How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Hip Dysplasia?

Let’s be blunt – there’s nothing that a dog owner can do to prevent hip dysplasia in a dog if those genes are expressed at a young age. There are, however, many things a dog owner can do to prevent the pain and discomfort that results from having hip dysplasia.

As a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience working with dogs and the owner of 2 dogs with hip dysplasia, I discuss below the questions that my clients ask most often as well as the answers I typically give.

What Is Hip Dysplasia?

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 Does Hip Dysplasia In A Puppy Look Like?

Puppies under the age of a year typically only exhibit symptoms of having hip dysplasia if the issue is bad. I have seen dogs as young as 6 months old with this condition.

What do puppies look like when their hips are loose?

  • “Bunny hopping” when running – the rear legs move together instead of independently
  • Excessive swaying hips when walking
  • One or both of the rear legs may exhibit a limp

What Does Hip Dysplasia In An Older Dog Look Like?

  • 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 one or both of the rear legs
  • 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.

How Can I Know My Dog Has Hip Dysplasia?

Your veterinarian is the only one who can actually diagnose hip dysplasia. While a thorough physical examination and your description of the symptoms you’re seeing will be very helfpul, x-rays will be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Dogs of all breeds aren’t fully orthopedically mature until they are 2 years old (meaning that all the joints are mature and the growth plates in the bones are gone). To screen a dog for hip dysplasia, you have to wait until they are at least 2 years old to say yay/nay for their hip quality.

However, you can diagnose hip dysplasia at a very young age when the joints are really bad. If your vet isn’t sure, consider asking for a consultation with a radiologist for a specialist opinion on the xrays. Another option would be to wait a month and retake the same xrays looking for changes.

My Dog’s Hips At 8 Years Of Age

While sedation is not typically needed for these type of x-rays, your dog may require some sedation to make the process of taking the x-rays more comfortable and easier (especially if they are really big and are difficult to handle).

Sedation is also recommended for x-rays if there’s a high likelihood that surgery will be recommended as part of a treatment plan. Having the dog relaxed allows for a far better idea of how bad the changes already are and allows the surgeon to plan the right course.

My Breeder Said I Caused The Hip Dysplasia…

The vast majority of dog breeders would never say this. Only a misinformed or ignorant dog breeder would ever tell someone that they caused the dog to have developed a condition because they fed the dog the wrong food, didn’t give it the proper supplements, or exercised the dog too much.

I have seen this a few times in my career and I confess it makes me angry. Hip Dysplasia can happen in any breed of dog and is a result of an expression of a gene that is fairly uniquitous in the dog population.

Can a dog have a milder case of hip dysplasia and have it get worse because they were overweight? Yes – but that same dog will still have hip dysplasia no matter how perfect shape they are in.

Breeders may not have seen hip dysplasia in their puppies or adult breeding dogs yet but it never means that it won’t happen in another dog in their breeding line. When dogs are diagnosed at 6 years of age (or older) with hip dysplasia, do they reach back to the breeder and let them know? The vast majority do not.

How Can I Help My Dog’s Hip Dysplasia Not Get Worse?

If your dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, there are things you can do now to help with preventing the condition from worsening with age:

  • Healthy weight is vital –
  • Consider joint supplements like glucosamine.
  • Continue exercise but perhaps add in swimming to help with hip mobility and strength
  • Stop over-exercising – if you run with your dog, consider cutting the distance way down or stopping. Long hikes should be shortened.

In Conclusion

While hip dysplasia in dogs is not preventable, there are many things a dog owner can do to help their canine friend be more comfortable and live a healthy, happy life.