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Hip Dysplasia In Dogs

An Overview of Canine Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is one of the most common skeletal diseases found in dogs - and also one of the most debilitating. The disease is basically a malformation and degeneration of the hip joint, in which the ball of the femur, or thigh bone, doesn't properly fit into its socket in the pelvis. The result is abnormal forces on the bones, tiny cracks in the cartilage and degenerative joint disease.

Why Does Dog Hip Dysplasia Occur?

The cause of hip dysplasia in dogs isn't clear cut. There are many factors involved, but there's no doubt the main cause is genetic. The incidence varies between breeds, but it's particularly common in German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. Interestingly, it does also occasionally occur in small dogs, but they don't seem to show the same symptoms.

Apart from genetics, it appears that overfeeding and rapid weight gain contribute to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs. Studies have shown that restricting the food intake of dogs as they grow may reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia.

Another factor that may influence the development of hip dysplasia in dogs is exercise. Most breeders will recommend that you avoid exercising a pup to prevent the development of orthopedic conditions. However, veterinarians believe that gentle low impact exercise is good for pups, but you should avoid forced exercise beyond what a pup would normally do. Definitely don't take a pup running until he is physically mature, and stay away from high impact sports such as jumping / agility. Both of these activities can traumatize his immature joints.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

Symptoms of hip dysplasia can appear in dogs as young as 4 months of age, or they may develop as a dog becomes older. In the first instance, the symptoms are due to joint laxity - the hip joint is abnormal and doesn't properly support the leg. As time goes by, an affected dog will develop degenerative joint disease, and painful arthritic changes in his joint.

One of the most characteristic symptoms of hip dysplasia is that a dog will bunny hop with the back legs, and may have a swaying gait. They have difficulty rising and are reluctant to jump or climb stairs. They avoid running, and if they do exercise, they're usually sore in the back legs.

A veterinarian can make a presumptive diagnosis based on watching a dog move, and feeling the range of motion in his hip joint. Sometimes manipulation of the joint is painful, especially if degenerative joint disease is present.

The diagnosis of hip dysplasia is confirmed with x rays. The dog is given a general anesthetic to allow manipulation of his sore hips, and he is laid on his back. The hind legs are stretched out to fully extend the hips. In the early stages of the disease, you can see the abnormal shape of the head of the femur and the hip socket. It's also obvious if the joint is looser than normal.

As the joint becomes arthritic, the x rays show irregular surfaces to the ends of the bones, bone spurs develop, and the head of the femur becomes misshapen.

While the dog is anesthetized, the veterinarian can check for the Ortolani sign. This is an audible clunk that is heard when the hip joint is manipulated. This sound indicates that the head of the femur can be moved out of the hip socket; it clunks when it falls back into place. A positive Ortolani sign means that the dog has abnormally loose hips.


Treatment of Canine Hip Dysplasia

There are many options for treating hip dysplasia, and your choice depends on the age of your dog, how big he is, and your family budget. You have the option of controlling your dog's symptoms medically, or having surgery performed to make him more comfortable.

Most vets won't recommend treating dogs just on the basis of an x ray diagnosis. Some dogs have dreadful x rays but clinically are just fine. Unless your dog is obviously sore or has an abnormal gait, you can delay any intervention for a while. The exception is in the case of a dog under 5 months old with abnormal hips and no pain; he may benefit from surgery to affect the growth of the pelvis. This often results in improvement to the shape to his hip socket, and a better fitting joint.

A young dog who is sore and has severely dysplastic hips on x ray, but no evidence of arthritis in the hip joint may be a candidate for a triple pelvic osteotomy. This is where the dog's pelvis is cut and reshaped to create a deeper hip socket. It can improve the hip joint and delay the onset of degenerative joint disease.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia are slowly progressive, so the time will come where you feel your dog is in pain. Your first approach is treating him with medication. If your dog is overweight, put him on a diet so his sore hips don't have to carry the excess weight.

Treatment is basically managing the pain of degenerative joint disease. Glucosamine, pain relief medication and physical therapy can all improve your dog's quality of life. Swimming is a great activity for dysplastic dogs; it allows them to exercise while not bearing any weight on sore legs. Many people find that natural therapies such as acupuncture can alleviate the joint pain associated with hip dysplasia.

When these treatment options don't control your dog's pain enough, it may be time to consider surgery. One option is to sever the nerve to the hip joint, which stops the dog feeling pain. This is a fairly non invasive procedure and many dogs show improvement in their quality of life after this procedure.

Total hip replacements can be performed on dogs, and because they basically replace the head and the femur and the hip socket, the results are very impressive. This is the best option for large breed dogs, and allows the most normal hip function after surgery, but it is expensive.

A third option is a femoral head osteotomy, where the head of the femur is surgically removed. Although small dogs do better after this procedure, it is an option for any sized dog. Results in giant breeds aren't as good, and they take longer to return to normal function. Many of them still have a degree of lameness, but it's often less than it was before the procedure.

canine hip dysplasia

Prevention of Hip Dysplasia In Dogs

The most important part of preventing hip dysplasia in any dog, and in fact reducing the incidence of the disease in any breed, is carefully selecting their parents. You also should look at the parents' pedigrees, to identify if there are any cases of hip dysplasia in their litter mates. Dogs are given "hip scores" with a lower number indicating better hips.

That doesn't necessarily mean that you should only breed from parents with low hip scores. The genetics of hip dysplasia isn't that straightforward. If the stud and the dam have excellent hips, but they have siblings with very high hip scores, the pups may still end up with hip dysplasia. You may be better off choosing a pup from a dam who has a slightly higher hip score, but her litter mates all had perfect hips. Fortunately, dog breeders are becoming more responsible in evaluating their breeding stock for such heritable conditions, before they breed a litter.

Keep your pup lean as it grows, and in the case of large breed puppies, it's a good idea to use a prescription diet specifically designed for them. These foods have a balance of nutrients that slow your pup's growth rate while not starving him. Adult dogs shouldn't be allowed to become overweight, and if they are, they should be put on a weight loss program straight away.

Puppies and growing dogs should not be forced to exercise. Don't take them jogging, don't play ball with them, and don't allow them to play jumping games.

Hip Dysplasia In Dogs - Conclusion

It's distressing when your dog receives a diagnosis of hip dysplasia. It usually means he will need treatment on and off for the rest of his life, or in the worst case scenario, surgery to keep him pain free. However, with the help of your veterinarian, he can live a long, pain free and enjoyable life - which we all want.

Some more pages you may be interested in:

Big list of dog health care articles.

How to choose your ideal dog training school.

Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.