Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia is a very common condition in most breeds of dogs. Often larger dogs are more prone to hip dysplasia but it can also occur even in the small and toy breeds. Hip dysplasia is a degenerative condition that usually affects dogs as they age, although some breeds can start showing the symptoms of hip dysplasia at young ages as well.

The hip of the dog works the same as the hip joint in a human. It is a ball and socket joint with the socket attached to the pelvis and the ball part of the joint attached to the femur or thigh bone. Normally the ball and socket fit together properly and there is movement in all directions. There is a ligament and other protective tissues that hold the ball and socket together and keep the joint strong and healthy.

Dogs that develop hip dysplasia have an abnormal growth of the soft tissues around the joint and within the ball and socket mechanism of the hip. This starts when the dogs are very young. The result is that the bones of the hip joint are not in close contact with each other; rather they are separated by the layer of abnormal tissue that has developed in the joint. The constant outward pressure of the joint by this tissue then further leads to a stretching of the ligament that holds the joint together. The result is a separation of the joint known as a subluxation.

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition that means that it can only be passed down through breeding. With conscientious breeders having their dogs tested for hip dysplasia before breeding the condition can be controlled. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) has collected data on various breeds and lines since 1966. This database is the largest in the world and is used by reputable breeders to ensure that the lines that they are crossing have little chance of carrying this genetic condition.


Hip dysplasia in dogs is usually first noticed by stiffness and pain with walking. This will often result in dogs having trouble sitting or standing as the joint is flexed and extended. Many owners think that their pet has arthritis when this occurs. A vet can verify hip dysplasia with a physical exam, which will manipulate the joint. The vet can tell be the tension or lack thereof in the muscle and connective tissue around the hip. An X-ray can also be used to verify the condition.

There are several ways to treat hip dysplasia and usually the treatment method will depend on the age of the dog and the cost of the procedure. All the methods that involve surgery are very costly and may not completely cure the problem, depending on the amount of damage that has been done to the bones. Usually younger dogs are more effectively treated with the surgical procedures. Total hip replacements as well as altering of the pelvic bones and even removal of part of the joint or connective tissue are all options.

Non-surgical methods include anti-inflammatory, arthritis medications as well as controlled diet and non-strenuous exercise. Since it is a hereditary condition there is no medication that can control the disease but the damage to the joint and the pain that the dog may be experiencing can be effectively managed for many years with the proper dog pain relief methods.


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