What is hip dysplasia in dogs ?
Canine hip dysplasia is a common degenerative disease that can happen to any size or breed of dog, although it’s most often encountered in large and giant breeds. This is an inherited skeletal condition that is still greatly influenced by environmental factors, and if left unchecked, it will undoubtedly cause a hip deformity and significantly reduce the quality of a dog’s life. Not to mention, watching their beloved pet suffer and struggle so evidently is heart-breaking to any dog owner.
How does hip dysplasia look like?
Anatomically, the hip joint is designed to function as a ball (the head of the thigh bone) and socket (a pocket in the pelvis) joint. As a puppy grows up, both the ball and the socket are supposed to grow at the same rate. But in dogs with hip dysplasia, the ball and socket never reach the same level of maturity and size, which causes them to not fit properly together and inhibits the development of pelvis muscles. So instead of sliding smoothly, the joint elements will rub and grind instead, leading to long-term damage and deterioration, including loss of function of the joint itself.
The unfortunate news are that hip dysplasia can only be fully cured with surgery. On the bright side though, veterinary specialists agree that there is a lot that mindful owners can do to successfully manage this disease and optimize the wellbeing of their dogs. Hip dysplasia doesn’t have to confusing, frustrating and painful – read this article to find out all the information you need to curb its effects and nurture your dog’s health and comfort.
What are the most common symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs ?
The common symptoms include pain and weakness in the back legs of the dog. The canine is unwilling to rise from a sitting or lying position and when they do, they are usually unstable and wobbly. Limping and unwillingness to climb stairs is another sign. Most commonly, these signs can be seen in dogs one to two years of age, but also in young puppies with just a few months of age.
Hip dysplasia can be a tricky disease in this manner, since dogs can start showing signs as early as a few months old, or between the first and second years of life, but they can also appear unaffected until much later in life, when comorbidities such as osteoarthritis start to mount. In many cases, bone degeneration will accumulate over years before starting to produce observable symptoms.
Here is a longer list of tell-tale signs of a dog struggling with hip dysplasia:
- Decreased activity
- Decreased range of motion
- Wobbly, swaying gait
- Dislocation of the hip joint
- Lameness in the hind legs
- Grating or looseness in the joint during movement
- Narrow stance
- Stiffness or soreness after periods of immobility
- Loss of thigh muscle mass
- Increase of shoulder muscle size (shoulders can compensate for the hind legs)
- Difficulty jumping, running, climbing stairs or any other usual activity
The symptoms can vary from one individual dog to another, especially depending on the level of inflammation and the degree of looseness in the joint. What’s certain is that if hip dysplasia is not treated adequately, it can lead to degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis, both of which can severely limit a dog’s range of motion and cause a lot of pain.
And given that sometimes a dog will suffer in silence long before the owners notices the signs, proper and thorough veterinary care is crucial for successfully managing this disease.
To assess your dog’s hip joint health, the veterinarian will move their hind legs and try to determine whether there’s any unwanted looseness, while simultaneously checking for pain and signs of grinding and reduced range of motion. They might also schedule blood work and check the results for inflammation. In the case of suspected hip dysplasia, they will need X-rays for a definitive diagnosis. During this process, you should inform your veterinarian about any injuries that your dog has sustained, as well as any abnormalities you have observed in their health and behavior.
For many illnesses, early detection drastically improves the chances of restoring health. Naturally, a lot of concerned dog owners will want to know how to spot the symptoms of hip dysplasia as early as possible.
Environmental factors and how to overcome them
As we mentioned above, even though hip dysplasia is inherited, there’s a variety of environmental factors that can determine a dog’s likelihood of developing the disease. The genetic potentials of a dog can be either triggered or muted through lifestyle choices and contextual forces, just like in humans. That being said, here are the most well-known factors that increase the risk of hip dysplasia in dogs:
- Chronic obesity
- Atrophied musculature
- Injury or over-extension of the joint at an early age
- Ligament tears at an early age
- Premature neutering (before the dog reaches full maturity)
- Excessive repetitive motion focused on undeveloped joints (for example, jogging with your five-month old pup)
If you already know that your pup has a genetic risk of hip dysplasia, you can greatly improve their chances by ensuring the proper and healthy development of their joints and surrounding musculature.
Being obese can easily lead to joint damage and chronic pain, among other things, and studies have revealed that excess weight can reduce a dog’s life expectancy by as much as five years.
To prevent this, always feed your dog a properly nutritious diet and avoid overfeeding as much as possible. In addition, be aware that running, or any other rigorous activity for that matter, is generally not safe for puppies as their bones are still growing. Providing moderate and safe forms of physical activity should prevent joint injury, excessive stress and ligament tears in young pups, and help them reach healthy adulthood.
According to studies, neutering a dog too early can also be linked to hip dysplasia. In fact, dogs who are spayed or neutered before the age of 6 months have a 70% increased risk of developing the disease, alongside a whole bunch of serious behavioral issues. These unpleasant effects can be fully avoided by neutering your dog after the six-month mark.
What dog breeds are most prone to hip dysplasia ?
Even though no breed is safe from hip dysplasia in theory, evidence shows that this condition is most commonly experienced by large and giant purebred dogs, including:
- German Shepherds
- Great Danes
- Golden Retrievers
- Old English Sheepdogs
- Saint Bernard dogs
- Newfoundland dogs
Still, the genetic predisposition for hip dysplasia in these breeds doesn’t guarantee the development of the disease – dog owners can take many precautions to keep their dog’s joint health intact for as long as possible.
Treatment for hip dysplasia in dogs
Luckily, there are several good treatment options for canine hip dysplasia. The non-surgical treatments include physical therapy, joint supplements, weight reduction (to reduce stress on hips), joint fluid modifiers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and exercise designed to stimulate cartilage growth and reduce bone degeneration. All of these can be essential in regaining or maintaining range of motion, reducing inflammation, managing pain and strengthening the muscles and tendons of the hip joint.
But sometimes the complications are more serious and the non-surgical route simply doesn’t do enough. Surgical procedures involving the hip joint typically have a high rate of success, but they can be very costly, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 per hip, with total hip replacements costing up to $7,000 per hip.
Depending on various genetic, age-related and medical factors, your veterinarian may opt for one of the following surgical options:
- Femoral head ostectomy: a procedure that can provide pain relief, but can’t restore normal function of the hip
- Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (cutting and reshaping of the pelvic bones): this procedure is meant to correct joint stability and is typically performed in dogs younger than 10 months
- Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis: reserved only for young puppies, this procedure is less common and aims to change the way the pelvis grows in order to create a tighter hip
- Total hip replacement: a procedure that has the highest rate of success and involves replacing the entire hip joint with artificial components that stabilize and normalize it
Now that you know what canine hip dysplasia is and all the ways to prevent, diagnose and correct it, you should understand that it’s a disease that can be effectively managed with the help of quality veterinarian care, healthy lifestyle changes and adequate exercises.
And if that doesn’t work, you can still count on anti-inflammatory medicine and highly successful surgical procedures to help your dog reclaim their strength, balance and mobility, and eliminate pain. As this article shows, there’s also quite a lot that you as an owner can do to support optimal bone health and combat hip dysplasia in your dog, so make sure you start there first.