Jun 22
dog lying on the deck

Hip Dysplasia and your Dog

What is hip dysplasia (HD)?

HD is an abnormal (dysplastic) hip joint. Normally the femur (leg bone) articulates nicely within the pelvis, in dogs with HD the bones are abnormally formed and there is a lot of laxity and movement in their hip joint leading to abnormal stresses on the surrounding cartilage and bone and the subsequent development of arthritis. It is the most common cause of arthritis in a dog’s hip.

What causes hip dysplasia?

HD can be passed to your dog from their parents thanks to genetics, and it can also be influenced by excessive food and activity as they are growing. In some cases the cause is unknown.

Who is mainly affected by HD?

HD is common in most large breed dogs, including the German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and Rottweiler. It can also occur in smaller dog breeds as well as cats.

What are the signs that my dog has HD?

This depends on the degree of laxity in the joint and the presence of arthritis. These guys affected with HD are often less active, reluctant to run, jump up (such as into cars) and climb stairs. They are also noticed to be limping (lame) especially after exercise, and may find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Signs can be seen from about 5 months of age.

How do I know if my dog has HD?

See your veterinarian. A visual examination may reveal a change in gait (swaying or bunny hopping), and a physical examination may reveal pain or reduced range of motion of the joint. A test, called the Ortolani sign also indicates the amount of laxity in the joint of a young dog.

As these dogs have normal hips at birth but they change as they grow, it is unlikely to be picked up when they are really young.

Radiographs will show what’s actually happening in the joint, they are best done with heavy sedation or a general anaesthetic so that your mate can be positioned properly for the x-ray to give maximum information to the vet, and make the procedure worthwhile.

My dog has confirmed HD, how do I best look after them?

Be proactive with their care. A good regime includes:

  1. Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan injections (known as Cartrophen, Xydax). These are given under the skin- the usual protocol is a weekly injection for 4 weeks, followed by monthly or less frequently for maintenance. These help prevent cartilage breakdown so improve the quality of the cartilage present.
  2. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate tablets. These can be taken by mouth. Glucosamine is a building block for cartilage and chondroitin sulfate inhibits enzymes that break down cartilage; together they work to protect and maintain cartilage.
  3. Omega 3 Fatty acids. Touted as a good anti-inflammatory for joint pain, many people swear by these.
  4. Prescription pain relief. Non steroidal anti-inflammatories are the most commonly prescribed pain relief for HD.
  5. Ensuring your dog is on a balanced, good quality diet and is not allowed to become overweight.
  6. Appropriate, low impact, regular exercise. Swimming is an excellent activity, it helps develop muscle tone to support the leg with less stress on the joints.

Monitor them closely for soreness and see your vet if concerned. Do keep in mind that even though your dog has HD, a sudden lameness in a back leg doesn’t mean that the HD is the cause. Often it can be due to a cruciate ligament problem in the knee, or even back soreness. In reality dogs with HD tend to have a more gradual course of lameness rather than a sudden soreness.

Is surgery advisable?

There are many surgical options which should always be considered and discussed with your veterinarian, especially when there’s reduced or no response to medical therapy. If medical management means that your dog is comfortable and able to do all their desired activities, then nothing further needs to be done. Of the available surgeries there are some that should only be done in young dogs (e.g. one called Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis is ideally done at 20 weeks of age), and others can be done at almost any age, such as a total hip replacement, or a femoral head and neck ostectomy (basically removing the bone that articulates in the hip- this is the surgery my boy Red has had, more about that another day!).

Can I prevent my dog getting HD?

Where possible, especially if purchasing a pure breed dog, find out if the parents have been screened for HD, and discuss the results with a veterinarian.

Tips to help prevent HD in your dog:

  1. Diet for Puppies: Feed a complete and balanced food but ensure that your puppy is not growing too quickly and is not becoming too heavy for their hips to reduce abnormal formation of the hip joint.
  2. Diet for Adults: Feed a balanced diet for their life stage and ensure that their body shape is in the ideal range.
  3. Exercise in pups: In moderation so to prevent muscle wasting but to minimise joint deterioration. I usually say that it’s important the pup has the ability to control the intensity and duration of exercise themselves- i.e. it’s ok if they are going crazy in the yard or park on their own, but not ok to drag a leashed puppy on a run, or behind a bike.
  4. Exercise in adults: Needs to be appropriate for the individual with the same aim as above to prevent muscle wasting but to minimise joint deterioration.

About The Author

Claire is a QLD graduate with 19 years experience as a neighbourhood Veterinarian in Australia and the UK. Animal lover and the founder of VetChat, born from a passion to help pet carers everywhere access trusted advice earlier, for healthier, happier pets. Grateful to be carer to her beautiful Red-dog.