Hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder in which dogs have a poor fitting hip joint. This ball and socket joint should fit together neatly, allowing dogs to move the legs freely and without pain. Because their bones do not fit properly, dogs with hip dysplasia are prone to develop arthritis and related joint pain as they age. Motion of the hip joints slowly causes erosion of soft cartilage in these joints. Hip dysplasia can affect either or both of the rear leg joints.
Hip dysplasia can occur in most breeds, but it is predominant in larger dogs, particularly the German Shepherd, St. Bernard, Labrador Retriever, Pointers, and Setters. Although hip dysplasia is a genetic condition, research shows that environmental factors can also put a dog at risk. Overfeeding (especially of puppies) can predispose a dog to hip dysplasia. Excessive exercise may predispose dogs as well.
Signs of severe hip dysplasia usually appear before the dog reaches one year of age. Signs include rear leg pain, incoordination, and a limp or wavering gait. A common sign is the dog that has trouble rising. Dogs with severe hip dysplasia typically develop lameness by two years of age. Dogs with less severe cases may not experience arthritis and the related pain or lameness until six to ten years of age.
Since the clinical signs of hip dysplasia are similar to those of other diseases, veterinarians rely on X-rays to make a final diagnosis. This requires a mild anesthetic in order to carefully position the dog on the radiographic table. Veterinarians look for degenerative changes and abnormal shapes of the hip joint.
Depending on the severity of the dog’s condition, veterinarians treat hip dysplasia with either drugs or surgery. Drug therapy doesn’t reverse or cure the progression of hip dysplasia, but it does offer relief from the associated pain. There are several steroidal and non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs available through veterinarians. Most require daily administration. For many dogs, these prescriptions can offer a tremendous relief–they return to a more active lifestyle that is free of joint pain.
Recent advances in veterinary medicine have made surgery a more successful option for treating severe cases of hip dysplasia. Surgeons can improve the joints in young dogs by making changes to the shape of the femur or pelvis. Another surgery option is hip replacement, which replaces the joint with a stainless steel ball and socket.
Dogs with hip dysplasia should not live a sedentary lifestyle that is free of exercise. By carefully allowing your dog to exercise, at her own pace, you can help loosen up the stiffness in joints. Pet owners should also pay close attention to their dog’s weight. Just a few extra pounds can cause skeletal stress and increase your dog’s pain. Another precautionary measure is to keep your dog out of the cold. Don’t allow your dog to sleep in a drafty area, as the cold can aggravate her arthritis.
To prevent passing on hip dysplasia to puppies, pet owners should use extreme caution before breeding their dogs. Large breed dogs that are prone to hip dysplasia should be radiographed by a veterinarian to rule out the condition prior to breeding. Since the signs of hip dysplasia may not be evident until a dog is fully grown, these radiographs should not be performed until the dog is at least two years of age.
For more information regarding canine hip dysplasia, consult with your veterinarian. As with all pet health care issues, your veterinarian is the best source for information concerning your individual pet’s health care needs.