Hip dysplasia in dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

A common condition occurring in large breed dogs, hip dysplasia, also called canine hip dysplasia (CHD), refers to the abnormal development of the hips and is characterized as having loose hip joints and subsequent degenerative joint disease. Along with the guidance of your veterinarian, medical and surgical options are available to treat hip dysplasia in your dog.

In this article: 

What is hip dysplasia in dogs?

The word dysplasia itself means abnormal growth. Hip dysplasia occurs in some growing puppies when both the bone of the hip joint and hip joint muscle grow at different rates of development. 

When this happens, the joint itself will become loose (also known as laxity) because the ball and socket of the hip joint will not have a snug fit together. This subsequently causes instability of the hip joint. Laxity and instability can then lead to changes and deterioration of the hip joint, causing further issues such as osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs

One of the most common symptoms of hip dysplasia is lameness or changes in your dog’s gait. You may notice your dog “bunny-hopping” or limping on one or both of their hind legs. 

Other symptoms can include:

  • Stiffness of the hind legs

  • Reduced range of motion

  • Trouble getting up or lying down

  • Difficulty going up and down stairs

Some puppies may begin showing symptoms as young as just a few months old, but it’s also possible that your dog can have hip dysplasia and not experience pain or show any signs or symptoms until they reach adulthood.

Causes of hip dysplasia in dogs

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition, and it can be specific to certain breeds of dogs. Larger, stocky dogs are more prone to developing this condition than smaller breeds. Nutrition and exercise can also play a role in the development of hip dysplasia. 

When you decide to spay or neuter your dog may influence bone and muscle growth. Delaying spaying or neutering in large or giant breed dogs until they are skeletally mature (typically after the first heat cycle, or around 12-14 months) is proven to decrease the likelihood of developing hip dysplasia (and other medical issues), but this is not the case in smaller and medium sized dogs. However, we do not recommend waiting past 16 months, to reduce the risk of health issues later in life. 

Speak to your veterinarian for specific advice on the optimal time to spay or neuter your dog.

Which breeds are predisposed to hip dysplasia?

Breeds that commonly develop hip dysplasia include:

  • German Shepherd

  • Labrador Retriever

  • Rottweiler

  • Golden Retriever

  • Black Russian Terrier

  • Bulldog

  • Boxer

  • Bernese Mountain Dog  

Diagnosing hip dysplasia in dogs

Your veterinarian can diagnose hip dysplasia with a physical exam and imaging tests. 

  • First, your veterinarian will assess your dog’s gait, their ability to extend their hind limbs, and check the joint for an Ortolani sign. An Ortolani sign is a palpable “pop” of the hip (caused by the femoral head of the hip joint “popping” into the center of the acetabulum, or hip socket) that can be elicited through manipulation of the hind legs.

  • Radiographs will also be used to diagnose hip dysplasia and can show whether the ball and socket of your dog’s hip joint are seated together normally. These X-rays can also indicate whether there is arthritis or bony changes present. When diagnosing hip dysplasia, radiographs will typically be taken under sedation, as the posture required for an appropriate view of the hips (lying on their back with their hind legs stretched straight out) can be painful if done when your dog is awake.

Certain specialty veterinary hospitals may also offer PennHIP testing. These X-rays are taken using special positioning of your dog while under anesthesia and measure the severity of hip joint laxity present, in addition to evaluating for arthritis. PennHIP testing may help your veterinarian diagnose hip dysplasia much earlier than with traditional radiography views. 

Treatment for hip dysplasia in dogs

Your veterinarian may recommend a range of treatments, which may involve:

  • Pain management

  • Physical therapy

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Avoiding exercising on hard surfaces

  • Joint supplements

  • Surgical correction

Surgical options include:

  • Triple pelvic osteotomy: Commonly referred to as a “TPO,” this surgery is most often performed on younger dogs between the ages of 8 and 18 months and involves sawing free the hip socket from the rest of the pelvis. The pelvis and ball of the hip are then reassembled and secured together with orthopedic plates, which creates a tighter, more snug fit around the femoral head. 

  • Femoral head and neck ostectomy: Often referred to as the “FHO” procedure, this surgery can reduce arthritis through the removal of the femoral head. The FHO procedure is typically a better option for smaller breeds because of there being less overall weight carried by their hip joint. 

  • Total hip replacement: Most often recommended in dogs who have already developed arthritic changes of the hip joints, this procedure involves complete replacement of one or both hips with a prosthetic hip. Due to the invasive nature of this surgery, extra precautions are taken to ensure a sterile surgical environment to avoid infection. 

  • Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis: This procedure reconfigures the way the hip ball and socket sit together by sealing the cartilage that connects the right and left sides of the pelvis (also known as the symphysis). Symphysiodesis is only performed on young puppies before they reach 5 months of age.

Is there a cure for hip dysplasia in dogs?

There is no cure for hip dysplasia in dogs, only surgical correction and medical management.

Is hip dysplasia contagious to humans or other pets?

No. Because it is a hereditary condition, hip dysplasia is inherited by a dog from one or both of their parents. This condition is not contagious to humans or other pets.

What is the cost of treating hip dysplasia in dogs?

The cost of treating hip dysplasia in dogs can vary depending on the severity of the condition and which type of treatment is best suited for your dog’s needs. It could range from hundreds of dollars for pain medicines and blood work, to upwards of $10,000 or more for a total hip replacement.

Recovery & management of hip dysplasia in dogs

As a pet parent, you and your veterinarian will work together to come up with a treatment plan that works for your dog.  

Symptoms of hip dysplasia can be managed using non-surgical treatment options, such as:

  • Anti-inflammatory pain medication/other classes of pain medication  

  • Physical therapy (which can include water treadmill therapy, cold laser therapy, exercises, massage, and stretching)

  • Joint supplements (Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been found to be especially helpful to reduce pain. Omega fatty acids may also be protective and slow disease progression.)

  • Platelet rich plasma joint injections

  • Adequan injections (Adequan is an injectable version of polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can also help repair cartilage.)

Prevention & vaccines for hip dysplasia in dogs

Hip dysplasia cannot be prevented, and it is also not reversible. There are measures that can be taken to help predict the development of hip dysplasia in breeding dogs, such as PennHIP testing and OFA Registration (a certification provided by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, which indicates that a breeder has had the hips of both parent dogs evaluated for hip dysplasia).

Is there a vaccine for hip dysplasia in dogs?

There are no vaccines available to prevent the development of hip dysplasia at this time.

Summary of hip dysplasia in dogs

Hip dysplasia is a treatable hereditary condition affecting your dog’s hip joints. Hip dysplasia causes the fit of the ball and socket of the hip to become loose, causing instability and arthritic changes to the joint. While it cannot be prevented, hip dysplasia can be successfully treated with surgery or medical management, allowing your dog to live a long, happy, healthy, and pain-free life. 

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