Signs and Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Table of Contents

When it comes to keeping your dog happy and healthy, it’s best to catch ailments as soon as possible. Today you’ll learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs. You’ll get an idea of what to look for if you think your four-legged companion might be suffering from hip pain or discomfort, then you’ll discover common next steps and treatments to help your dog feel healthier and happier.

It’s important to keep an eye out for these common signs for two reasons: you don’t want your dog to be suffering in silence longer than they need to, and the earlier you notice these symptoms, the better your chance to treat the potential hip dysplasia before it becomes severe.

Let’s dive in deeper!

Table of Contents:

  • What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
  • So What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
  • Which Breeds Are More Likely to Suffer from Hip Dysplasia?
  • The Signs and Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
  • Be Certain by Visiting Your Vet
  • Possible Surgeries for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
  • Treating Hip Dysplasia without Surgery

What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a common skeletal and joint condition, most often occurring in larger breeds, but still affecting dogs of all sizes. To get a mental image of the injury, picture a “ball and socket” joint [1]. Imagine the ball grinding away at the cartilage and rubbing up against the socket without the needed “shock absorption.” Ouch!

It’s also common for the ligaments to be weakened, which can cause the bones to grow farther apart and become unaligned. This misalignment often creates painful bone spurs, when the body deposits calcium in the wrong place.

This causes pain and discomfort when your dog stands up, lies down, or exerts themselves more than usual. In severe cases, the dog can lose almost all ability to walk.

So What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

The condition is genetic—again, affecting large breed dogs more often than small or mid-sized dogs. Unfortunately, hip dysplasia is hereditary and can be passed down through generations. So if your dog’s parents or grandparents suffered from hip dysplasia, their chances increase. 

Beyond genetics, hip dysplasia can be triggered or worsened by lifestyle factors like weight gain, too little (or too much) exercise, and a dog’s diet lacking in the essential nutrients. The last one can often be remedied by thinking ahead and using hip and joint supplements for dogs to cover your furry friend’s nutritional needs. Food alone usually fails to provide all the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids required to keep a dog moving freely in old age.

Which Breeds Are More Likely to Suffer from Hip Dysplasia?

While any breed or size of dog can be affected by hip pain and dysplasia, some are more susceptible than others. In no particular order, some of the most commonly affected breeds include Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Pugs, Otterhounds, Great Danes, French bulldogs, Saint Bernards, Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Newfoundlands, Neopolitan Mastiffs, Bloodhounds, and Chows [2].

If your dog fits into one of these breeds, they’re not guaranteed to suffer from canine hip dysplasia, but their chances are higher. So be on the lookout for the symptoms listed below.

The Signs and Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Since your loving fur-baby can’t tell you in plain English exactly how they’re feeling, it’s your job to play the part of the detective and look for clues to determine your dog’s comfort level. Keep an eye out for some of these common signs and symptoms [3]. The more you notice, the more likely your dog is experiencing problems with their hips:

  • Difficulty with using stairs, laying, or rising
  • Cracking or popping sounds coming from their joints
  • A strange or swaying gait or walk
  • Standing with their back legs closer than their front legs
  • “Bunny hopping” with both back legs 
  • Apathy toward exercise or play
  • Sensitive or swollen joints or hips

Be Certain by Visiting Your Vet

These signs and symptoms will point you in the right direction, but if you want to know for sure whether your dog is suffering from hip dysplasia, you’ll need to visit your vet for the final answer. Remember, early diagnosis is important. The sooner you’re able to identify the causes of your pup’s pain, the sooner you can help support their comfort and recovery.

The vet will usually begin by a routine blood chemical profile, which includes an electrolyte panel, urinalysis, and blood count. A test like this is standard protocol during a typical checkup. Next, the vet might use a joint laxity (or joint looseness) test to get a better feel for the problem. 

Finally, your vet will most often take an x-ray to get a clear picture of the condition of your dog’s hips.

Possible Surgeries for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Depending on your dog’s age and how severe their dysplasia seems to be, your veterinarian might recommend hip dysplasia surgery. This isn’t always the case, but be prepared for the possibility. Most hip dysplasia surgeries will cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500+ [4], depending on the type of surgery and the specialty of your vet. You might be recommended one of the following procedures for your pup:

Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis: This less invasive surgery is usually performed on dogs younger than six months old. In a JPS, the surgeon will typically fuse the two pelvic bones, allowing the rest of the joints and bones to develop correctly. Think of it as a realignment surgery for the hips of young dogs.

Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO) and Neck Excision: This is most commonly recommended for lighter weight and older dogs, since it is less dramatic (and less expensive) than a full hip replacement. While it likely won’t be effective enough for a large dog with many years left, it can often work nicely for lighter dogs or those who only need support for a few more years. This process involves replacing the tip of the femur with a fibrous joint. It removes most of a dog’s pain, but it won’t usually fully repair their mobility or range of motion.


Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO): This procedure is usually reserved for dogs ten months or younger, since they recover faster and the damage is not normally as severe. The surgery involves breaking the pelvis in order to realign the hip socket with the head of the femur to repair the joint. TPO is popular among younger dogs since it often gives back full function to the hips.


Total Hip Replacement (THP): Finally, this is the most invasive and costly surgery, but it’s also the most effective. A total hip replacement is reserved for fully grown dogs with severe hip dysplasia or osteoarthritis. During the procedure, the surgeon will completely remove the hip joint and replace it with an artificial one. The good news is that dogs who receive a THP usually experience a total recovery and a pain-free life. Now that’s something to wag your tail at.

Treating Hip Dysplasia without Surgery

Hopefully, your dog will be able to recover without invasive surgery. If that’s the case, there are few ways to help reduce your dog’s pain and improve their daily mobility.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

This group of anti-inflammatory medications is commonly recommended for both dogs and humans [5]. Typically, when a vet suggests medication for canine hip dysplasia, they are going to be referring to something from this category. Common NSAIDs for dogs include deracoxib, firocoxib, carprofen (or Rimadyl for dogs), and meloxicam.

These medications tend to work by bringing down chronic inflammation levels throughout a dog’s entire body, reducing the tension on their hips and joints. Although they are typically safe, some dogs (especially those with IBS, allergies, or liver or kidney damage) might experience unwanted side effects. Make sure to let your vet know if your dog has trouble with other medications.

Mobility Brace

We all need a little help from time to time, and a mobility brace can make a world of difference for some dogs suffering from hip dysplasia [6]. There are a handful of brands of hip braces for dogs, but they all essentially do the same thing: help support the joints and muscles of your dog’s hindquarters, making it easier for them to move around.

Most mobility braces wrap around the front shoulders to help reduce the weight and load on the dog’s hips and hind legs. Ask your vet if they think a mobility brace could help reduce your dog’s pain. 

Low Impact Exercise

It’s important to follow your vet’s recommendations, but if they give the green light on exercise, this can be a good way to strengthen your dog’s muscles and joints to improve their mobility. Just be sure to focus on low impact exercises like walking or swimming, and avoid rough activity like jumping or running. 

Closely related to exercise, you might also consider formal physical therapy. A professional canine physical therapist will often be able to utilize specific stretches, underwater treadmills, and other techniques to improve your dog’s mobility and reduce their overall pain.

Laser Therapy

Some vets have started using laser therapy to reduce pain in dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, or any number of inflammatory conditions. It works by reducing inflammation, opening up blood vessels, and stimulating the lymphatic system (which is responsible for removing unwanted waste from the body) [7]. Surprisingly enough, laser therapy also works by blocking certain nerve receptors and reducing the amount of pain signals sent to the brain. 

Laser therapy is pain-free and should be safe for most dogs. Your dog will likely find the process somewhat calming. Currently, there are no known side effects for canine laser therapy.

Weight Management

This might be the easiest and most cost-effective form of hip dysplasia treatment. Most dog owners don’t realize how important their dog’s weight is. Not only do the extra pounds place unnecessary pressure on their joints, but the fatty tissue produces inflammatory hormones that actually increase chronic pain. In fact, it’s been proven that overweight dogs have a greater chance of developing arthritis symptoms, which is directly related to hip dysplasia in dogs [8].

Portion control is the name of the game when it comes to weight management. Of course, it’s important to take a look at the quality of meals you’re feeding your pup. Many vets recommend aiming for more quality meats, fruits, and vegetables, and fewer processed grains or packaged human food.

Massages

If your dog isn’t too sensitive to touch, gentle massages can actually be very helpful in aiding your dog’s hip dysplasia, especially in a warm room. Focus on massaging your dog’s muscles around their hips and thighs. As an added bonus, they’ll get a boost in oxytocin from the loving physical touch.

Acupuncture

While there isn’t much clinical data on acupuncture, there is a large amount of anecdotal testimonies of owners noticing great relief in their dogs using this alternative form of treatment. Acupuncture works by increasing blood flow and relaxing the muscles surrounding a dog’s hips [9]. As far as the research goes, there aren’t any side effects of acupuncture, so it’s safe for most dogs. Again, it’s best to check with your vet before finding a canine acupuncturist in your area.

Supplementation

As we mentioned earlier, most dogs aren’t getting enough nutrition from food alone. Many loving owners are turning to joint-healthy supplements to help their dogs move more freely. 

One of the most important and effective supplements for pups with hip dysplasia is glucosamine for dogs. This vital nutrient helps your dog repair their joints and cartilage from the inside out. That’s why we made sure to include this compound in our glucosamine dog treats (loved by dogs of all shapes and sizes).

Wrapping Up

The key takeaway here is to be aware of any signs or symptoms that your dog may be exhibiting to indicate that they’re experiencing hip dysplasia. As mentioned previously, catching hip dysplasia early is your best chance to ensure your pup will bounce back and return to their happy and healthy selves.  


Sources

  1. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/hip-dysplasia-in-dogs/
  2. https://iheartdogs.com/the-18-breeds-with-the-most-risk-of-hip-dysplasia-is-your-dog-at-risk/
  3. https://www.certapet.com/hip-dysplasia-in-dogs/#Causes_of_Hip_Dysplasia_or_Hip_Joint_Pain
  4. https://www.caninejournal.com/canine-hip-dysplasia/
  5. https://toegrips.com/medicine-hip-dysplasia-dogs/
  6. https://lessonsfromaparalyzeddog.com/mobility-brace-for-dogs-with-arthritis-and-hind-end-weakness/
  7. https://www.thedrakecenter.com/services/dogs/laser-therapy-for-dogs
  8. https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/10/dogobesity/
  9. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/acupuncture-acupressure-for-dogs

 

 

Camille Arneberg and her dog
Camille is a co-founder of PetHonesty and VP of Pup Parent Education. After watching her own family dog suffer from joint issues for years she became passionate about improving dogs' quality of life. With the help of a team of veterinarians and dog nutritionists she now helps educate other dog owners about the small but powerful things they can do to positively impact their dogs' health and wellness! She lives in Austin, TX and loves cuddling puppies, being outside and reading.