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Dogs Living with Hip Dysplasia


Hip Dysplasia is a condition in the hip joint. In a dog with hip dysplasia there is an abnormality in the structure of the joint and the ligaments and connective tissue are lax. As it progresses the two bones lose contact altogether which is called subluxation. A dog can have this in one or both hips and as it progresses it worsens and impacts on his ability to exercise and even walk.

Breeds more prone to Hips Dysplasia are the large and giant breeds like Saint Bernards, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. Medium sized breeds can develop it but it is less common and small breeds rarely suffer from it.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is not just a senior dog condition. Puppies as young as 5 months can even start to show symptoms but it is more common to see the symptoms in dogs who are middle aged or older. For this reason owners sometimes pass off milder signs as the dog aging. Symptoms include;


The dog's gait alters when they are running or walking

They avoid making moves that require them to flex or fully extend their rear legs

Their run looks like a bunny hop

Rear legs show stiffness and pain in the morning and after exercise

Stairs may be difficult for them

In a milder case after moving around that stiffness may ease


Less enthusiastic to take part in physical activity

Loss of muscle tone

Need help getting up

Factors That can Cause it

Genes –

This is a genetic disease so if the parent dog has it the puppies are more likely to develop it too.

Diet –

While it is a genetic condition there are factors that can make dogs more likely to develop it. Obesity increases the chance of it and also increases the severity of the symptoms. If the dog experiences rapid growth between the ages of three months to ten months as a puppy they are also at increased risk. Interestingly dogs fed a free choice diet are also more at risk and a diet too high in or too low in minerals and calcium does too.

Activity –

If the dog with the gene over exercises as a young dog they have an increased chance at developing it. But the right balance of exercise and good muscle mass decreases the chance. Exercise like swimming and running at moderate levels is the best for these dogs and those that involve a lot of impact or force on the joints are not for example jumping for Frisbees.

Diagnosing a Dog with Hip Dysplasia

Your vet will want a medical history and will examine your dog as well as observing his symptoms. There will also be test undertaken such as x-rays and a physical exam. In dogs who are showing symptoms diagnosis is quite easy to make. If you are a breeder taking in a dog to check to see if he has the gene because you want to breed him and the hip joints are not actually showing any signs yet, then diagnosis is done via one of two different tests, the OFA and the PennHip method.


Orthopedic Foundation for Animals is a method that has been used for many years and they have a large database. The vet takes x-rays and sends them to OFA who evaluate them and certify the results. Dogs need to be two years or older though and female dogs should not have it done when they are pregnant, in heat or nursing.

PennHip –

Is a newer method that also uses x-rays but they are more unique views and they are also more accurate. To use this method vets must be trained and certified. The dog can be as young as 4 months too. This method is growing in popularity now amongst veterinarians.

Treatment – Surgical and Medical

Surgical procedures that can be done include;

Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis –

Less invasive procedure that fuses the two bones together. Joint articulation is also improved but the condition needs early diagnosis for this to be successful.

Triple Pelvic Osteoromy –

Use in dogs under the age of 10 months where hip laxity shows in x-rays but joints are not yet damaged. It is major surgery but has a lot of success.

Femoral Head and Neck Excision –

The head of the femur is removed surgically and a joint replacement is put in. Used when there is degeneration in the joint and a total hip replacement is not possible. Dogs should be less than 40lbs for best results but it can be done on larger ones.

Total Hip Replacement –

The best option surgically for those who have degeneration in the joint from hip dysplasia. It has great results and there is no size limit to be able to have it done. Expensive but effective.

Along with drugs your vet might prescribe, management at home includes;

Managing his weight –

Probably the most important thing you can do as an owner of a dog with this condition is make sure he is at his recommended weight. Medical and surgical procedure are more likely to be effective.


Sleeping area –

Make sure he is sleeping somewhere dry and warm away from drafts. Damp and cold makes the symptoms worse. There are special beds you can get too called orthopedic foam beds.

Exercise –

As well maintaining the right weight exercise will help with his range of motion and building muscle. Stick to activities that are not hard on the joints like walking, swimming and slow jogging. Avoid jumping activities. Get out every day and do a little warm up beforehand with him. Keep the sessions shorter but more regular rather than long but less frequent ones.

Put in a ramp –

If your dog is struggling with the stairs to get in and out of the yard put in a ramp for him.

Massage –

Helps relax his stiffness and improves joint range of motion. You need to start slow though, remember he has pain there and doesn't want you messing around with it. Build up his trust by just petting there first and then small circular motions can be added. Applying moist heat can also help.