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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 like hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy (DM). 

Left unaddressed, hip dysplasia in dogs can cause pain, 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 or curative measures like surgery. 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 two primary hip problems:

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is a degenerative disease that 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 stress and strain. The wear and tear eventually leads to inflammation, degeneration, and osteoarthritis. 

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia 

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
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Poor range of motion
  • Problems running, jumping, or managing the stairs 
  • Stiffness
  • Swaying gait
  • Trouble getting up 

Treatment for Hip Dysplasia

By knowing the signs of hip dysplasia, it will help you navigate the best course of action for your canine friend. Potential hip dysplasia 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 dysplasia from worsening. These include: 
    • Providing a proper and nutritious diet
    • Exercising them regularly without over-exercising 
    • Physical Therapy
    • Adding hip and joint supplements for dogs to meals
    • Anti-Inflammatory medications 
  • Curative – For some German Shepherds, the only available remedy for treating hip dysplasia involves one of three surgeries: 
    • Double or triple pelvic ostectomy
    • Femoral head ostectomy
    • Total hip replacement

Degenerative Myelopathy

According to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, degenerative myelopathy 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 Degenerative Myelopathy

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
    • Pneumonia
    • Depression
    • Infection/sepsis
    • Constipation
    • Organ failure

Treatment for Degenerative Myelopathy

Sadly, unlike other common hip problems in German Shepherd dogs, a DM diagnosis is fatal. There is no curative or preventative action that can be done. Once diagnosed, all you can do as an owner is to make your pup comfortable and show them how much they are loved. The vast majority of owners will elect to put down the pup within 6 to 36 months of diagnosis, depending on the disease’s progression. 

Hip Problems in German Shepherds

Approximately 20% of all German Shepherds will develop hip problems resulting from hip dysplasia or degenerative myelopathy. Although there are no actions to be taken with DM, with hip dysplasia, 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 pain. That said, if you notice that your canine friend is having joint pain, trouble walking, running, or rising, speak to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Sources:

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Breed Statistics. https://www.ofa.org/diseases/breed-statistics#detail

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. German Shepherd Dog, Degenerative Myelopathy. https://www.ufaw.org.uk/dogs/german-shepherd-degenerative-myelopathy

Cherubini, G. BMJ Journals. Pelvic Limb Ataxia in the Older Dog. https://inpractice.bmj.com/content/30/7/386

Pet MD. Degenerative Myelopathy. https://www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2012/june/degenerative_myelopathy_in_dogs-25037