And, it’s even possible to start preventive treatment early to stave off the effects of hip dysplasia for as long as possible. This article includes what you need to know about hip dysplasia in dogs and what you can do to help improve your dog’s quality of life if they have it.
What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
Hip dysplasia is a medical skeletal condition affecting the hip(s). The bones don’t grow uniformly, causing looseness in the joint, eventually leading to degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis. It’s often identified in older dogs when DJD or osteoarthritis sets in. However, it’s was there well before their advanced years.
The hip is known as a “ball and socket joint.” The head of the femur, or the thigh bone, is the ball and the pelvis is the socket. In dogs with hip dysplasia, the femur and pelvis don’t fit together properly and instead of sliding smoothly with movement, they rub and grind. The impact is the deterioration of the joint over time and eventually a loss of function.
Elbow dysplasia is similar and occurs in the elbow of the front leg instead of in the hip.
What Dogs are Most at Risk for Dysplasia?
The dogs that most commonly have hip dysplasia are typically large-breed dogs that weigh 50 pounds or more. Some common breeds are German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, though there are others. However, this genetic condition can be found in dogs of any size and is not specific to a dog’s size or even their breed.
There are a number of factors that come into play with hip dysplasia, and genetics is the biggest one. Dogs with hip dysplasia have a genetic predisposition that they are born with. However, just because they have this predisposition, doesn’t necessarily mean they will show symptoms during their lifetime.
Other factors that impact this condition are exercise and the types of exercise, nutrition, and weight. All of these are within the owner’s control, particularly maintaining a proper weight level and feeding nutritious food.
Regular exercise is also important, including walking, running, and playing. One thing to note is that dogs in competitive sports like agility, flyball, dock diving, and others that are predisposed to hip dysplasia are at a higher level of risk of having issues with this condition than dogs who exercise more moderately.
What Are Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia
As is the case with many mobility issues, there is a wide range of symptoms you may see. Many dogs don’t exhibit any symptoms at all when they are younger, so you may not even know they have the condition. For these dogs, symptoms usually present when they get older as dogs with hip dysplasia often develop degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis (OA) later in life.
Other dogs may develop symptoms as young as four months of age. Here are the things to look for with hip dysplasia:
- Pain, stiffness, or limping
- Swaying “bunny hop” gait
- Decreased activity
- Decreased range of motion
- Lameness in the hind end (or in the case of elbow dysplasia, a front leg)
- A grating sound in the joint
- Reluctance or difficulty rising, running, or jumping
- Loss of thigh muscle mass and enlargement of shoulder muscles due to compensation
Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia
There are a number of things your vet will do to determine if your dog has hip dysplasia. First, your vet will request a history of your dog’s health and any symptoms he has to indicate an issue. If your dog has ever had an injury that may have contributed to the symptoms, that’s helpful to share.
Then your vet will manipulate your dog’s hind legs. While doing this, they will check for any reduced range of motion, grinding, pain, and looseness in the joint.
Your vet may want to run blood work as inflammation due to joint disease can present in the complete blood count (CBC). Last, he will likely want to take radiographs, or X-rays, of your dog’s hips to determine the degree and severity of hip dysplasia if warranted from the physical exam. This helps to provide the best course of treatment for your dog.
Treatments for Hip Dysplasia
There are a number of ways you can help your dog with hip dysplasia. How you will treat your dog’s hip dysplasia depends on the amount of discomfort.
Medications and Supplements
A common treatment is with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Rimadyl and Meloxicam. These drugs may have side effects so it’s important to work with your vet to determine if it’s right for your dog. You’ll also want to monitor blood work regularly.
In addition to medications, it’s a good idea to put your dog on some nutritional supplements including glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids. You can get these at any pharmacy or even at Amazon. I also recommend Standard Process Canine Musculoskeletal Support and can supply that for patients.
Exercise and Physical Rehab
In addition to supplements and medications, exercise is very helpful for dogs with hip dysplasia. Moderate daily exercise is the key, avoiding high-impact activities like jumping which can stress the hip joints. Exercise alone can help to keep your dog mobile while strengthening the surrounding support structures around the hips.
As you might expect, physical rehab can also be very effective in improving a dog’s quality of life with hip dysplasia. We can work together to get your dog to a healthy weight to reduce excess stress on the hip joints and get your dog on a regular exercise regiment.
There are a number of alternative treatments that can be quite effective for helping your dog. One that I offer in my practice is cold laser therapy, and I highly recommend it along with physical rehab.
Some other therapies that can be helpful include acupuncture, stem cell treatments, and traditional Chinese medicine. Though scientific data is limited from studies, they may be worth looking into for your dog, particularly in conjunction with some other treatment options.
Another option is surgery, and there are several surgical procedures to treat hip dysplasia. The most common two are a total hip replacement and a femoral head osteotomy (FHO). Your vet or veterinary surgeon will determine what’s right for your dog based on their condition, lifestyle, and age. If you do go the surgery route, physical rehab is a great way to help your dog post-surgery.
What You Can Do if Your Dog Has Hip Dysplasia
If you think your dog may have hip dysplasia, make an appointment with your primary vet right away. Your vet will examine your dog and will likely determine the diagnosis with X-rays.
From there, you can determine the most appropriate course of action. Dogs with his dysplasia can often live long and full lives with treatment, so the sooner you diagnose and determine a treatment plan, the better off your dog will be.