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Coping with Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Coping with Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Any pet owner who has seen their two- or three-year-old, otherwise-glowing-with-good-health dog “bunny hopping” along painfully knows just how heartbreaking hip dysplasia in dogs can be. And since it’s often difficult to detect in puppyhood, by the time it rears its head you’ve often bonded with the dog completely. The good news is that it is possible to cope with this condition, and understanding the causes of hip dysplasia (HD) is key to doing so.

What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

A dog’s hip is a “ball and socket” joint, similar to the two most humans have. While the dog’s bones are developing, both the ball at the top of the femur and the pelvic socket need to grow at the same rate. If they don’t, the ball is loose in the socket, which causes either degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis. The dog might show signs of lameness but that doesn’t happen in every case, nor is lameness related to the degree of looseness.

Genetic Hip Dysplasia

Various factors cause hip dysplasia in dogs, but genetics is one of the most common. The condition is hereditary and is most common found in giant breeds. Great Danes, St. Bernard’s, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds develop hip dysplasia at a higher rate than other types of dogs, although mixed-breed dogs are by no means immune.

Factors that affect the condition in predisposed dogs include rapid growth, the types of exercise the dog does, and unsuitable weight and nutrition. And although it’s less common in smaller breeds, any type of dog can develop dysplasia.

The Food Factor

Large and giant breed puppies need food specially formulated to prevent excessive or rapid bone growth. By slowing down their growth, their joint development is more stable, and the joints themselves are stronger before having to carry the dog’s full weight. This helps to avoid skeletal conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia from developing later in life.

Food is important throughout the dog’s life, too, because improper nutrition or obesity can both cause stress on the joints. In a dog that has either pre-existing hip dysplasia or carries the genetic possibility, this can cause it to develop.

Identify Hip Dysplasia Early

As with most medical conditions, the earlier you can identify the risk of HD in a dog, the better you’ll be able to manage it. Start by viewing the puppy’s parents if possible. If either of them shows signs of hip difficulties, it’s important to determine what the cause is and how it could affect your puppy. The next step, and one that is essential if you aren’t able to view the parents, is to have hip x-rays taken at the earliest possible opportunity.

If you have one of the breeds at high risk for this condition and haven’t been able to meet both parents, x-rays are your best option for identifying the chance of it developing. While signs of hip dysplasia in dogs can be seen through radiography at only a few months of age, it’s best to wait until the dog is approaching two years old. Of course, waiting carries its own level of risk, but if the cost is not an issue you can have it done twice.

Helping Dogs with Hip Dysplasia

One good thing about hip dysplasia in dogs is that the diagnosis isn’t deadly, and most dogs can live a relatively long life with the disorder. The question is more about the quality of that life, because the symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs can be severely limiting, depending on the severity of the condition. Some owners even have to help dogs to go outdoors and relieve themselves, because the hips are too painful to walk unaided or to squat to do their business.

Medical Treatment

For dogs who have a lot of pain, medications like Tramadol can help to give them short-term relief but it can produce serious side effects. NSAIDs like Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Vetprofen, and Metacam reduce inflammation, which helps with pain but doesn’t actually treat the condition. These also have major side effects.

A common option is hip dysplasia surgery, such as a total hip replacement (THR) or a femoral head ostectomy (FHO). The FHO procedure involves the removal of the femoral head or ball. To boost the healing process, the dog must then walk short distances after surgery to strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the area. This helps to form a false joint, which takes the place of the old ball and socket.

Other less common surgical procedures include a triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO), juvenile pubic symphysiodesis, and DARthroplasty. The type of surgery chosen for your dog is based on the pet's age, condition, and lifestyle.

Click here to read the inspiring story of Sandy Mae, who was back doing agility just six months after a bilateral FHO for hip dysplasia.


Dogs with milder HD conditions can benefit from suitable exercise, supported by painkillers when needed. Gentle walking outdoors in summer or on a (slow!) treadmill during winter and swimming in a therapeutically-warm pool can make a tremendous difference to:

  • the fluidity of the joints
  • keeping the dog’s weight down, and
  • maintaining fitness and the muscle mass needed to support the joints.

Avoid high-impact activities like jumping, particularly while the bones are developing. Professional physical therapy can also make a difference, and massage can help to soothe aching muscle tension caused by stiffness and pain.

Supplements and Other Therapies

Many dogs with painful hip dysplasia benefit from regular polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (Adequan) injections, but the downside is these have to be done repeatedly. Class 3 laser therapy, which is also known as “cold laser” is helpful, and stem cell treatments show promise but the jury is still out on the success of these. Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine have all been used in the past to treat hip dysplasia in dogs, with varying results. Then there’s canine chiropractic care, which helps to manage pain effectively by adjusting the spine and other joints.

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are often believed to build joint strength, but I’ve never found them very effective in either humans or dogs. Many dogs have had significant improvement using Dr. Garber’s Canine Hip & Joint bioformula which is a natural solution based on my Joint Health bioformula for people with added ingredients to specifically address hip strength.



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