip and elbow dysplasia in your pet.

1. Improved Nutrition and Weight Control

If they are not already dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia should be given a high quality dog food that not only meets their basic dietary needs but offers them nutritional access to things that may be able to help improve and support their bones and joints, including Omega 3 fatty acids - which is provided in many dog foods from flax seed, salmon and other meaty fish like whitefish. In younger dogs additional calcium is also often helpful, but the desirable levels should be discussed with a vet, as too much calcium can lead to a number of dog health problems including kidney disease and urinary stones.

It is also important that a pup's weight is controlled. To make sure that pet parents setting the right goals however it is important to discuss ideal weight ranges with a vet. A specialist weight management food may be very helpful if a dog is overweight, but may not be needed for every dog suffering from hip dysplasia.

2. Environmental Changes

There are some changes that can be made to a dog’s general environment that can help them live more comfortably with hip dysplasia:

Therapeutic Bedding

Investing in an orthopedic dog bed ensures your dog sleeps well, kept warm and not exposed to humidity. These beds are designed using combinations of supportive foam and cushioning in order to provide better sleeping support and to relieve pressure on the joints when an afflicted pup is lying down. They are, in fact, very similar in principle and design to orthopedic support mattresses for humans.

Slow-Feeding

Some dogs gobble down their food a little too fast. Not only can this lead to them overeating, and thus perhaps gaining too much weight, but also to excess air intake and even bloat. A slow feeding dog bowl - usually a ‘puzzle bowl’ can help regulate their eating speed and help keep them leaner and healthier.

An adjustable elevated dog feeder improves digestion by making swallowing easier and reduces stress on joints.

Ramp Up

Some dogs suffering from hip dysplasia do lose the ability to jump up to car trunks, beds, sofas or other higher surfaces. But they will often keep trying and may injure themselves in the process. A dog ramp - which is exactly what it sounds like - can allow them access to all their usual favorite spots without the need to over exert themselves. 

Walkin' Lift Rear Harness

Rear lifting harnesses (like the one in the image to the left), slings and doggie strollers are also available, which stabilize the pelvis, give support, improve mobility and greatly enhance the quality of life of our pets.

3. Specialist Hip and Joint Supplements

Hip and joint supplements now commonly recommended for pups with hip dysplasia. Glucosamine chondroitin and MSM supplements such as Cosequin DS (Amazon link) are recommended by many vets as are fish oil supplements (for the Omega 3 fatty acids).

4. RX Pain Medications

Pain Medications may help ease the discomfort in dysplastic hip joints. However, as is the case in humans the real long term effects of many of the stronger pain management drugs are unknown, so some pet parents and vets are somewhat reluctant to make use of them unless it it absolutely necessary to do so.

One milder option that can certainly help reduce swelling - and it is assumed pain - is veterinary grade aspirin. It is often best administered in a powdered form and there are some versions on sale that have an artificial flavor added to make it slightly more appealing to dogs. Pet parents do not require a prescription to purchase vet grade aspirin but its use should be discussed with a vet as aspirin can cause a reduction in the blood's ability to clot.

5. Controlled Exercise

The key to any exercise routine for canine hip dysplasia is make sure that the dog is comfortable and does not seem to be overdoing things. Simple walks are fine if that seems to be all they can tolerate and they should be monitored for signs of distress or fatigue at all times.

6. Physical Therapy

Some owners of dogs with hip dysplasia do find that their pups improve when they are given a physical therapy regime to follow. In milder cases it is often a vet's recommendation that a course of PT, combined with supplements and mild pain medications is the best treatment over surgery, when combined with monitoring to help ensure that the pup’s condition is improving rather than deteriorating. 

7. Hydrotherapy

As the name suggests this therapy is water based and is thought to be very effective for many dogs with hip dysplasia. The pup is usually placed in a large water filled tank that boasts a treadmill at the bottom. The dog is then encouraged to walk on treadmill but as the water itself is supportive and comforting it allows them to build up weakened hind things without overexertion or pain. Sessions cost on average of $50 each.

8. Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years and it may surprise you that some pet parents feel it can be as beneficial for their furkids as it is for humans. It is important to ensure that the acupuncturist administering the treatment is familiar with dogs of course, and not just humans, but an increasing number of them actually are. Pet parents who are interested in the idea should ask their vet for a recommendation, although there are some practices that now have a canine acupuncturist on staff.

Opting for Dog Hip Dysplasia Surgery

If a vet decides that a dog with hip dysplasia is a good candidate for surgery, there are several different options that can be considered. Dog hip dysplasia surgery costs is between $1,700 to $5000+.

If you have pet insurance and hip dysplasia is not a preexisting condition, your treatment costs should be mostly covered.

While new surgeries are being trialed the three most commonly used at the moment are:

  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO)
  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO)
  • Total hip replacement (THR)

DPO/TPO

This is a surgery that is usually reserved for young dogs who are under the age of ten months or so. The pelvic bone is carefully and selectivity cut and shaved so that the function of the hip socket is increased in the hope that the dog's surgically adjusted hip joint will then develop normally.

FHO

This surgery can be performed on dogs of all ages provided they prove to be good candidates for the procedure. This surgery is a little more invasive as it involves cutting of the 'ball' part of the hip socket - properly known as the femoral head - and the creation of a 'false joint.' it cannot, however recreate normal hip function but as a pain management strategy in may be considered in the most serious cases. 

THR

The single most effective surgical treatment for canine dysplasia is a total hip replacement. As is the case in humans the whole original hip joint is removed and replaced with metal and/or plastic implants. Most of the discomfort and complications caused by hip dysplasia are eliminated and a successful surgery sees many dogs return to a normal range of movement. 

The Modern Prognosis For Dogs Living With Hip Dysplasia

Although it was once considered a very serious condition and one that would eventually debilitate most dogs suffering from it these days, dogs with hip dysplasia can, with the right treatment, still live very full, happy and active lives well into old age.

This video highlights how canine physical therapy can benefit dogs with joint issues.

Helping a pup with hip dysplasia does call for a fair amount of work on a pet parent's part but it does not need to take over your life, or that of your fur kid’s. If you think your pup is at risk for hip dysplasia, is showing signs of developing it or is actively suffering from it your vet - and some self-guided research - into treatment options and lifestyle changes can mean that they can live the same lives as other dogs - and even chase around in the same dog park.

References

Brass W (1989) Hip dysplasia in dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice 30: 166-170.

HEDIIAMMAH, A. A., WU, F. M.. KROOK, L., SCHRYVER, H. F., DELAHIJNTA, A., WHALEN, 1. P., KALLFELZ, F. A., NUNEZ, E. A., HINTZ, H. F.. SHEFFEY, B. E. & RYAN, G. D. (1974) Overnutrition and skeletal disease; an experimental study in growing Great Dane dogs. Cornell Veterinarian, Supplement 2, pp 1-159

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (2016)  Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals, Golden Retriever, Hip Dysplasia (HD) 2016, (On-line). Available at https://www.ufaw.org.uk/dogs/golden-retriever-hip-dysplasia. Accessed 12.19.18.

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