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A Guide To Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039

 

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a painful genetic condition where one or both hip joints do not develop properly in puppyhood. The hips are ball-and-socket joints, which should fit together perfectly and move freely. In hip dysplasia the hip joint does not fit together as it should, which causes instability, resulting in pain, swelling, stiffness and secondary arthritic change.

It is an inherited condition and is most common in large breed dogs such as Labradors, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Newfoundlands and Bernese Mountain Dogs. Puppies often initially show symptoms during the period of rapid growth around 5-10 months of age, and it is most commonly diagnosed between 6 and 12 months of age. However, mildly affected dogs may not show any symptoms at all around this age, only developing signs as they get older and develop secondary arthritis. If a puppy is overweight, then this can increase the chances of the condition developing.

What are the symptoms of hip dysplasia?

The symptoms are very variable but may include:

  • Stiffness
  • Exercise intolerance
  • ‘Bunny hopping’ – both hindlimbs moving together
  • Difficulty getting up and lying down
  • Trouble climbing stairs
  • Abnormal movement e.g. hindlimb lameness, wobbly/swaying walk
  • Painful hips
  • Lack of muscle coverage over hips (looks skinny)

When should I contact my vet?

If you are concerned that your dog is displaying any of the symptoms above, then please contact your vet.

How is it diagnosed?

Your vet is likely to be suspicious of hip dysplasia based on the clinical history and physical examination. The next step would be to perform x-rays of your dog’s hip joints under sedation or general anaesthetic, although changes are not always visible at this stage. Your dog’s hips would also be manipulated while they were under anaesthetic to test for looseness of the joints. Referral to an orthopaedic specialist may be needed to perform additional tests such as a CT or MRI scan.

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Treatment of hip dysplasia

Treatment will depend on the severity of the clinical signs i.e. how much the dog is affected by the condition. Most dogs can be treated medically, without the need for surgery. However, more severely affected dogs may fail to respond, and surgery may therefore be needed.

  • Weight control. It has been shown that dogs that are overweight are more likely to develop clinical signs associated with their hip dysplasia. Keeping your dog a healthy weight can therefore have a dramatic impact on the condition.
  • Anti-inflammatory pain relief to make your dog feel more comfortable and to help reduce joint inflammation.
  • Rest. Your dog may need to be rested if they are having significant discomfort from their hip dysplasia.
  • Controlled exercise. Each dog will have a different duration and type of exercise that it can tolerate before its hip pain increases. Regular, short lead walks are usually ideal. Avoid over-exercising and higher impact forms of exercise such as jumping, chasing, turning rapidly and racing around.
  • Hydrotherapy and physiotherapy can be hugely beneficial for some dogs.
  • Surgery may be needed for dogs that have severe hip dysplasia that does not respond to medical management. Referral to an orthopaedic specialist is usually needed, and there are various surgical options available that they will discuss with you.

What is the outlook?

Hip dysplasia is a painful condition that requires life-long management. If your dog responds well to treatment, then the outlook is good. For those that do not respond, surgery is usually needed to improve their quality of life. Dogs with hip dysplasia normally go on to develop osteoarthritis later in life, which needs to be managed to keep the dog comfortable.

Can hip dysplasia be prevented?

The only way to prevent hip dysplasia is by not breeding from affected dogs. Screening programs are available to check a dog’s hips before breeding. If you are planning on buying a puppy of a breed that is commonly affected, then ask the breeder about hip scores first.


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