Hip dysplasia in dogs is an extremely common condition, mostly affecting dogs that are of large to very large breeds. While there are a few factors that contribute to the disease, having a strong genetic link of it between the parents is the most common factor. Hip dysplasia is when osteoarthritis develops in the hip because the ligaments have come loose and the joint has deteriorated. There are several medical and surgical treatments available for hip dysplasia, although the only real prevention is through genetic tracing that shows excellent hip conformation throughout the bloodline.
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What is Hip Dysplasia
To get a better understanding of hip dysplasia, and to understand the treatments that may be required should your pet be afflicted with the disease, it’s important to know how the hip works.
The hip is the part of your dog’s body that attaches the hind legs to its body; it’s made up of a ball and socket. The socket is attached to the pelvis while the ball is attached to the femur (leg) bone and in a normal hip bone, rotates freely. Connective tissue and a strong band of ligaments hold the two bones together to give the entire joint added stability. The portion of the joint where the two bones connect is covered in cartilage so that the bones can move as they need to without grinding against each other or interfering with each other in any way. To provide further smoothness and ease of movement, a highly viscous fluid also runs throughout the joint to lubricate all the moving parts and, in healthy hips, ensure that everything works together perfectly.
When hip dysplasia, or osteoarthritis, is present, any number of these parts in the moving machine of the hip can begin to break down.
Ligaments can become loose, the muscles can begin to weaken, causing what’s called subluxation – when the two bones separate. This subluxation can then cause all parts of the hip and joint to break down.
It’s thought that even when dogs are born with perfectly healthy hips, this is a condition that can start to develop as the dog ages.
Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Dr. Anthony Cambridge (BVMS,DACVS) talks about hip dysplasia and the symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs.
Deterioration of the hip and joint is usually something that’s only seen in older dogs, although dogs of any age can suffer from it. When puppies suffer from the condition it will be most noticeable during and after exercise, especially when the condition is just starting to develop. Over time the pain will increase, causing even mundane everyday activities to become too painful for them to bear. But, while this can be heartbreaking to watch, dog lovers can be reassured that this type of hip dysplasia is usually very treatable.
Breeds Most Prone to Hip Dysplasia
Dogs of any breed can get hip dysplasia at any point in their lives. However, because of their size and the amount of wear and tear on the hip joint, large and giant breeds are most likely to develop hip dysplasia at some point. German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, and Saint Bernards seem to be the most prone to developing the disease of all the larger breeds.
Although Greyhounds and sighthounds may be tall in stature, they are relatively thin dogs and therefore, don’t have the excessive weight constantly putting pressure on their hip bones. It’s for this reason that these dogs have one of the lowest incidences of developing hip dysplasia.
Risk Factors for Hip Dysplasia
There are three known risk factors that increase the chance of a dog developing hip dysplasia:
- It’s widely known among researchers, scientists, and veterinarians that genetics is the main factor in hip dysplasia. If the genetic line shows an incidence of hip dysplasia, especially on the part of the parents, there’s an increased chance that the offspring will also develop it at some point in their life. If, however, there is no evidence of hip dysplasia in the bloodline, it’s very unlikely that it will ever develop in the offspring.
- Nutrition and weight play a huge role in the appearance of hip dysplasia. Obesity will greatly increase the chances of hip dysplasia due to the fact that the dog will have that much more weight to take with them wherever they go. Obesity will also increase the chances of a dog that’s already prone to the condition because their parents had it. Puppies and dogs that are given free access to any kind of food they want, especially if there is rapid weight gain, is going to be more likely to develop the condition.
- While it’s important for any dog to get the proper amount of exercise, it’s especially important for dogs that are prone to developing hip dysplasia due to their genetic history. However, dogs that are exercised very aggressively and hard, especially while they’re still puppies, are more likely to develop hip dysplasia.
Diagnosing and Treating Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Unlike other conditions, hip dysplasia is one that’s quite easy to diagnose. Your vet will most likely recognize the signs of clinical arthritis during routine exams, and they might even feel the looseness in the joints. After seeing these signs, they will then likely take radiographs and x-rays to confirm their suspicions.
The treatment your dog receives for their hip dysplasia will depend on their size, age, and how far the condition has progressed. There are a number of surgical procedures that can be done, including total hip replacement that can help treat the hip dysplasia. If surgery is not a practical option, or simply isn’t required, there are also a number of anti-inflammatory medications that can help reduce the swelling and tenderness, as well as pain medications that can make the dog more comfortable and enable them to resume their daily activities. These might include buffered aspirin, corticosteroids, and carprofen.
Weight management plays a crucial role in treating any hip dysplasia. Not only does obesity play a large part, but dogs that are overweight may be ineligible for surgical treatment; and a healthier weight will mean a more positive response to other treatment options.
While too much exercise, especially at too young an age, can be detrimental to your dog, you still need to make sure they’re getting regular exercise to help control their weight. Low-impact exercises such as walks on a leash, swimming, or walking on treadmills will work best for dogs that are having problems with their hips.
Simple things can also make your dog more comfortable. Many pet owners say that their pets’ hips tend to be worse during cold, damp weather so always make sure your dog has a warm comfortable place they can relax in, especially at night when they sleep. Other small steps such as providing your dog with a ramp instead of stairs can make your dog much more comfortable and, with the reduction of movement on the joints, can also slow the progression of the condition.
A number of oral supplements are also available that can make your dog more comfortable and even treat the underlying conditions of the hip problems while they are undergoing treatment. These include:
- Perna mussels
- Omega 3-fatty acids
- Avocado and soybean extracts
Preventing Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is one of those conditions that, if a dog is most likely going to develop it, they’re going to develop it and there’s little that can be done to prevent it. However, if you’re determined to do whatever you can to keep your dog free from this condition, the main way to do it is to check their bloodline and make sure it is free from hip dysplasia. If neither parent developed it within their life, there’s little chance that their offspring will.
Hip dysplasia in dogs can be a heartbreaking thing to watch and a very difficult thing to prevent. However, there are small steps that dog owners can take to keep from feeling completely helpless, such as providing a balanced and nutritious diet and keeping the dog’s weight under control. If you think your pet is suffering from hip problems, be sure to get them into the vet right away to discuss treatment options and possibly pain relief to make your dog more comfortable.
Kate Elliott has been a freelance content writer for the past 8 years, and has written creatively her entire life. In addition to her online work, she has written a fiction novel, as well as had poetry published in the “Songs of the Heart” collection. A lover of animals since she was young, she’s also always had a dog by her side. Currently her best friend is a 13-year-old German Shepherd named Chewy.