As dog owners, we want nothing more than for our four-legged friends to roam free and enjoy life. One potential and painful damper on that dream is hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia is a skeletal condition that can affect all breeds and ages of dogs. It makes even simple tasks like standing and walking more difficult. While some cases are a result of environmental factors, many are a byproduct of genetics. To ensure your pooch gets the proactive treatment and care they need, here is everything you need to know about hip dysplasia in dogs.

What Is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip socket is too shallow to support the ball of the hip. The improper fit may occur because the joint is the incorrect shape, or the pelvis is worn. As a result, the ball may become partially or fully dislocated when your dog tries to use it.

While any dog can have hip dysplasia, older and overweight dogs are more likely to be affected. Additionally, certain breeds have higher predispositions. Here are the dogs with the highest likelihood of hip dysplasia:

  • Pugs: 71.7 percent
  • Bulldogs: 70.5 percent
  • Old English Bulldog: 65.7 percent
  • Bordeaux: 58.2 percent
  • Neapolitan Mastiff: 51.8 percent
  • Brussel Griffon: 51 percent
  • St. Bernard: 49.2 percent
  • Otterhound: 48.7 percent
  • Clumber Spaniel: 43.3 percent
  • Black Russian Terrier: 40.8 percent

Interestingly, the number of hip dysplasia cases has risen slightly over the past two decades. For instance, 12.5 percent of Affenpinschers were dysplastic before 1990. Today, that figure is 22.2 percent. There are many more examples that you can find at The Canine Health Information Center’s website. More likely than not, though, the increase in cases is probably a result of better medical care and diagnosing.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Fundamentally, hip dysplasia is a result of a poor connection between the hip socket and the femur. There can be multiple causes, though, and in all likelihood, it is a combination of factors. For instance, larger and stockier dog breeds more frequently have a genetic predisposition. The same goes for dogs with slow growth rates, such as the Newfoundland, who need longer to develop.

There is also research suggesting that environmental factors can affect the rate of hip dysplasia. Researchers at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science found that exercise, or the lack thereof, played a direct correlation with the instances of hip dysplasia. Giving a dog regular exercise, especially as a puppy, is vital.

Researchers found that puppies born in the spring and summer have lower rates of hip dysplasia. This result is partly due to the idyllic weather conditions, which are well-suited for outdoor activities. The studies suggest that exercise during adolescence can reduce the chances of hip dysplasia up until the age of three months when doctors can get a prognosis.

There are a couple of other environmental factors, such as overexertion, injury, and poor diet, that can cause hip dysplasia. For example, repetitive motion on a newly formed joint can corrode the fit of the ball in the socket. While it is not taboo for owners to run with puppies under the age of one, you should be aware of the potential consequences.

What Are the Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Most dogs will begin displaying symptoms of hip dysplasia around one and a half years old. The skeletal condition can range from mild to crippling and may come in conjunction with osteoarthritis. Here are some of the signs you should be aware of:

  • Decreased activity
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Dislocation
  • Lame hindlegs
  • Loss of muscle mass in the thigh
  • Pain
  • Soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Trouble jumping or climbing stairs
  • Uneven shoulder muscles as a result of hindleg compensation
  • Unnaturally narrow stance
  • Unusual gait characterized by “bunny hopping”

Dogs that have hip problems will do everything they can to limit the pain. One of the conventional approaches is to bunny hop, which resembles a jump instead of a walk. Both hindlegs will move together as the dog tries to compensate for limitations in their joints, muscle tissue, or spine.

Difficulty standing is one of the most visible symptoms. Typically, the longer a dog with hip dysplasia lies down, the more trouble they have standing up again. This problem is most apparent in the morning or after a long nap when their joints are not “warmed up.”

How to Diagnosis Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

A veterinarian can look for hip dysplasia during your dog’s annual checkup. This process can involve gently touch and moving the legs into different positions to see how well the joint fits. Note that milder cases are significantly harder to detect than severe ones.

A vet can use many of the symptoms mentioned above to develop the diagnosis. However, for complete assurance, the best way to confirm hip dysplasia is with an x-ray evaluation. There are some other types of imaging options, such as magnetic resonance arthrograms (MRA) and CT scans, though the purpose for each is to show the alignment of the joints.

An x-ray result will clearly show the severity of dysplasia, and your veterinarian can assess whether the joint is at the proper angle and, if not, how much correction it needs. The x-ray will also indicate whether the hips are displaced upward, as those types then to wear out more quickly than usual fitting connections. The Canine Health Information Center has seven classifications of hip problems, including:

  • Excellent: The alignment of the ball or femoral head into the socket or acetabulum could not be better. There is minimal joint space around the ball for a snug overall fit.
  • Good: While not perfect, a “good” diagnosis shows the dog has congruent hip points. There is a significant amount of coverage and little cause for concern.
  • Fair: A dog may have some minor hip-joint irregularities. For instance, the hip joint is abnormally wide. The ball may also be partially out of the socket, or the socket may be too shallow to support the joint fully.
  • Borderline: A "borderline" case is one that could go either way. A veterinarian will say that the diagnosis is not precise because, while there are potential irregularities, there are not arthritic symptoms, yet. These diagnoses merit future checkups.
  • Mild: The following three conditions indicate some level of hip dysplasia with mild being the least impactful. The ball will be partially out of the socket, which is also known as subluxation. This result is typically a byproduct of a shallow acetabulum.
  • Moderate: There is a sizeable jump from mild to moderate as this point comes with almost complete dislocation. The ball is barely in the sock, and there are secondary arthritic problems. Some of the most common include remodeling, bone spurs, and sclerosis.
  • Severe: A severe case means that the dog has total hip dysplasia. The ball is either partially or entirely out of the acetabulum. There is also significant arthritic damage to the femoral neck and head, acetabular rum, or trabecular bone pattern.

How to Treat Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

The condition's severity will largely dictate the potential treatments. For instance, there is no way to reserve hip dysplasia once osteoarthritis is present. At that point, the symptoms are too severe to overcome.

However, if a dysplastic dog only has secondary symptoms of arthritis and pain, there is room for treatment. According to researchers, 76 percent of dysplastic dogs with secondary arthritis can function and live a comfortable life. The key is medical management.

Medical management is a fancy way of saying diet and exercise. The goal is to reduce the pressure and strain on the joints, which can subsequently alleviate the pain. In time, your dog may regain its original gait.

Diet is perhaps the most straightforward of these options. The bottom line is that your pet needs to lose from extra pounds. Small changes to their diet, such as eliminating table scraps and processed foods and providing small portions, are optimal first steps.

Vitamins and minerals can also ease the effects associated with hip dysplasia. For instance, fish oil supplements, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, are useful when reducing inflammation in the joint. Other options include glucosamine and chondroitin, which help retain cartilage. These naturally occurring substances ensure your dog keeps the protective padding around the joint to minimize wear and tear.

Exercise requires a delicate balance. Like Goldilocks' quest for the ideal porridge temperature, there is the possibility of too little and too much recreation. The goal is to find a comfortable middle ground.

Your decision to exercise your pooch will depend on their age, health, and mobility. Short walks are an ideal way to start as they build up stamina and flexibility. If the symptoms of hip dysplasia begin to appear again, it may be a sign to back off that level of exercise.

You should try to maximize the intensity and duration of the workouts based on your pooch’s abilities. At the same time, don’t push them to a point where it causes pain, inflammation, or stiffness. One of the best options for recovery is swimming because it does not require them to bear weight on their joints, yet they can still develop muscle tone and experience a wide range of motion.

Additionally, warm weather is conducive to assuaging the aches and pains of hip dysplasia. Similar to the trope of retirees moving to Florida for the warmth, dogs thrive when they are in a moderate climate. If you don’t plan on moving south, you can also apply heating pads to the afflicted areas or convert their bed to a well-padded one.

Medical management is the first line of defense, though some dogs may need drugs or surgery. There are several joint supplements and natural remedies that improve their condition. Dasuquin and Cosequin are both comprehensive treatments that go beyond glucosamine and chondroitin. They help to protect the existing cartilage while improving joint function. CBD for dogs also shows promise for pain relief and inflammation control.

Surgery is the option of last resort. Many of the procedures are similar to the ones that humans have. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO): The method is best suited for puppies that are under two years old and don’t have arthritis. The operation repositions the socket to form a snugger fit with the ball.
  • Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO): Surgeons use this method for adult canines under 50 pounds. It involves removing the head of the femur so the body can let the muscle develop into the area and create a false joint. This option removes bone-to-bone contact, and therefore the arthritic symptoms.
  • Dorsal Acetabular Rim Arthroplasty: Any adult dog is eligible for this procedure, also known as DARthroplasty. A surgeon will create a deep socket in the pelvis, so the femur can come to rest in a tighter position.
  • Total Hip Replacement: Dogs with severe arthritis will likely need a total hip replacement. It involves a complete replacement of the hipbone socket and the head of the femur. The surgery is the most sophisticated option, and one in ten dogs end up having some complication.

How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Some cases of hip dysplasia are all but inevitable. That is especially true if you own a pug, bulldog, or another breed that has a high genetic predisposition. The best thing that you can do is be proactive about your dog's well-being to ensure they are as healthy as possible upon entering their most vulnerable years.

Diet and exercise are the most influential factors beyond genetics. A well-balanced diet with regular walks will minimize the chances of weight issues, inflammation, or stiffness. Also, make sure to take your dog in for regular health screenings to monitor their health and adjust their routine as necessary.