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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms & Prevention

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There isn’t much in this world that brings doggie moms and dads more joy than watching their furry friend run, jump, and play. Unfortunately for some pups, these fun activities – and even simpler day-to-day tasks – can become incredibly painful due to a condition called hip dysplasia. Learn what to look for and how you can help.

What Is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a degenerative condition that results from a malformed hip joint. It can affect one or both hips and is the leading cause of hind-leg lameness in dogs. Like you, your pooch has ball-and-socket hip joints. In a healthy hip, the ball (rounded top of the thigh bone) fits snugly into the socket (groove in the pelvis), allowing a smooth, free range of motion. In a hip with dysplasia, the ball may be loose, ill-fitting, or completely dislocated.

If left untreated, hip dysplasia can cause cartilage erosion, scar tissue formation, bone spurs, and arthritis. Your pal could show symptoms as early as five months of age, or may not start suffering until their golden years.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder, so genetics is definitely the biggest factor to consider when pups present symptoms. Large breeds are more likely to suffer from hip dysplasia with some of the commonly afflicted being Great Danes, Saint Bernards, German Shepherds, Bulldogs, and Retrievers. However, smaller dogs, like Pugs and French Bulldogs, can also develop hip dysplasia.

Nutrition, environment, and lifestyle can also play a role. If you have concerns, you may want to speak with your veterinarian about how your li’l buddy can avoid rapid weight gain, obesity, and excessive exercise.

French bulldog playing outside with a basketball

Hip Dysplasia Symptoms

Hip dysplasia causes some serious wear and tear on doggie joints, ligaments, and muscles. In general, symptoms are determined by the degree of laxity (joint looseness), the level of inflammation, and how long your pal has had the condition.

If your dog is in the early stages, their symptoms will be related to laxity, and you may not even notice that anything is amiss. In later stages, you’re looking for signs of joint degeneration and arthritis. Common symptoms to watch for include:

  • Decreased activity
  • Hesitation climbing stairs, running, or jumping
  • Difficulty rising
  • Decreased range of motion
  • “Bunny-hopping” or limping
  • Loss of muscle in thighs
  • Increased upper body muscle mass
  • Very narrow hind-leg stance
  • Hind leg lameness (sporadic or constant)

It’s a good idea to contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice these symptoms because your canine companion is probably experiencing pain and discomfort. While you can’t reverse hip dysplasia, the sooner you treat it, the sooner your pal will get the pain relief they need.

Saint Bernard resting at the beach


Your veterinarian will likely start by gathering a detailed medical history, including when you first noticed symptoms and if your pup has suffered any accidents or injuries. Since hip dysplasia is genetic, any information you know regarding your pooch’s parents will be helpful, too.

To diagnose hip dysplasia, your veterinarian will give your dog a fluid workup consisting of a blood chemical profile, blood count, electrolyte panel test, and urinalysis. Your furry friend will probably also require light sedation so your veterinarian can take X-rays and perform special hip palpation tests.

The earlier your buddy is diagnosed, the better. This is because certain surgical options are only viable for puppies. In many cases, veterinarians can diagnose puppies as young as 10 weeks with abnormal joint laxity.

happy fawn pug with tongue sticking out


As a degenerative disease, hip dysplasia has no cure. However, your veterinarian can work with you to help give your furry friend the best quality of life possible.

Depending on your dog’s age, size, and lifestyle, as well as the severity of their condition, your pup may be a good surgery candidate. Hip dysplasia surgery options include:

  • Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS) – Only appropriate for puppies less than six months, JPS fuses the pelvis to improve stability.
  • Triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) – For dogs less than 1-year-old, this procedure rotates the sockets.
  • Total hip replacement (THR) – Reserved for senior dogs with advanced osteoarthritis, THR replaces the ball and socket with artificial implants.
  • Femoral head osteotomy (FHO) – Best for pooches weighing less than 60 pounds and with good musculature, FHO removes the ball and enables the surrounding muscles to form a false joint.

If surgery is not an option, drug therapies like steroids, anti-inflammatory medications, and joint supplements can help your pal manage pain. Physical therapy can work wonders, too, especially swimming since it gets the joints and muscles moving without any undue strain.

Your veterinarian can also teach you massage techniques, help you manage your dog’s diet and exercise, and give you recommendations for orthopedic doggie beds as part of a personalized pain-relief plan.

English bulldog sitting on the floor

Can You Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

If your pal is genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia, you cannot stop the condition from developing. However, you can tackle the lifestyle and environmental factors at play.

Remember that obesity puts a lot of strain on your dog’s joints, so a healthy diet and gentle exercise plan are musts. It’s a good idea to ask your veterinarian for specific recommendations. In general, a high-quality, low-protein dry food diet is a good starting point.

Though it may be tempting to let your sore pal rest on the couch all day, regular exercise can actually help strengthen the muscles surrounding the hip joints, which will ultimately help relieve pain. Let your dog take the lead on this, so you can get a sense for when they tire and what they struggle with. Start with two short walks a day, and avoid rough terrain or anything that requires jumping or running.

In terms of environment, try to keep your doggie out of cold, damp weather, and make sure they have a dry place to sleep that is free from drafts. Slippery floors can be tricky for pups with hip pain, so opt for area rugs and mats when possible. If your dog goes up and down stairs frequently, you may want to consider a carpeted ramp.

Scheduling regular follow-up visits with your veterinarian is also a key component of prevention.

Between regular check-ups, fluid workups, X-rays, and possible surgeries – your pal’s medical bills can add up pretty fast if they have hip dysplasia. Luckily, an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help you spend more time taking care of your pup and less time fretting over the cost of quality care.

Is your canine companion covered? Get a free quote today!


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