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Hip dysplasia in dogs is a complex developmental disorder characterized by joint laxity and osteoarthritis in one or both hip joints. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. During growth, both the ball (the head of the femur, or thighbone) and the socket in the pelvis (acetabulum) must grow at equal rates.

Hip Dysplasia is a genetic trait that is affected by environmental factors. The condition affects essentially all breeds, with an estimated prevalence ranging from 1% to 80%. It appears to occur at a relatively high rate in large-bodied giant dog breeds as well as those with high body length to height ratios. Most affected dog breeds are German shepherds, Rottweiler, golden retrievers, Saint Bernard’s, Labrador retrievers, and Newfoundland’s.

Though the condition is present from a young age, many dogs won’t show clinical signs until they’re older. However, screening your pet for hip dysplasia early on can give you an opportunity to treat the deformed joint before it causes problems. Treating hip dysplasia involves careful exercise, weight control and pain relief. Severely affected dogs may also require surgery.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

There are two primary causes of hip dysplasia in dogs: genetics and nutrition. While genetics determine whether a dog develops hip dysplasia, nutritional research shows that consuming food that’s too high in calcium or calories also plays a role in the condition’s development.

Some other factors that can affect the condition include;

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Pelvic muscle mass.
  • Excessive growth and exercise can also worsen the condition.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Some dogs begin to show signs of hip dysplasia when they are as young as four months of age. Others develop it in conjunction with osteoarthritis as they age. In both cases, there are a few symptoms that owners should be familiar with. These symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the disease, the level of inflammation, the degree of looseness in the joint, and how long the dog has suffered from hip dysplasia.

  • Decreased activity
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Difficulty or reluctance rising, jumping, running, or climbing stairs
  • Lameness in the hind end
  • Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait
  • Grating in the joint during movement
  • Loss of thigh muscle mass
  • Noticeable enlargement of the shoulder muscles as they compensate for the hind end
  • Pain
  • Stiffness or limping

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet will consider many factors before recommending the proper treatment for your dog. Your pet should have a complete orthopedic evaluation before determining if surgery or medical management is right for you. Early diagnosis of the disease can decrease or even prevent the long-term arthritis that is caused by hip dysplasia in dogs.

There are several options for treating canine hip dysplasia, including a few surgical options as well as managing the condition through medications. 

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is often considered if the problem cannot be controlled with medications. Surgical procedures attempt to modify, repair, or replace the hip joint in order to allow pain-free usage. Known procedures include;

  • The head of the femur is removed but not replaced. Instead, the resulting scar tissue from the operation takes the place of the hip joint. This false joint is less stable with a reduced range of motion than a normal joint, causing an abnormal gait. Nevertheless, pain relief with adequate function can be achieved.
  • Bone cuts in the pelvis so that the socket portion of the joint can be rotated over the ball; the bones are then stabilized with a bone plate. This procedure is indicated for dogs under 10 months of age.
  • Hip replacement has the highest rate of success, especially in severe cases, since it completely replaces the faulty joint. It usually restores complete mobility if no other joint is affected, and also completely prevents recurrence.
  • Manipulating the way the pelvis grows to create a tighter hip. This is a procedure for very young dogs
  • The hip joint capsule is de-nerved to reduce pain in the hip.

Medical Management

Medical management entails;

  • Maintenance of minimal body weight.
  • Limited exercise routine i.e. leash walks of a length the dog tolerates comfortably. 
  • Daily or intermittent use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs can be very effective in relieving pain. 
  • Dietary supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, and vitamin C are often recommended. They help in decreasing inflammation,  improvement of cartilage, and also strengthen the joints.
  • Physical therapy has been demonstrated to be highly effective. It improves an affected dog’s quality of life and should be part of any treatment regimen.


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