Hip dysplasia is a common hereditary disorder that can affect dogs of any age and breed and even some cats. Hip dysplasia leads to painful, debilitating osteoarthritis (OA) and can dramatically decrease a pet’s quality of life. Knowing what to watch for and alerting our team to your concerns are the best way to minimize a pet’s discomfort.
What is hip dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia in dogs occurs when the “ball and socket” hip joint doesn’t develop properly. When the head (“the ball”) of the femur (thighbone) and the acetabulum in the pelvis (the “socket”) don’t fit together properly, joint laxity or looseness occurs. This improper ball-in-socket formation of the hip joint causes stretching of the supporting ligaments, joint capsule, and muscles around the hip joint, and leads to joint instability. It also causes excessive wear to cartilage in the joint as the ball and socket grind together, rather than moving smoothly over other. Hip dysplasia will cause OA and lead to other issues, such as hip dislocation. One or both hips may be affected.
In cats, only the socket of the hip joint tends to be affected, with the head of the femur remaining normal.
Which pets are at risk for hip dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia can affect any pet, regardless of size, age, gender, or breed. However, large- and giant-breed dogs tend to suffer from hip dysplasia more often than smaller pets. Pets that are overweight—particularly during the growth phase as puppies—may also be at higher risk of developing hip dysplasia.
Breeds especially prone to hip dysplasia include:
- German shepherd dogs
- Great Danes
- Golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
- Old English sheepdogs
- Saint Bernards
- Maine coon cats
What causes hip dysplasia in pets?
Hip dysplasia has a genetic component to it, but the condition may also be affected by nutrition, growth rate, exercise, obesity, and other factors. Pets (especially puppies) that grow too quickly, exercise too much or not enough, consume too many calories, or don’t eat a complete and balanced diet designed for their breed size have an increased risk of hip dysplasia.
What are the signs of hip dysplasia?
Limping is an obvious sign of hip dysplasia, but other symptoms of hip dysplasia include:
- “Bunny hopping” or wobbly gait
- Clicking sound in the hips when moving
- Poor muscling in the thighs
- Decreased activity or inability to exercise for extended periods
- Difficulty stretching hips
- Weakness, stiffness, and pain in the hind legs
- Difficulty rising from a lying or sitting position
- Reluctance to climb stairs, run, or jump
Some dogs may show signs of hip dysplasia when they’re as young as three or four months of age, but other dogs may not show symptoms until they’re older. Some young dogs with hip dysplasia may seem to get better as they mature and their loose joint(s) are stabilized by developing muscle; however, these dogs will still develop OA. Cats with hip dysplasia tend to be diagnosed with the condition when they are older.
How is hip dysplasia diagnosed?
To diagnose hip dysplasia, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam of your pet and check their bloodwork. We check for hip dysplasia during your pet’s regular wellness exams, but if you notice any symptoms of the disorder between visits, please let us know.
Your veterinarian may observe your pet walking and will typically move your pet’s hind legs to check for any looseness, pain, grinding, or reduced range of motion. They will also take x-rays (radiographs) of your pet’s hips to help determine the best treatment for your pet.
How is hip dysplasia treated?
We may be able to help slow the progression of hip OA in some pets using pain medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; NSAIDs) joint supplements, weight loss or maintenance of the pet’s ideal weight, veterinary-directed exercise, and physical therapy. Some pets may need surgery. Surgical strategies for treating hip dysplasia include:
- Total hip replacement
- Removal of the ball (femoral head) of the joint (femoral head ostectomy; FHO)
Can hip dysplasia be prevented?
Most cases are not preventable but there are some things you can do to be prepared.
- If you plan to adopt a purebred puppy that is predisposed to hip dysplasia, ask the breeder for the results of the parents’ health screening tests, such as the AIS PennHIP or Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that evaluate the health of hips and other joints.
- Your veterinarian may recommend hip screening in large-breed dogs and breeds with a known predisposition of hip dysplasia. By identifying the condition early, we can intervene to delay the progression of OA.
- Keeping your pet at an ideal weight, particularly during their growth is important. Low-impact exercise and proper nutrition also plan a critical role in the development of healthy bones and joints.
- Large-breed puppies benefit from a diet specially formulated for them. Large-breed puppy diets often need to be fed until your dog is one to two years old.
Ask us for activity suggestions and advice on appropriate diets for your growing puppy or kitten.
Can I do anything to help my pet with hip dysplasia?
For pets that already have hip dysplasia, it’s important to help them maintain a lean body weight by encouraging low-impact daily exercise. Our veterinary team can create a weight loss and exercise plan that supports weight loss and muscle strengthening in a safe way. We’re happy to discuss the best types of exercise for your individual pet or refer you to a rehabilitation specialist for physical therapy.
Keeping your pet’s joints warm by providing a heated pet bed or raising your pet’s bed off the floor in cold months may help ease their pain and make them more comfortable. Also take note of how slippery the floors are in your house; hardwood and tile floors can be difficult for dogs with stiff joints. Help them feel more comfortable getting around the house by placing mats to give them extra traction.
If you have any questions about your pet’s mobility, or if your pet is showing signs of hip dysplasia, contact us right away. The sooner we diagnose the condition, the sooner we can start treatment so your pet can get back their normal routines again.