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Hip dysplasia is one of the bone and joint diseases that most affects dogs. Your symptoms may go unnoticed when the dog is still young.

Hip dysplasia is one of the most common bone and joint conditions affecting dogs. Its symptoms can go unnoticed while a dog is still young.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a condition linked to “poorly fitting” hip bones. Just as with people, in dogs’ hips the femur should fit correctly into a cavity called the acetabulum, which is located in the hip. In a way, dogs’ bones are a bit like a jigsaw puzzle in which the femur and the hip fit together, allowing the dog’s legs to move.

However, in some dogs, the pieces don’t fit together properly, causing displacement of the femoral head. This leads to the deformation of the femoral head which causes it to be less deeply held in the acetabulum, resulting in the femoral head reshaping itself. The joint degenerates and, since it does not fit properly, it suffers wear and tear leading to pain, limping, etc.

Hip dysplasia in dogs is characterised by instability in the joint during puppyhood which leads to constant friction. This friction damages the cartilage and, over time, causes osteoarthritis.

Is it a genetic condition?

Dysplasia is a genetic malformation, which means it can be passed from parent to child. However, in order for it to develop, factors such as the environment in which the puppy grows up, the surfaces it walks on, and its diet are also significant.

How to detect hip dysplasia in dogs

The signs of hip dysplasia can vary, depending on the severity of each case and the characteristics of each individual dog.

Symptoms in puppies

During the first few weeks of a puppy’s life, hip dysplasia is very difficult to detect. While the puppy is growing, if they have hip dysplasia, they may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • They sit for longer than other puppies
  • They are less active
  • They complain after rough-and-tumble play
  • They show signs of weakness in their hind legs when walking
  • They walk with their hind legs very close together, sometimes even crossing them over
  • They refuse to walk upstairs

However, a puppy is unlikely to show these symptoms unless they have a very severe case of hip dysplasia. Symptoms usually begin to show much later due to the gradual degeneration of the joint.

Symptoms in adult dogs

  • One or more of these symptoms may indicate hip dysplasia in dogs.
  • Signs of pain caused by muscular atrophy
  • Limping: your dog walks differently to reduce movement in the joint and avoid pain
  • Changed gait when running: Your dog’s hips swing in an exaggerated way when running or they might even run moving both hind legs together (similar to a bunny hop)
  • Pain when the joint is cold: your dog finds it difficult to get up or move after a period of rest
  • This improves after some warming up: your dog feels less pain when the muscles are active.
  • When standing still, your dog keeps his two hind legs very close together.

In adult dogs, the symptoms depend on the severity of the joint damage (osteoarthritis).

How is hip dysplasia treated?

The main thing a vet will do when treating hip dysplasia in dogs is assess its severity with an x-ray. There are two types of treatment for this condition. Most vets recommend avoiding surgical intervention wherever possible. The vet (orthopaedic surgeon) will always make the final decision on whether to operate.

Generally speaking, if the hip dysplasia is diagnosed at a young age and osteoarthritis is not yet present, it’s possible to operate to attempt to correct the position of the joint and improve its mobility. In dogs with very advanced joint damage, a hip replacement is recommended.

Conservative treatment

This refers to managing the dog’s condition in a way that minimises pain, without surgical intervention on the joint. This type of treatment is based on giving anti-inflammatories and chondroprotective agents, as well as canine rehabilitation and physiotherapy programmes or acupuncture. There is evidence that these new techniques are effective in treating hip dysplasia in dogs, as they slow down the degenerative process, control the pain and increase the dog’s muscle tone.

Breeds of dog with a greater predisposition to hip dysplasia

Any breed of dog can suffer from hip dysplasia, but large breeds are especially prone to the condition. The same is true of some smaller breeds such as pugs. The following are among the breeds of dog that are more likely to develop hip dysplasia:

  • German Shepherds
  • Retrievers (Labradors and Golden Retrievers)
  • Rottweilers
  • Mastiffs, St Bernards, Canary Mastiffs, etc
  • Pugs
  • Bulldogs

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