Understanding Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: A Comprehensive Guide


Dr Charlotte

11 Oct 2023

📖 Key Takeaways

  • Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease affecting the hips

  • The hip joint does not develop properly, which means the joint is not completely supported

  • The condition can by affected by other factors such as size, weight, growth rate, nutrition

  • It can lead to joint wear and osteoartritis, causing lameness, gait abmormalities, and pain

  • Treatment ranges from lifestyle changes and medical management to surgery in more extreme cases

  • Fetch covers Hip Dysplasia as long as it's not pre-existing

What is hip dysplasia exactly?

Canine hip dysplasia is a condition where the hip joint develops abnormally. The hip joint is where the femur (leg bone) connects to the pelvis (hip bone). It's a ball and socket joint, where the hip bone contains a socket (acetabulum) for the femoral head, the ball, to sit in. In hip dysplasia the hip socket doesn’t develop properly during the puppy’s growth phase allowing the femur to sit loosely inside the hip bone. Over time, the hip instability can lead to arthritis. As these dogs don’t use their hips normally, their weight doesn’t get distributed the way it should and could lead to other problems with the limbs, too.

It usually affects both hips to a degree.

Do certain breed of dogs get hip dysplasia more than others?

Hip dysplasia is common in many breeds, especially larger breeds like St. Bernards, German Shepherds, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers.

Why do dogs get hip dysplasia?

The cause is thought to be primarily genetic but other factors such as nutrition, exercise, desexing age and growth rate may also have an impact.

How do I know if my dog has hip dysplasia? What are the signs to look out for?

Sometimes the puppy doesn’t show any sign of discomfort for years and only when arthritis is significantly developed the adult dog will start showing signs. Other times puppies show signs as early as 5 months old. It often shows as swaying of the hips when walking but it could be show up as a lack of confidence in climbing stairs, a hopping gait, loss of muscle mass or lameness (limping).

How do vets diagnose hip dysplasia in dogs?

To diagnose hip dysplasia, the vet will examine the dog, including the way they walk and feel the hips to check for joint instability or pain.

Extending the hip or making the femur move in it’s socket can be painful for the dog so vets often need to sedate the dogs to perform those tests. You might hear ‘Ortolani test’ mentioned, which is where a vet will check for something called subluxation of the hip - when they move out of their normal place, which is highly likely to be related to Hip Dysplasia.

To be sure, the vet will need to take X-rays or a CT scan of the dog’s hips. Typically hip dysplasia X-rays show both hips and also contain the stifles. This allows the vet to check positioning but also to check for arthritis or any other existing conditions in the stifles and the leg bones in both legs.

Fetch covers the cost of Hip Dysplasia, provided the condition is not pre-existing

What is the treatment for Hip Dysplasia?

Depending on how serious it is, there are several treatment options available, from medication like painkillers & anti-inflammatories, to lifestyle changes and physiotherapy through to surgery.

Non surgical options won't fully solve the problem since it's a biomechanical issue, but will help make the dog more comfortable. Conservative treatment includes low-impact exercise like swimming and weight loss combined with medications to reduce pain, inflammation and protect the joint cartilage.

This can be treated with different types of surgeries, for example removing the painful joint, changing the angle of the hip bone (TPO, juvenile pubic symphysiodesis) so the femur sits properly in the acetabulum or replacing the entire joint with a protheses.

The vet will provide advice on the type of treatment needed based on how serious it is, the degree of arthritis, and how old, big or active the dog is.

What is the recovery process following treatment of hip dysplasia?

Following surgery, make sure to follow the vet's post-operative care instructions carefully. This will include rest, keeping the wound clean, giving medications, and a balanced diet. Gradually increase exercise and avoid strenuous activity for the hip joint, especially stairs and jumping. Recovery can take a few months. Weight needs to be carefully monitored as any extra kilo is an unnecessary strain on the hip joint!

What are consequences of HD?

Dogs with hip dysplasia will develop osteoarthritis in the affected hip(s) and this will need life long management.

The hip can also dislocate, which means the femur completely comes out of the hip socket. This can happen if the hip joint is very poorly developed. On the other hand, significant arthritis can limit the range of movement in the joint.

How can pet parents prevent their dog from getting hip dysplasia?

To lower the risk, pet owners can choose a puppy who's parents and grandparents have had their hips checked and have good ‘hip scores’. You should not try to help puppies grow faster, it’s actually the opposite. Pet parents should feed an appropriate diet, making sure that puppies grow at a suitable rate and don’t end up overweight! The effect of exercise is less clear but there are some hypothesis that intense exercise before 3 months old could increase the risk of developing hip dysplasia, in a puppy that is already genetically pre-disposed.