Canine Hip Dysplasia

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a very common genetic orthopedic trait, which is affected by environmental and dietary factors. Canine hip dysplasia occurs when there is an abnormality in the development of the hip joint.

X-ray of canine hip dysplasia
Original image by user DarkMark on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Basic Facts

Name: Canine Hip Dysplasia

Hereditary: Yes


Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a very common genetic orthopedic trait, which is affected by environmental and dietary factors. Canine hip dysplasia occurs when there is an abnormality in the development of the hip joint. The dog’s hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint also referred to as a synovial joint.
The abnormal development of the hip joint, affects how the head of femur fits into the acetabulum socket(hip socket). The head of the femur should fit tightly into the cuplike depression (acetabulum socket). Dogs with hip dysplasia have a “loose fit” within the socket. Over time if the head of femoral head does not fit tightly into the acetabulum it causes the joint capsule to thicken and become arthritic. The abnormal movement within the joint cavity wears down the layers of cartilage. The erosion of the fibrous cartilage removes the “cushion” and allows bone-on-bone contact. The deterioration of the hip joint can also cause bone spurs to develop.
In severe cases of hip dysplasia the ligaments of the joint capsule get so stretched out, that it allows the femoral head to slip out of the acetabulum. A dislocated hip is very painful and must be put back in to place by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will manually attempt to put the hip joint back into the socket or surgery may be necessary. The dog will need to be anesthetized for either procedure.
Any dog breed can develop canine hip dysplasia; but it is more common in large and stocky breeds. Breeds that are prone to Canine hip dysplasia include the Saint Bernard, Newfoundland, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Rottweiler, Labrador Retriever, Dogue de Bordeaux, American Staffordshire Terrier and the Bulldog.

Symptoms of Canine Hip Dysplasia

The condition hip dysplasia begins in puppyhood but clinical signs may not occur until the dog is older. Symptoms may include:

  • Weakness in the hind legs

  • Limping

  • Narrow hind limb stance

  • Reluctance to go up or down stairs

  • Struggles to get up from a sitting or lying position

  • Stiffness of the hind legs

  • Less willing to participate in activities

  • Decreased range of motion

  • Loss of muscle mass in the thigh muscles

  • Pain

Causes of Canine Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is an inherited genetic trait. Hip Dysplasia can be aggravated and the deterioration process may progress, due to the following factors:

  • Rapid weight gain in puppies
  • Obesity - being overweight puts more pressure on the joints.
  • Excessive exercise (e.g., jogging or running with a puppy that is under 1 year of age)  
  • Jumping activities such as playing Frisbee
  • Pelvic injuries due to trauma

  • Extreme strenuous activities (e.g., police dogs, military dogs, search and rescue dogs)

  • Diet - excessive dietary calcium and/or overfeeding during puppyhood
  • Neutering a dog, before the dog has reached an age of maturity

Diagnoses of Canine Hip Dysplasia

The veterinarian will want to go over the dog’s medical history. He will want to know what symptoms you have observed and when did they start.
The veterinarian will perform a physical exam, which may include taking the dog’s weight, temperature, heart weight and pulse. The veterinarian will also check for swollen joints. He will test the dog’s reflexes and range of motion. He may recommend a complete blood count (CBC), electrolyte panel, urinalysis and x-rays. When the doctor reads the x-rays he will use a procedure called hip scoring. The procedure is used to determine the degree of hip dysplasia in dogs. The higher the score, the more severe is the hip dysplasia.

Treatment of Canine Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia in dogs may be treated medically or surgically depending on the severity of the hip joint’s degeneration.
A veterinarian orthopedic surgeon may recommend a triple pelvis osteotomy (TPO) if the dog is younger than 10 months and does not have arthritis. It involves cuts into the pelvis and realigning the femoral head in to the acetabulum. This procedure helps to eliminate joint laxity and prevent stress on the hip joint. Puppies that are younger than 20 weeks of age may have a procedure called juvenile pubic symphysiodesis, which fuses two pelvic bones together. This procedure changes the angle of the hip joint.
Mature dogs with severe hip dysplasia may need to have a total hip replacement. The dog’s hip joint is removed and replaced with an artificial joint. If both joints are damaged the surgeon may recommend doing one joint first and waiting three months to replace the second.
Medically hip dysplasia may be treated with a combination of anti-inflammatories, pain medications, proper diet, physical therapy and dietary supplements. Weight management is extremely important. If a dog is overweight the veterinarian may place him on a lower calorie dog food. Treats will need to be cut back. Additionally, daily low impact exercise may help him to lose weight.
Dogs with hip dysplasia can benefit from massage therapy and hydrotherapy. Massage can help relax stiff muscles and increase his range of motion. Hydrotherapy can relieve joints of pressure and it may help him to lose weight too.
Dogs with hip dysplasia should be provided a comfy foam bed or orthopedic dog bed. If he is having a hard time going up stairs or getting in the car; a carpeted ramp may make it easier for him. Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin are highly recommended for canine and people with arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids supplements have anti-inflammatory properties.

Prognosis of Canine Hip Dysplasia

Most dogs and puppies, which undergo corrective surgery, have a very good recovery prognosis. The surgery can help relieve pain and improve the dog’s quality of life. Dogs being treated medically will need to follow the treatment plan. Follow up visits will be necessary to monitor the patient’s healing progress.

Prevention of Canine Hip Dysplasia

Dogs that are diagnosed with hip dysplasia should not be used for breeding. Dogs with hip dysplasia can pass the abnormal genetic trait to their off springs. Selective breeding with animals that have certified hips reduces the probability of hip dysplasia.
To help prevent the progression of hip dysplasia it is important to monitor the dog’s nutrition, weight and degree of exercise. Obesity is considered to be the most significant environmental factor affecting the development of hip dysplasia. Unfortunately, more than half of pets in the United States are overweight or obese. Even when your dog gives you sad eyes, you have to limit his caloric intake. In addition, no table scraps should be fed to dogs. Many people feel that puppies need extra calcium; the truth is calcium supplements may cause serious problems. Puppies that are three months or younger should not be allowed to go up and down stairs nor should they play and run on slippery surfaces. A little bit of prevention, may help prevent the progression of the hip dysplasia.