Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Canine hip dysplasia is an abnormality in the formation of the hip socket, which keeps the rear leg from fitting into it properly. It is common in large breeds, with some pure breeds having a 50% rate of incidence. Due to the abnormally formed hip, dogs with dysplasia suffer from pain in movement, which can cause them to restrict movement and eventually lose muscle tone in their hip and legs. In severe cases, hip dysplasia can cause painful arthritis and lameness.

Causes of hip dysplasia

The two main causes of hip dysplasia are genetics and breed susceptibility. Large purebreds are particularly susceptible, but even mixed breed and medium-sized dogs can be prone to it depending on their genes. The following breeds are at greater risk for developing dysplasia: Doberman Pinschers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Mastiffs, Rottweilers and St. Bernards.

Environment has also been demonstrated to play a role in the development and progression of dysplasia. Environmental factors which can contribute to dysplasia are: injury, ligament tear, excessive and repetitive exercise at a young age and being overweight. Just make sure to take your dog to the vet and get a few pet ct scans to see if your dog has had any injuries or malformations.


Hip dysplasia occurs as a result of polygenic traits and as such cannot be prevented. However, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that environmental factors do not contribute to it and that the problem is detected as early as possible:

  • Learn more about the susceptibility of your pet.  Does his breed have a higher incidence of dysplasia? Did his parents suffer from it? Is he large (in which case he will put more weight on his rear legs)? In such cases, it’s important to pay more attention to your dog’s movement and gait.
  • Keep your dog’s weight under control with regular, age-appropriate exercise.
  • If your dog is injured and cannot exercise, keep his muscles and rear end supple with physical therapy.
  • Do not over-exercise your dog, especially before he reaches adulthood. Repetitive exercises like jogging or forced running should especially be avoided with puppies. Avoid exercising on hard surfaces.
  • Keep a check on other environmental factors which can cause or worsen dysplasia: rough play, stair climbing, sliding on floors and calcium supplements.
  • If your dog is prone to dysplasia, get an X-ray and physical test at the right age (around 6-7 months old) and then again during adulthood. In case of any symptoms, consult your vet and get your dog tested as soon as possible, so that the right treatment can begin.

With early intervention and the right treatment, affected dogs can live a healthy and long life.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia

Symptoms of dysplasia can appear at any age and may not even always be present until the condition has progressed to a significant degree. Dogs with dysplasia suffer from pain but don’t always show it, especially early on. The problem may also be mild or stable, in which case clinical symptoms are not always present. Common symptoms of dysplasia include:

  • Stiffness or pain on moving after a period of rest,
  • Reluctance to exercise, stand on the rear legs, climb stairs or jump up,
  • Abnormal gait, most commonly “bunny hopping” when running (where the rear legs move together instead of alternating),
  • Dislocation of the hip joint, and
  • Rear limb lameness.

Proper diagnosis of dysplasia can be done through X-rays and tests which determine the hip score of the dog.


Hip dysplasia cannot be completely cured, but can be treated with a number of options which aim to improve and maintain the affected dog’s quality of life. Weight control and exercise control are two important non-medical treatments which are recommended for all affected dogs.

In mild cases, medication for pain, inflammation and increasing joint strength may prove to be sufficient. The next option is surgery to reshape the joint or help movement and in some cases a replacement of the hip with an artificial joint may be necessary. Remember, always consult your vet for anything related to the health and well-being of your dog – the advice that they will give is far better than anything you’ll find over the internet as each individual case will be very different.

Image supplied by jonhurd, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.


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