“Oh, my hips!” If your dog could talk, that’s probably not what you would expect to hear. But that just might be what he or she would say if hip dysplasia was in the family history.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), “Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition resulting from an improperly formed hip joint. Because the joint is loose, the dog’s leg bone moves around too much, causing painful wear and tear.”
It’s a common skeletal disease among dogs. Pet MD explains, “The hip joint is composed of the ball and the socket. The development of hip dysplasia is determined by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors, though there is a complicated pattern of inheritance for this disorder, with multiple genes involved.
Hip dysplasia is the failure of the hip joints to develop normally (known as malformation), gradually deteriorating and leading to loss of function of the hip joints.” Humans usually experience pain and stiffness in hip joints when they reach old age, but hip dysplasia in dogs does not discriminate by age. PetEducation.com says, “Dogs of all ages are subject to hip dysplasia and the resultant osteoarthritis.
In severe cases, puppies as young as five months will begin to show pain and discomfort during and after exercise. The condition will worsen until even normal daily activities are painful. Without intervention, these dogs may eventually be unable to walk. In most cases, however, the symptoms do not begin to show until the middle or later years in the dog’s life.” It doesn’t discriminate by breed either, but it is common in larger breeds, like German shepherds, Rottweilers, retrievers, Great Danes, and St. Bernards. Cats and humans can get hip dysplasia too.
Researchers agree that hip dysplasia is a genetic disease. But there are other factors that might have an impact on whether or not your dog will develop the disease.
One of these factors is nutrition. PetEducation.com said, “It appears that the amount of calories a dog consumes and when in the dog’s life those calories are consumed have the
biggest impact on whether or not a dog genetically prone to hip dysplasia will develop the disease.” Weight—obesity, to be specific—can speed up the degeneration of joints in a dog.
Your puppy’s diet might be an issue too. “Another factor that may increase the incidence of hip dysplasia is rapid growth in puppies during the ages from three to ten months.
Experimentally, the incidence has been increased in genetically susceptible dogs when they
are given free choice food. In one study, Labrador Retriever puppies fed free choice for three years had a much higher incidence of hip dysplasia than their littermates who were fed the same diet but in an amount that was 25% less than that fed to the free-choice group.”
Another risk factor is exercise. “It appears that dogs that are genetically susceptible to the disease may have an increased incidence of disease if they over-exercised at a young age. But at the same time, we know that dogs with large and prominent leg muscle mass are less likely to contract the disease than dogs with small muscle mass.
So, exercising and maintaining good muscle mass may actually decrease the incidence of the disease. Moderate exercise that strengthens the gluteal muscles, such as running and swimming, is probably a good idea. Whereas, activities that apply a lot of force to the joint [may be
harmful]. An example would be jumping activities such as playing Frisbee.”
Pet MD lists a lot of symptoms, but these depend on “the degree of joint looseness or laxity, the degree of joint inflammation, and the duration of the disease.” If hip dysplasia is already in the late stages, then the symptoms will also be related to joint degeneration and
Watch out for decreased activity, which should be especially noticeable in puppies. Observe if your dog has difficulty rising, or is reluctant to run, jump, or climb stairs. Your dog may
have intermittent or persistent hind-limb lameness, which may appear worse after exercise. When he or she walks, check for “bunny-hopping,” or a swaying gait.
You can also examine your dog for narrow stance in the hind limbs. Check if his or her back legs seem to be unnaturally close together. Is there a loss of muscle mass in thigh muscles?
There may also be “enlargement of shoulder muscles due to more weight being exerted on front legs as dog tries to avoid weight on its hips, leading to extra work for the shoulder muscles
and subsequent enlargement of these muscles.”
Does your dog have “decreased range of motion in the hip joints”? Does it seem like there is pain or grating when the hip joints are moved?
What can you do?
If your dog has hip dysplasia, the ASPCA suggests these tips, but you should only try these after consultation with your veterinarian:
• Apply a warm water bottle for 15 minutes twice a day to the affected area.
• Massage the muscles around the hip joints, gently rubbing in a circular motion with your fingertips for ten minutes at the most. But if massage seems to irritate rather than soothe, stop!
• Painkillers may help, but check with your vet first! Make sure to get a prescription so
you can get the proper dosage, as well as advice for administration and side effects.
• Keep your dog out of damp, chilly weather.
• Dogs with hip dysplasia often have a hard time on slippery floors, so anti-slip surfaces like rubber mats might be useful in the areas frequented by your dog. If he or she needs to climb stairs or jump up into the car, you may want to invest in a sort of portable ramp to make things easier.
• Provide a firm, orthopedic bed for your dog. Dogs that have hip dysplasia will also
be prone to arthritis, so it is important to take care so that your pet’s condition doesn’t
This appeared in Animal Scene’s December 2015 issue.