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What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

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If you’re a dog owner, it’s hard to imagine your steadfast companion entering old age. In your mind, they will always be that exuberant puppy, causing laughter, chaos, messes, and a whole lot of joy. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that there comes a time in every dog’s life where things gradually slow down and their body begins to decline.   

One particular problem that occurs in older dogs is hip dysplasia, which, if left untreated, can have a severe impact on the trajectory of the rest of their life. The good news is, if you’re aware of the signs and act early, you can treat or manage the issue before it gets out of hand. Something as simple as providing a dog hip supplement in your dog’s diet can make a world of a difference in his health. Therefore, if you want to ensure that your pup enters his later years in comfort and without debilitating hip pain, it’s essential that you take the time to read up on the subject. Below, we’ll discuss the signs and causes of hip dysplasia in dogs, the breeds that are vulnerable, and the remedies available to you.  

Read on to discover more! 

What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia is a fairly frequent developmental problem that impacts a large swath of the canine population. Since it’s an inherited polygenic trait that is passed down from generation to generation, veterinarians and breeders have discovered that it’s possible to reduce the frequency of occurrence within the general population by selectively breeding it out. 

The dogs with hip dysplasia have normal hips from birth that soon develop two primary issues:

  1. A subluxation of the femoral head that causes coxofemoral (hip) joint laxity. This deformation of the hip joint leads to secondary problems.
  1. Chronic cartilage degeneration (a degenerative joint disease) and osteoarthritis. 

Although veterinarians and scientists have been studying hip dysplasia in dogs for nearly a century, the complexity of the issue makes it difficult to predict or diagnose in the early stages of development. And while selective breeding has reduced the frequency of occurrences, it has not come close to eliminating the problem for good. According to a 2015 study on the matter:

The polygenic, multifactorial etiology of CHD has challenged veterinarians and researchers since the condition was described in the 1930s. Joint changes characteristic of CHD are also associated with environmental factors such as nutrition,4–6 exercise, and the process of skeletal ossification. The condition affects essentially all breeds, with an estimated prevalence ranging from 1% to 80% according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. It appears to occur at a relatively high rate in large-bodied and brachycephalic dogs as well as those with high body length to height ratios. The periodic appearance of OA in joints other than the coxofemoral joint has led some to propose systemic contributions to CHD expression. These complexities, among others, complicate attempts to manage the CHD by selective breeding despite strict reporting and guidelines.

Why Does Hip Dysplasia Occur?

There are several theories as to why hip dysplasia occurs in canines, with many of the causes interweaving, overlapping, or building upon one another. Veterinarian C.L. Fries’ Pathogenesis and Diagnosis of Canine Hip Dysplasia has this to say on the matter: 

Gene expression in affected individuals may be modified by a number of environmental factors. These factors do not cause hip dysplasia, but they alter manifestations of the trait and its severity. Nutrition is a major environmental factor. Excess energy consumption increases the frequency and severity of hip dysplasia in genetically predisposed dogs.

At its essence, it’s a genetic skeletal condition caused by a femur that does not fit properly within the pelvic socket, or the socket is loose due to weak muscles in the pelvic area. Some of the more popularly held causes for hip dysplasia include:

  • Joint laxity
  • Irregular or delayed endochondral ossification
  • Synovial inflammation
  • Articular cartilage damage
  • Subchondral bone sclerosis
  • Improper nutrition 

Although it’s more common in large breed dogs, it can be regularly found in smaller breeds as well. 

Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs 

Some canines will manifest the signs of hip dysplasia as puppies, while others may take years for symptoms to become evident. Regardless of when it occurs, there are several symptoms of hip dysplasia that you should be on the lookout for. Naturally, the visibility of the symptoms will depend upon several factors including:

  • Joint laxity
  • Severity of disease
  • Inflammation levels
  • Total time the dog has had the disease 

That said, signs include the following:

  • Bunny hopping gait
  • Decreased activity
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Exhaustion
  • Hind end lameness 
  • Inability or difficulty to rise, run, jump, or go up or down
  • Joint laxity 
  • Joint popping or grating when moving
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of muscle mass, particularly in the thigh
  • Narrowed stance
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swaying while walking

Hip Dysplasia in Dog Breeds

If you plan on bringing a new pup into your life, you should be aware of the various health risks involved with that specific breed. Sadly, some canines are at a greater risk of developing hip dysplasia than others, particularly large or giant breed dogs. According to Healthy Pets, the nine dog breeds most commonly diagnosed with hip dysplasia are:

  1. German shepherds 
  2. Alaskan Malamutes
  3. Rottweilers
  4. Golden retrievers
  5. Saint Bernard
  6. Labrador retriever
  7. Newfoundland
  8. Chesapeake Bay retriever
  9. Samoyed

Are you considering purchasing one of these breeds? If so, it behooves you to conduct a thorough review of the dog’s genetic history and its parents’ health records. You may have never known about hip problems in German Shepherds or hip dysplasia in Golden Retrievers. Since there is a genetic component to the disease, it may be advisable to stay away from pups that have medical red flags, particularly if you have neither the time nor resources to adequately care for a dog that has such issues. 

If you are using a licensed dog breeder, consider asking for proof that the puppy’s progenitors have undergone a Hip Dysplasia Scheme. This screening method, first developed by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Kennel Club in 1965, has screened more than 250,000 dogs, ranging in breed, for hip dysplasia. According to BVA: 

The Scheme uses radiology to screen for abnormalities in the hip joints. The radiographs are scored by BVA appointed Scrutineers. This score can then be used by breeders to help ensure they are breeding from healthy dogs and as a health check by owners and their veterinary surgeons.

By ensuring that the scheme has been done, you can have a far better idea of whether or not your pup has preexisting conditions such as hip dysplasia. 


Preventative Measures to Combat Hip Dysplasia 

One of the primary burdens you agree to when you take on the mantle of dog ownership is the promise that you’ll do your best to not only provide for them but to also take preventative actions in order to ensure that they live long and healthy lives (the same you would for a child). 

When it comes to hip dysplasia there are four preventative measures you can take from the beginning to help strengthen their muscles, bones, and ligaments within the hip. They are: 

  • Exercise – You can help avoid or at least mitigate early-onset hip dysplasia by regularly exercising your dog while being mindful of avoiding over-exercising. Taking your pup on regular walks and having them run daily can help strengthen their muscles and fight degeneration. Ideally, you want to create a daily rhythm and pattern. 

In addition, if you notice the early signs of hip issues, you can take your pup to physical therapy. During this process, a trainer will work with your dog to strengthen, stretch, and massage problematic areas. 

  • Rest – On the flip side, it’s essential that you encourage your dog to sit, relax, and sleep. Doing so allows their joints and muscles to heal or recover from a long day of activity. Failure to do so can create or build inflammation that only gets worse as time goes on. 
  • Diet – Your dog’s weight can have severe impacts on the seriousness of their hip dysplasia. If your pup is overweight, that can have deleterious effects on the hips, putting undue pressure and stress on both the hip joint and the muscles supporting it. This means you'll need to make some changes to your dog's diet. Steps you can take to prevent canine obesity include: 
    • Portion control
    • Avoiding free-feeding
    • Healthy snacks 

According to the American Kennel Club:

Keeping your dog’s skeletal system healthy should start when your dog is young. Feeding your puppy an appropriate diet, especially if you have a large breed puppy, will give her a head start on healthy bone and joint development and help prevent the excessive growth that leads to the disease. As your dog grows, providing her with appropriate levels of exercise and a healthy diet will prevent obesity, which is a major contributing factor to hip dysplasia. Obesity also causes many other health problems in dogs, from diabetes to elbow dysplasia, so hold off on the table scraps and other fatty foods.

  • Supplements – In addition, you can add supplements to your pup’s healthy meals or give them treats that, providing them with all of the vitamins and nutrients they need for recovery and muscle growth. Commonly used supplements include: 
    • Glucosamine – To prevent onset osteoarthritis.
    • Chondroitin – To strengthen bone cartilage.
    • Omega 3 – To fortify the brain and joints.
    • MSM – To prevent and decrease swelling and joint pain. 

Treatment for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Even if you take all of the preventative measures recommended above, there’s still a chance that your dog develops hip dysplasia. Once this occurs, there are several hip dysplasia dog treatment options at your disposal aside from lifestyle modifications. Such treatments typically involve one of three types of surgery.

Naturally, just thinking about surgery is a scary thought—you’re worried about both your dog and the bill. Sure, non-surgical treatment obviously would be the best option. After all, your pup is like your baby. However, if your veterinarian recommends a course of surgical treatment, it’s wise to follow their advice. Doing so could completely change your dog’s life for the better and add extra years on top of that.   

The three most commonly performed surgeries for hip dysplasia are: 

  • DPO/TPO – A double or triple pelvic ostectomy is a preventative measure for puppies who exhibit the signs of hip problems early on. This invasive surgery helps set the ball and socket into proper alignment, alleviating stress and hip pain and preventing degeneration that comes from the bones grinding against one another. 
  • FHO – A Femoral Head Ostectomy is “a surgical procedure that aims to restore pain-free mobility to a diseased or damaged hip, by removing the head and neck of the femur (the long leg bone or thighbone)… It restores mobility to the hip by removing the head of the femur. This removes the ball of the ball-and-socket joint, leaving just an empty socket.” FHO surgery is commonly done on dogs that are in their prime health.  
  • THR – A Total Hip Replacement is the costliest of the surgeries since it is the most effective and invasive. As you might imagine, this surgical treatment requires the removal of the entire hip bone, which is then replaced by a metal and plastic prosthetic implant. Once healed, this allows the hip to function with a more natural range of motion, thus eliminating most of the problems of hip dysplasia. Since a total hip replacement is a serious surgery, such an option is most commonly used on older dogs or on young dogs with severe hip dysplasia

  • Taking Care of Your Pup

    Sadly, hip dysplasia is a common occurrence in dogs that can shorten their lives and make that time far less enjoyable. So, if you want your dog to stay at your side—happy and healthy for as long as possible, then you need to take all the proper measures to combat the disease. 

    First, you must take preventative actions, such as providing them with a healthy diet, regular exercise and rest, and proper nutrients. After that, it’s critical that you stay alert for the signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia. Catching it early will ensure that you and your vet are able to counteract the degenerative disease from the get-go.  

    Sources:

    Schachner, E. NCBI. Diagnosis, prevention, and management of canine hip dysplasia: a review. (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6070021/

    Fries, C.L. NCBI. The pathogenesis and diagnosis of canine hip dysplasia: a review. (1995). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1687006/

    Zhang, Z. NCBI. Estimation of heritabilities, genetic correlations, and breeding values of four traits that collectively define hip dysplasia in dogs. (2009). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19335104

    Becker, K. Healthy Pets. What 1,000 German Shepherds Taught Us About Hip Dysplasia. https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2015/07/08/canine-hip-dysplasia.aspx

    British Veterinary Association. Canine Health Schemes. https://www.bva.co.uk/canine-health-schemes/elbow-scheme/ 

    American Kennel Club. Hip Dysplasia in Dogs. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/hip-dysplasia-in-dogs/ 

    Barnette, C. VCA. Femoral head Ostectomy in Dogs. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/femoral-head-ostectomy-fho-in-dogs