Hip Dysplasia 

Hip Dysplasia

At GRCWA, we understand the deep love and care you have for your furry companions. As devoted dog owners, we want nothing more than to see our four-legged friends frolic freely and experience the joy of life to the fullest. However, we also acknowledge that hip dysplasia can be a potential hurdle in achieving this dream. Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a widespread inherited orthopedic disease affecting countless dogs worldwide each year, regardless of their breed, size, gender, or age. As a developmental disease, CHD isn’t present at birth but gradually manifests over time. Symptoms can arise as early as four months old, often caused by joint looseness or laxity. CHD, is associated with osteoarthritis, leading to degeneration of joint cartilage over time. Remarkably, by the age of two, a staggering 95 percent of dogs carrying the genes for hip dysplasia will exhibit evidence of the disease on x-rays.

At GRCWA, we aim to provide you with the knowledge, resources, and support necessary to tackle this condition head-on. Join us in our mission to empower dog owners, enhance canine well-being, and create a world where our beloved pups can thrive without the pain and limitations of hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia is an inherited disease of the hip joint. The hip joint consists of the acetabulum, a depression in the pelvis known as the “socket,” and the head of the femur, or thigh bone, referred to as the “ball.” In a normal hip joint, the femur head fits smoothly into the socket, held in place by strong muscles and ligaments. However, in a dysplastic hip joint, the femur head or socket (or both) are abnormally shaped, resulting in a misalignment.

This misalignment leads to constant sliding and subsequent inflammation, causing swelling and weakening of the joint’s structure. Additionally, the ligament and joint capsule’s nerve endings become stretched, leading to the development of osteoarthritis and severe, chronic pain.

It is crucial to understand that hip dysplasia is not congenital (i.e. puppies aren’t born with it) and its severity is influenced by both genetic and environmental causes. While its development primarily stems from genetics, other factors such as rapid weight gain, diet, pelvic injuries, weak hind limb muscles, excessive exercise, and repetitive strain injuries can also contribute to its onset.

Canine hip dysplasia is an inherited, polygenic disorder, meaning that multiple genes play a role in its development. Due to the complexity of these genes and the uncertainty surrounding their specific impact on CHD, removing the disease from a particular breed is not a simple task. However, by breeding only parents with healthy joints, we can significantly reduce the chances of hip dysplasia developing in puppies. This emphasises the importance of screening parents before breeding, which is of utmost importance for breeders who are members of the GRCWA.

Wise breeding decisions help reduce the incidence of hip and elbow dysplasia. Genetic testing is not yet available, but evaluating a dog’s joints with special x-ray techniques prior to mating is helpful. Quality breeders invest time and resources to certify their breeding dogs (both parents) are free of hip dysplasia. Currently, screening and certification are conducted under the ANKC’s Canine Hip and Elbow Scheme, using an x-ray technique that requires general anesthesia. Breeding only parents with healthy joints significantly decreases the chances of dysplasia in their puppies.

Besides screening for CHD in breeding dogs, there are additional preventive measures for the disease. Studies have shown that regulating a dog’s growth rate during puppyhood can lessen the severity of hip dysplasia and even prevent it. Large-breed puppy foods have lower calorie content, calcium, and fat concentrations compared to other diets. This aids in slowing down a puppy’s growth rate. Although individuals fed this way still reach their optimal size, it may take a bit longer.

Overfeeding, even with a large-breed puppy formulation, negates these benefits. Rapid weight gain increases the likelihood of developing CHD as bones and muscles grow too quickly.

Preventing hip dysplasia, even in genetically predisposed dogs, often involves implementing healthy habits beneficial for all dogs. Overweight or obese dogs are more prone to developing the condition and experiencing pain and discomfort due to the additional pressure on their joints. Maintaining a healthy weight for your dog is crucial. Providing regular exercise, especially during puppyhood, is vital. However, it is important to avoid high-intensity exercises that involve jumping on hind legs and abrupt stops and turns required for catching or retrieving a ball mid-air.

Additionally, activities involving repetitive motions unnatural to a dog’s movement should be avoided. Instead, encourage gentle off-lead play on soft surfaces like grass and short walks.

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 hind leg compensation
  • Unnaturally narrow stance
  • Unusual gait characterized by “bunny hopping”
  • Any puppy that is limping, reluctant to move, or having trouble standing up or walking needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. They could have hip dysplasia or another serious condition.

A vet can use many of the symptoms mentioned above to develop the diagnosis. However, the only way to confirm hip dysplasia is with an x-ray evaluation. On x-ray, a healthy hip joint shows a snug fit of the femur head against the acetabulum, with the acetabulum appearing to cover about three-fourths of the femur head. In dysplastic dogs, the femur head appears to jut away from the acetabulum, and more space is visible between the two bones. Displacement of the head of the femur is considered the hallmark of CHD.

If your dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, your veterinarian will speak with you about the pros and cons of treatment options. Then you can make an informed decision about which procedure is best for you and your pet.

Canine hip dysplasia treatment usually requires a multi-faceted approach. Surgery is not always necessary, as many dogs can be helped through nonsurgical management. Various factors, such as age, cost, degree of osteoarthritis, intended function (e.g., service dog), joint looseness severity, size, and your veterinarian’s recommendations, play a role in determining the need for surgical intervention.

Nonsurgical management involves lifestyle adjustments, including exercise modifications and activities like swimming that passively move and exercise the joint to maintain muscle integrity and reduce stiffness in the ball-and-socket joint. Managing weight is crucial to prevent excessive strain on the dog’s joints. Pain management and drug treatment are also essential.

It is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the most appropriate treatment for your dog. While surgery is often used to alleviate osteoarthritis discomfort caused by hip dysplasia, it remains unclear which surgical procedure yields better results and should be recommended over others. Thoroughly discussing surgical intervention with your vet is advised.

Currently, the literature lacks sufficient evidence to consistently demonstrate that any specific surgical procedure can restore normal function in dogs with hip dysplasia. Surgical options include juvenile pubic symphysiodesis, triple pelvic osteotomy, femoral head and neck ostectomy, and total hip replacement.

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