If you are a dog owner, you have likely heard of hip dysplasia, a common, painful condition in large-breed dogs in particular, which leads to pain and decreased mobility and can significantly impact the dog’s quality of life. Our Staples Mill Animal Hospital team believes owner education is important, and we provide information about hip dysplasia and explain how the condition is treated. 

Canine hip dysplasia basics

The hip is a ball and socket joint and during growth, the ball (i.e., femoral head) and the socket (i.e., acetabulum) must develop at equal rates. When growth doesn’t occur uniformly, hip dysplasia results. The condition causes joint laxity, which leads to osteoarthritis (OA) as the body attempts to stabilize the joint. Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that is affected by multiple contributing factors, such as growth rate, diet, environment, exercise, muscle mass, and hormones. Risk factors include:

  • Breed — Certain breeds, including German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Saint Bernards, and Great Danes, are at increased risk.
  • Nutritional factors — Puppies who are prone to hip dysplasia need a specially formulated diet to ensure they don’t grow too fast. Studies have demonstrated that hip dysplasia-prone puppies who were allowed to free feed were almost twice as likely to develop dysplasia than those whose food was regulated. In addition, dogs who maintain a lean body condition typically exhibit fewer hip dysplasia signs.
  • Exercise — Puppies allowed to freely run up and down stairs before 3 months of age may be at increased risk for hip dysplasia.
  • Spaying and neutering age — Spaying or neutering a large-breed dog too early may increase their hip dysplasia risk. 

Canine hip dysplasia signs

Hip dysplasia can manifest as young as 6 months of age, but most dogs don’t exhibit signs until they are older, when arthritis has progressed. Signs include:

  • Stiffness after resting
  • Difficulty rising from a resting position
  • Difficulty jumping, running, or navigating stairs
  • Decreased activity
  • Hind-end lameness
  • Hind-end muscle wasting
  • Bunny-hopping gait when running
  • Abnormal sitting positions

Canine hip dysplasia diagnosis

Hip dysplasia is usually diagnosed using two methods, including:

  • Palpation — Different palpation techniques can be used to appreciate hip laxity. Your dog may be placed under light sedation for this test.
  • X-rays — Specially positioned hip X-rays can assess the degree of joint laxity and determine OA severity.

Puppies can be evaluated as early as 10 to 16 weeks of age to determine their likelihood for hip dysplasia development.

Medical management for canine hip dysplasia

Medical management may be appropriate for middle-aged to older dogs who live a sedentary life. This approach entails:

  • Weight management — All hip dysplasia dogs should maintain a lean body weight.
  • Limited exercise — Excessive running and jumping may exacerbate OA, and daily leash walks are a more appropriate exercise for dysplastic dogs.
  • Supplements — Our team may recommend cartilage protective supplements to help slow OA progression.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapy can help increase muscle strength and joint mobility, as well as decrease joint pain.
  • Medications — Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can help alleviate joint pain and inflammation.

Surgical management for canine hip dysplasia

Surgical intervention can return your dog to normal function and help them live a normal life. Surgical options include:

  • Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS) — JPS can be performed on puppies 18 weeks and younger. The minimally invasive surgery closes the growth plate at the bottom of the pelvis, and the acetabulum grows to cover the femoral head during the following four to six months. Puppies must avoid strenuous off-leash exercise until their hips are reevaluated at 10 months of age.
  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO) — DPO/TPO can be performed on dogs less than 8 to 10 months of age whose X-rays show no visible arthritic changes. The procedure involves cutting the pelvic bone in two (DPO) or three (TPO) places, and rotating the segments to increase femoral head coverage by the socket, which decreases hip laxity. Dogs with early hip arthritis signs, such as lameness, are not good candidates for this procedure.
  • Total hip replacement (THR) — THR is an option for young dogs who can’t be successfully treated with JPS or DPO/TPO. They must be managed medically until they are at least 1 year old and mature enough for THR. This procedure involves replacing the acetabulum and femoral head with metal and polyethylene implants to reproduce normal hip joint mechanics.
  • Femoral head osteotomy (FHO) — FHO can be performed at any age. The procedure involves removing the femoral head to reduce the pain produced by abnormal hip joint contact and movement. After FHO, a “false joint” develops, and the muscles around the hip transfer forces from the leg to the pelvis during limb movement. Dogs who undergo this procedure cannot perform athletic activities such as hunting, agility, high level obedience, or running with their owner.

Hip dysplasia is a concerning condition, but if diagnosed early, treatment options are available to help your dog live a normal, pain-free life. If you would like your large-breed puppy screened for hip dysplasia, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Staples Mill Animal Hospital, so we can evaluate them and determine an appropriate management strategy, if necessary.