Complete Guide To Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, Medications, and Surgical Options

One of the most commonly heard medical terms by pet parents is Hip Dysplasia. While it’s scary to think about the possible ramifications, there is much that you can do to help your dog. This article will help you learn what you need to know to understand the effects upon the dogs who are suffering from this condition, and the care they require to be comfortable.

As a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience treating this disease, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I’m also the pet parent of two dogs with hip dysplasia for the past several years.

What Is Hip Dysplasia In A Dog?

The canine hip joint is a ball and socket joint. In hip dysplasia patients, the hip ball (femoral head) is not covered by the hip cup (acetabulum) sufficiently as they are in healthy dogs, which causes the joint to be loose.

When a dog is a growing puppy, if the hip bones do not grow at the correct rates, hip dysplasia results. The “cup” of the hip ends up not developing to a deep cup capable of covering the femoral head.

A more shallow cup results in an improper fit. The femoral head will not sit deep enough to provide stability. This improper fit will cause the femoral head to be loose and “bang” against the edges of the cup. Ligaments and tendons become stretched and damaged as the dog grows.

All of these issues combine to cause the clinical signs we see in a dog with hip dysplasia.

What Are The Symptoms Of Hip Dysplasia In A Dog?

When a dog begins to suffer from the effects of hip dysplasia, pet owners will see some, or all, of the following conditions:

  • Difficulty exercising or participating in physical exertion for extended periods of time. Usually after a period of exercise and then rest, you’ll see your dog have difficulty getting up.
  • Bunny hopping – this is a term that vets use to describe the way a dog with hip dysplasia will run. Instead of each rear leg moving independently, both legs move together. This is due to the dog’s reluctance to put weight on any individual joint.
  • Difficulty standing up from laying down or sitting, sometimes paired with an audible clicking sound in the hip joint. If you were to gently lay a hand on the hip joint, you may feel the click as you hear it.
  • Hip swaying – dogs with hip dysplasia often will swing their hips back and forth as they walk
  • Lameness in rear legs, on one or both sides, depending on the severity.
  • Sleeping or laying down upside down balanced against a wall or other solid structure. This takes weight off of the hip joints and helps a dog to rest comfortably.

The severity of the disease may result in seeing only one or two of the above symptoms (when the disease is mild or early) or most, if not all, of them, when the dysplasia is more severe or advanced.

My Dog, Bailey, Lying Down To Keep The Weight Off Her Hips

When Is Hip Dysplasia First Seen In A Dog?

These symptoms can appear as early as 4-6 months of age in any dog. If you see any of these symptoms, be sure to let your vet know.

The more severe the condition, the earlier you are likely to discover it. I’ve seen puppies as young as 5-6 months of age that have problems

Of course, there are those dogs that have hip dysplasia but don’t exhibit any symptoms until they are much older. This was the case with my dog, Bailey. I adopted her at the age of 7 and she was extremely active. I even struggled to keep her in my backyard, having to build our fence up to 6 feet to prevent her from leaping over it. Even then she’d occasionally try and climb it to get out of the yard.

For a year, she never acted as if nothing hurt and my exams of her never resulted in any obvious discomfort. However, one day she finally showed pain in her hips bad enough that I decided to take x-rays. I was shocked at how advanced her disease was.

How Is Hip Dysplasia Diagnosed?

In many cases, veterinarians will strongly suspect hip dysplasia in your dog based on what you tell them about how the dog is acting. A physical exam can also demonstrate pain in the hip flexor area or resistance to extending the hip.

However, the only true way to diagnose this condition is with xrays. The vast majority of dogs will allow positioning for xrays without any type of sedation. With the majority of practices having digital x-ray capability these days, this procedure is quick and relatively painless for your dog.

Occasionally a very scared or painful dog may need to be sedated in order to achieve the proper position to take xrays. This is done to achieve good xrays but also to keep the veterinary staff safe from injury.

While you only need to see the hip joint to adequately diagnose hip dysplasia, I always try to get the knee joints into the same x-ray “picture.” This helps me to make sure that the rear legs are oriented correctly. In mild hip dysplasia, this can make the difference in getting a proper diagnosis.

Bailey’s Hips At Diagnosis

Another point I like to make is that what you see on a xray and what the dog feels are two different things. I’ve seen dogs with terrible-looking hips on an xray who move and act like nothing is wrong. Conversely I’ve also seen dogs with milder x-ray changes that limp heavily and are restricted in what they can do in their daily life.

X-rays help guide treatment and expectations for both the pet owner and the veterinarian but ultimately recommendations are based on how your dog is acting and feeling.

How Is Hip Dysplasia Treated?

There are many potential treatments for hip dysplasia; most are done simultaneously to help maintain a dog’s comfort. Veterinarians will base recommendations for different treatments on how clinical (or painful) your dog seems to be.

The most common treatments are:

  • Weight Management
  • Joint supplements
  • Physical therapy
  • Pain medications
  • Surgery

Medical Management Of Hip Dysplasia

The goal of “medical management” with respect to hip dysplasia is to improve your dog’s quality of life by reducing any pain and increasing mobility. Good medical management can also help avoid surgery or, at the very least, delay it as long as possible.

Some of the best non-surgical treatment options for hip dysplasia include:

  • Keeping him or her active with walking, swimming, playing, etc; any low impact activity that they enjoy to keep them strong and fit.
  • Prevent your dog from engaging in high impact activity such as jumping.
  • Perform veterinarian described physical therapy, which supports mobility and strength.
  • Maintain a healthy weight; excess weight places more pressure on your dog’s joints and forces them to exert more effort to move.
  • Utilize nutritional supplements to support joint health, discussed further below.
  • Administer pain medications as needed. Be sure to only use pain medications approved and or prescribed by your veterinarian at the dosages recommended
  • As the condition advances, utilize ramps as necessary to help your dog enter and exit a car or climb up on furniture.

What Nutritional Supplements Can Help My Dog With Hip Dysplasia?

Though they are not a cure, certain supplements that support joint health may help make your dog more comfortable. Discuss the following supplements with your dog’s veterinarian:

Glucosamine

Glucosamine is a supplement that may stimulate cartilage repair. Though most often used for arthritis, which many dogs with hip dysplasia develop, this supplement also has the potential to offer benefits to dogs with this condition.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

I prefer liquid fatty acid supplements over capsules because they are more absorbable and easier to titrate the dosage if you need to add or subtract the amount you are giving. How do you know when you’re giving too much fish oil? The stool will start to become consistently runny with an oily look to it.

What Pain Medicine Can Be Used To Help My Dog With Hip Dysplasia?

Pain management is at the core of helping a dog with hip adysplasia. Do NOT give your dog a human pain medication without first consulting with your veterinarian. Over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen and Tylenol can cause severe side effects and illness in dogs.

Even something as simple as aspirin can cause problems when used improperly. While aspirin can be a treatment choice, it should be used very sparingly (no more than 2-3 times per week) and only in cases where your veterinarian is okay with it and gives you the proper dosage for your dog.

Giving your dog human pain medication can cause severe side effects and possible even death if given very improperly.

Proper pain medication choices for your dog includes:

  • Anti-inflammatories (Carprofen/Rimadyl, Deracoxib, Meloxicam, and more)
  • Neuropathic pain meds like Gabapentin
  • Natural remedies such as CBD

Will Hip Joint Injections Help My Dog With Hip Dysplasia?

There are a couple of different joint injections that veterinarians do to help your dog deal with more serious hip dysplasia:

  • Steroid injections
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections

Before the advent of PRP, steroids were the only substance that could be injected into a hip joint that would help with the pain of hip dysplasia. It’s still done these days when PRP isn’t available or cost is a concern.

Steroid injections can last for a number of weeks or not help at all.

PRP is an exciting newer therapy for treating arthritis in many joints in dogs, humans, etc. PRP contains a higher concentration of platelets, growth factors, and other anti-inflammatory substances from the patient’s own blood and is then injected directly into the joint that is having the issue.

My own dog, Zuzu, has had her hips injected with PRP. It greatly improved her mobility for about 6 months after the injection.

PRP is still an emerging therapy and there aren’t any great studies showing that it works. There’s a lot of variability in results depending on the equipment and technique used. If you are considering this, be sure to go with a veterinarian who is comfortable with this technique and has seen good results with their method.

When Is Surgery Needed For Hip Dysplasia And What Are The Options?

Depending upon the severity of a dog’s discomfort, surgery may be required to maintain a good quality of life. If you can afford it (or have good pet insurance), surgery is better to do earlier than later due to the improved quality of life that your dog will experience.

There are two times when surgery is recommended:

Puppy Surgery

When you catch severe hip dysplasia in a young patient (less than a year), there are less invasive procedures that can be done to improve your dog’s quality of life and possibly avoid a big surgery like a Total Hip Replacement later.

In these cases, growth plates must still be open so that any corrective surgery will help the bones mature in a way that will lessen the symptoms of hip dysplasia. Ideally you will want to perform these procedures as early as possible. By 8-9 months of age in most dogs, it will likely be too late to make much of a difference.

Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis (JPS)

If your dog is less than 5 months of age and already diagnosed with hip dysplasia, JPS surgery may be recommended. This is one of the few early surgical interventions that can be done in a puppy to try and prevent hip dysplasia from worsening as they age.

The JPS procedure is performed on the growth plate located at the base of the pelvis. The purpose is to cause selective growth of the hip joint as the puppy grows. If successful, the hip cup (acetabulum) will cover the hip ball (femoral head) appropriately as they do in a normal hip joint as the patient grows after the procedure.

JPS is considered to be minimally invasive; many patients are sent home the same day they undergo the procedure. Once the puppy patient reaches 10 months of age, he or she will require a post-operation examination to determine if it was successful.

Cost for a procedure like this is done by a surgical specialist and can cost you $1,500-$2,500 or more depending on the area where you live.

Double or Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (DPO/TPO)

Another good choice for younger patients, DPO/TPO is often performed during a spay or neuter procedure. The surgery consists of making incisions on the pelvic bone in 2 places for the DPO or 3 places for the TPO, then the pieces are adjusted to improve the coverage of the hip ball (femoral head) by the hip cup (acetabulum), which when successful, decreases the looseness and discomfort in the hip.

I’ve seen this be very beneficial in some of my patients. In some cases, it avoided the need for any further surgeries down the road. This procedure is much more common, in my experience, than the JPS procedure.

Cost for this procedure, again done by a surgical specialist, will cost anywhere from $2,000-$5,000.

Adult Dog Surgery

Once a dog’s growth plates have closed enough, there are no longer candidates for the above surgeries. At this point, medical management is usually the first and only option for many pet owners due to cost. However, if you can afford it (or have good pet insurance), surgery can make a big difference in your dog’s life. The options are:

Total Hip Replacement (THR)

THR replaces the femoral head (ball) and acetabulum (socket) with metal and plastic polyethylene implants which are affixed with either metal pegs, bone cement, or a “bone ingrowth” technique.

THR may be performed on dogs 1 year old and older as either an aggressive treatment when the owners can afford it financially, or when all other medical management options have been exhausted.

Femoral head ostectomy (FHO)

FHO surgery does not offer patients normal hip operation; its purpose is to reduce pain. FHO involves removing the femoral head (ball)

This procedure may be performed on hip dysplasia patients of any age who weigh less than 50 pounds and who have not benefitted from medical management. This procedure may allow some patients to circumvent needing anti-inflammatory pain medication daily, which protects them from the side effects associated with those medications.

FHO patients must maintain a healthy weight the rest of their lives and follow a prescribed low impact exercise routine. This procedure is inappropriate for athletic patients; patients who wish to continue to participate in higher impact activities are often better suited for a THR.

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Hip Dysplasia In The First Place?

Unfortunately it’s impossible to prevent a dog from developing hip dysplasia. Dogs are afflicted with this condition based upon a genetic predisposition.

The best that a breeder can do is to have their breeding dogs certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). This is done by having x-rays taken when a dog is over the age of 2 years old (and thus orthopedically mature) and assessing several anatomical points to certify the soundness of those joints.

If your breeder has the OFA certifications, and your puppy eventually develops hip dysplasia, it was nothing that either you or your breeder could have prevented. I dislike it when I see breeders try to blame owners for hip dysplasia by saying that they fed or walked their dogs too much.

I also counsel owners not to blame breeders if all OFAs were done and graded out properly. Hip Dysplasia is so common that it can just “pop out” in one dog in a little or all of them despite the parents not having clinical hip dysplasia.

Conclusion

Hip dysplasia is an abnormality of a dog’s hip joint, which causes pain, weakness and mobility issues. It’s very common in dogs and there are many treatment options available. The vast majority of dogs can be managed without surgery but there are surgical options for more severe cases or when finances allow.

Last update on 2022-01-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API