Vet Blog

A Guide to Hip Dysplasia for Dog Owners

July 01, 2023

If you own a large- or giant-breed dog, you've likely heard of hip dysplasia.

Young still-growing puppies typically develop this orthopedic condition that causes a multitude of painful, mobility-impairing problems that can worsen without treatment. Whether you currently own a large dog, or plan on getting a large- or giant-breed puppy, read our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center of Conroe team's guide to identifying and managing hip dysplasia in your German shepherd, Labrador retriever, golden retriever, Bernese mountain dog, or other large breed.

What Is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

In a normal hip joint, a ball (i.e., femoral head) fits smoothly within a socket (i.e., acetabulum). If your dog's ball-and-socket joint is misshapen, misaligned, or otherwise fits together incorrectly, your furry pal can experience instability, pain, inflammation, and stiffness. Over time, the bones grind against each other, causing jagged edges, bone spurs, and arthritis.

Why Does Hip Dysplasia Occur in Dogs?

Several factors contribute to canine hip dysplasia, and chief among them is genetics. Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition, and when choosing the breeder from whom you wish to purchase, you should research their breeding pairs to determine whether they carry the hip dysplasia gene. To help ensure your large- or giant-breed puppy is not predisposed to this condition, you should also consider these additional factors:

  • Fast growth
  • Unbalanced nutrition
  • Improper exercise
  • Excessive weight

As your puppy grows, feeding them a diet specifically formulated for large or giant breeds is essential for their healthy development. An unbalanced diet can cause your puppy to grow too quickly, putting a great deal of stress on their developing joints, which leads to skeletal problems. If your growing puppy gains an unhealthy amount of weight, their fragile joints and bones experience excessive pressure. No matter your large- or giant-breed puppy's weight, when exercising them, avoid intense play that consists of sudden starts and stops, or pounding along hard ground. Excessive, high-impact activity can damage your puppy's joints, predisposing them to orthopedic issues later in their life.

How Can I Tell if My Dog Has Hip Dysplasia?

If your dog has severe hip dysplasia, they will exhibit obvious signs. Mild hip dysplasia cases may cause no apparent problems until your dog is older, and arthritis has developed. A dog's hip dysplasia signs can include:

  • Limping or lameness
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty rising, laying down, or sitting
  • A wobbly or swaying gait
  • Refusal to jump or use the stairs
  • Reduced interest in playing and exercising
  • Painful hips
  • Irritability or aggression when being petted over the hips
  • A bunny-hopping gait, where both back legs move together while running
  • Loss of muscle mass in the hind end
  • Hair loss over the hips from chewing and licking

How is Hip Dysplasia Diagnosed in Dogs?

Your Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center of Conroe veterinarian may suspect your dog has hip dysplasia based on an orthopedic evaluation alone. A description of the signs your dog exhibits at home will also help us decide which diagnostic screenings are necessary to determine which orthopedic condition is affecting your furry pal.

Specially positioned hip X-rays and palpation methods are necessary to detect joint laxity that indicates hip dysplasia. Typically, sedation is required to achieve diagnostic images and to fully manipulate the hip joints without resistance or discomfort.

What is the Most Effective Hip Dysplasia Treatment for My Dog?

The treatment route for hip dysplasia will typically veer toward surgery or medical management. However, our team will create a treatment plan based on the following:

  • The degree of your dog's hip laxity
  • Your dog's age at diagnosis
  • Your dog's current and projected weight at adulthood
  • Your dog's expected lifestyle and exercise intensity
  • Your finances

Surgery is often an effective hip dysplasia treatment. If your dog is a good candidate for achieving joint stability through surgery, our team may perform one of the following procedures:

  • Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis
  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy
  • Total hip replacement
  • Femoral head ostectomy

No matter whether your dog has a surgical procedure, it will require medical management. Your dog's medical management may include:

  • Weight management - When you keep your dog at a lean body weight, their joints experience less stress than if your pooch is carrying excess weight. Feeding an appropriate amount of joint-health food can help you maintain your dog at a healthy weight. Our team can recommend a nutritious and effective prescription diet for your dog.
  • Proper exercise - Regular, low-impact exercise is important for maintaining muscle mass and keeping joints healthy and strong. Avoiding vigorous activities, such as agility, fetch, and running on hard surfaces, will help reduce joint inflammation.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - Using NSAIDs as needed or daily can alleviate much of your dog's inflammation-induced discomfort, improving their mobility and quality of life.
  • Joint supplements - By giving your dog joint supplements at an early age, the compounds help preserve their joint cartilage and fluid, reduce inflammation, and minimize the need for pain-relieving medications.
  • Physical therapy - Guided physical therapy can prevent stiffness and soreness in sedentary dogs by improving muscle strength and joint mobility.

Without treatment, hip dysplasia can cause your dog lifelong pain and lead to impaired mobility. If your puppy or adult dog is exhibiting weakness, discomfort, or other mobility signs, contact our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center & Pet Resort team.