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Hip Problems in German Shepherds: Everything You Need to Know

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Are you the owner of a German Shepherd? If so, you’re lucky. You have one of the most intelligent, trainable, and loyal dogs known to man. However, they are one of the several large-breed dogs, along with Golden Retrievers, that are prone to debilitating hip problems.

Left unaddressed, hip problems in dogs can cause discomfort and shorten your pup’s lifespan.  However, if you are aware of these issues and know what symptoms to look out for, you can take both preventative measures like hip and joint supplements for dogs. So, read on to find out more about common hip problems in German Shepherds and arm yourself with the knowledge that could mitigate the chances of these problems developing.

Hip Problems in German Shepherds: Everything You Need to Know

As mentioned, German Shepherds are predisposed to developing hip problems, which develops in approximately 15% to 20% of all German Shepherds per OFA. It can manifest as a puppy, or develop in an onset form, particularly in the cases of injury, obesity, and/or over-exercise. It’s the result of a subluxation on the femoral head of the hip bone caused by a loose hip joint. The ball and socket, which normally work with one another, are partially dislocated, which creates discomfort.

Symptoms of Hip Problems

Some of the hip problems in German Shepherds symptoms include: 

  • Bunny hopping gait
  • Decreased energy 
  • Fatigue
  • Hind-limb lameness
  • Imbalance
  • Increased shoulder muscles
  • Joint grating
  • Joint laxity 
  • Narrowed stance
  • Discomfort
  • Poor range of motion
  • Problems running, jumping, or managing the stairs 
  • Stiffness
  • Swaying gait
  • Trouble getting up 

Options for Hip Problems

By knowing the signs of hip problems, it will help you navigate the best course of action for your canine friend. Potential hip problems treatment options for dogs can be separated into two categories:

  • Preventative – There are measures you can take as a responsible German Shepherd owner to help alleviate or prevent symptoms of hip problems from worsening. These include: 
  • Curative – For some German Shepherds, the only available remedy for treating hip problems involves one of three surgeries: 
    • Double or triple pelvic ostectomy
    • Femoral head ostectomy
    • Total hip replacement

Major Joint Problems

According to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, major joint problems is: 

A fatal, chronic, progressive, degenerative disease of the spinal cord of several breeds of dog… In DM there is a slow, progressive degeneration of an outer layer of tissue of the spinal cord (the white matter) in the thoracic (chest) section of the spine with loss of myelin and axons (Shell 2008). This degeneration appears to be due to the presence of excessive amounts of damaging reactive oxygen species molecules (ROS): biochemicals that react with and damage the components of cells, causing oxidative or free radical injury.

The disease typically appears in older dogs, typically at age 8 to 9. Despite that, there have been cases of puppies as young as six months being afflicted with the fatal disorder.

Symptoms of major joint problems:

Per Pet MD, the symptoms of DM can be broken up into an early stage and late stage. 

  • Early Stages:
    • Progressive weakness of the hind limbs
    • Worn nails
    • Difficulty rising
    • Stumbling
    • Knuckling of the toes
    • Scuffing hind feet
    • Wearing of the inner digits of the rear paws
    • Loss of muscle mass in the rear legs
    • Tremors of the rear legs
  • Late Stages: 
    • Persistent early-stage symptoms
    • Urinary and fecal incontinence
    • Eventual front leg weakness from compensatory strain
    • Mental stress and anxiety
    • Pressure sores on bony prominences of your dog’s body
    • Inability to rise
    • Muscle atrophy
    • Poor hygiene - soiled appearance
    • Depression
    • Infection/sepsis
    • Constipation
    • Organ failure

Hip Problems in German Shepherds

Approximately 20% of all German Shepherds will develop hip problems resulting from hip problems. There are several avenues that you can take, whether preventive or curative.

Regardless, as an owner, the biggest action you can take is to ensure that your dog is eating a healthy and nutritious meal and getting regular exercise. By carefully avoiding obesity and overuse, you can ensure that your German Shepherd’s hips will stay in proper shape and out of joint discomfort. That said, if you notice that your canine friend is having joint discomfort, trouble walking, running, or rising, speak to a veterinarian as soon as possible.


Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Breed Statistics.

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. German Shepherd Dog, Degenerative Myelopathy.

Cherubini, G. BMJ Journals. Pelvic Limb Ataxia in the Older Dog.

Pet MD. Degenerative Myelopathy.