How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Hip Dysplasia?

No one wants to see their dog in pain and, because of this, one of the most common questions pet owners ask me is what are the early symptoms of hip dysplasia and how can they tell if they need to be worried about it.

In some dogs, hip dysplasia will be obvious. In other dogs, it can go undiagnosed for virtually their whole lives. Not ever dog will show signs, but if your dog has certain symptoms, then you should get their hips checked.

What Are The Clinical Signs Of Hip Dysplasia?

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 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.
My Dog Bailey Showing How She Lays To Take The Pressure Off Her Hips

How Did I Find Out Two Of My Dogs Had Hip Dysplasia?

As a veterinarian, you would think that I would be able to recognize quickly if one of my dogs (of which there are 5) had hip dysplasia. However, in both of my dogs, I didn’t recognize the issue until they were both already

Bailey

Bailey was adopted when she was 6 years old from a shelter. There hadn’t been any concerns about her hips. In fact, she was known as an escape artist. She’s the reason why we now have 6-ft fences in our backyard. She’s a wiz at climbing fences, even at 55 lbs.

However, one day she acted more sore in her back and hips. On a whim, I decided to take some x-rays to see what things looked like. I was truly shocked at how advanced her hip dysplasia was. She had some of the worst hips I had ever seen but yet she had exhibited no symptoms until very recently.

Bailey’s Hips

Zuzu

Zuzu was a “rescue” from a breeder that was unable to sell her due to a heart murmur that she had developed at a very young age. I eventually took her in at about 6 months of age and was able to have her evaluated by a cardiologist who told me that her heart murmur was not something we needed to worry about. That it would fade in time (which it did).

Unfortunately, as her heart murmur faded away, she started developing other issues when she was walking. She seemed to have more problems getting up and on walks she would frequently “bunny hop.”

Xrays confirmed what I feared and they were even worse than I had imagined.

Zuzu’s Hips

Will My Dog Need Surgery If He Has Hip Dysplasia?

Most likely not. Hip dysplasia is incredibly common but severe hip dysplasia requiring surgery is still somewhat rare. I can count on one hand the number of dogs that have had a total hip replacement surgery.

While that could be a result of the high cost of THR surgery (roughly $8k-$15k depending on where you live), there are so many other effective treatments for hip dysplasia that surgery is considered an option only as a last resort.

**If you have pet insurance, the cost of a THR is heavily subsidized. Remove the cost of medical expenses from your decision making. Check out the guide I made for pet insurance.

How Can I Find Out For Sure If My Dog Has Hip Dysplasia?

X-rays are the only way to confirm that your dog has hip dysplasia. Your veterinarian can determine this with a few pictures in roughly 5-10 minutes. Once the diagnosis is made, then your veterinarian can talk to you about things that can be done to slow down the progression of hip dysplasia and improve your dog’s comfort.

One important point – xrays do NOT tell you how uncomfortable your dog is. I’ve met plenty of dogs that were limping a lot despite the xrays not being that bad. I’ve also diagnosed plenty of dogs with hip dysplasia while taking xrays for something else. In these cases the owners were never even aware that their dog had any sort of hip problem.

Conclusion

If you’re seeing a few signs in your dog that makes you concerned that he/she has hip dysplasia, make an appointment with your vet. It’s better to know for sure than to worry about it.

There are so many things you can do for your dog that hip dysplasia isn’t the “terrible” diagnosis that it used to be. Most dogs will live a comfortable life if recommendations are followed.