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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: What Owners Should Know

Golden Retriever with hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a condition that can significantly impact your dog’s overall quality of life. Pet parents should be concerned about the potential for hip dysplasia, even before they adopt a dog. This condition can affect dogs of any age or breed. Here’s how to spot the risk factors and what to do if you believe your dog may have canine hip dysplasia. 

What Is Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia is a condition that affects a dog’s hip joints while they’re growing. If joint cartilage and tissue wear down as a dog grows, the hip joint can lose its ability to hold the dog’s femur (leg bone) in place. 

For the hip to function properly, enough padding needs to exist to keep the hip secured in the joint. If there isn’t enough tissue as the dog continues to grow, this leaves the joint loose. 

Hip dysplasia typically worsens as dogs age. A dog can develop muscular health issues or arthritis due to hip dysplasia. All dogs with hip dysplasia will experience limitations on their overall mobility. It can be challenging for dogs to walk or transition from a sitting, lying, or standing position when their hip joint doesn’t work the way it should.

What Causes Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia is a condition that occurs as a dog grows. It doesn’t have a specific cause, and it’s not the failure of a pet parent. Hip dysplasia appears to be hereditary and is more common in larger breeds of dogs.

You can successfully manage hip dysplasia with a well-rounded approach and a vigilant eye. If you’re willing to devote a little extra time to your dog’s health and wellness and rearrange your home to accommodate your dog’s comfort, your dog with hip dysplasia can live a mostly normal life. 

What Breeds Are Most Likely To Develop Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia can happen to any breed of dog. It’s most common in large breed dogs and giant breed dogs. 

Here is a list of dogs with either a genetic predisposition or a higher likelihood of developing hip dysplasia:

  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Bloodhounds
  • Chows
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • Mastiff breeds
  • Norwegian Elkhounds
  • Rottweilers
  • Saint Bernards

Smaller dogs can still develop hip dysplasia, with basset hounds, french bulldogs, and pugs being among the most likely small breeds. 

If this list makes you nervous about adopting a dog, you don’t have to be. If you have your heart set on a French bulldog or a golden retriever, you’ll just need to do a little more research. Since hip dysplasia seems to have a hereditary component, it’s essential to research the parentage of any puppy you’re interested in getting. 

Always choose an AKC-certified breeder, and read testimonials of people who have adopted from them before. You should also ask the breeder if they’ve ever encountered hip dysplasia in their dogs. If you feel comfortable after a thorough vetting process, you can adopt the breed you have your heart set on. 

It’s also worth noting that every dog breed will be susceptible to certain conditions. While breeds like the Siberian husky are far less likely than other breeds to develop hip dysplasia, they’re far more likely to develop epilepsy. 

Always research the breed before you adopt. Remember that any animal joining your family will have unique needs and require regular checkups like your human family members.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia?

The clinical signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia can appear at any age. Although it’s most common in mature dogs and larger dogs, some will begin to show signs of hip dysplasia while they’re still puppies. You should never rule out hip dysplasia as a possibility if you notice your dog exhibiting symptoms like: 

  • Lameness (trouble using a limb, especially in weight-bearing)
  • Dislocation or looseness in the joints
  • Joints making audible sounds, like cracks, snaps, or pops
  • Your dog is sitting in strange positions or visibly uncomfortable when sitting
  • Visible reduction of range of motion
  • Trouble transitioning between positions (i.e., lying to standing)
  • Your dog is running strangely, like a bunny hop or a kangaroo jump
  • Your dog is unable to climb onto the couch, up the stairs, or into the car with ease
  • Your dog is limping, seemingly out of nowhere

These symptoms can indicate hip dysplasia, but they can also point to other conditions. Your dog may have an injury you’re unaware of. They may also have a condition like osteoarthritis. That’s why x-rays can be helpful in diagnosis.

Dog owners should also know how great dogs are at hiding when they’re in pain. Many animals don’t want people or other animals to know they’re injured or ill. 

Your dog is very well-loved and safe at home, but their primal instincts tell them that showing their pain is a sign of weakness. Dogs may try to mask their symptoms or avoid certain activities to avoid broadcasting how they feel.

You should keep regular appointments with your veterinarian for your dog’s general health and wellness. If you have a large dog or a breed that’s prone to dog hip dysplasia, ask your veterinarian to check out your dog’s joints preventatively. You’ll increase the chances of catching joint health issues early if they ever develop.

Does My Dog Have Hip Dysplasia?

If you’re observing your dog’s behavior and hip dysplasia is your educated guess, there’s a good chance you’re onto something. Only your veterinarian will know for sure. Medical imaging tests like x-rays will help your veterinarian better look at your dog’s hip joints. 

If you suspect your dog has hip dysplasia, it’s best to act immediately. Hip dysplasia worsens with time, especially if you don’t manage it. 

Your veterinarian will set you and your dog up for success. Your veterinarian will prescribe treatment options. You can also ask about what holistic steps you can take or changes you can make at home to keep your dog happy, healthy, and comfortable. 

How Is Canine Hip Dysplasia Treated?

Although canine hip dysplasia isn’t entirely preventable, you can catch it early. If you catch the issue while your dog is still young, you significantly improve your dog’s chances of living a comfortable life. Many dogs with well-managed hip dysplasia have a great quality of life as long as they receive proper treatment. 

Surgical Treatment of Hip Dysplasia

There are several surgical options for hip dysplasia. Very young puppies can have an early intervention surgical procedure called juvenile pubic symphysiodesis, which saves the affected joint or joints. This procedure is a minimally invasive surgery that prevents hip dysplasia from worsening in dogs that are at risk. 

It’s very safe and highly effective. Your vet has to perform this procedure before a dog is 18 weeks old because it’s only effective at certain stages of joint, tissue, and bone growth. Older dogs won’t experience any benefits from this procedure.

There’s another option for dogs older than 18 weeks but younger than 10 months of age. A triple pelvic osteotomy procedure can surgically correct the hip joints before the dog is fully grown. If the surgery is successful, hip dysplasia is unlikely to worsen. It can also prevent complications like arthritis from occurring.

Dogs older than 10 months will need more extensive surgical intervention. In many cases, veterinary surgeons recommend a total hip replacement for hip dysplasia as the best way to treat larger dogs.

A femoral head ostectomy might be the best course of action for small dogs. The head of the femur (the part of the bone connecting to the hip socket) is removed. After that part of the bone is removed, the leg and the damaged joint are separate. As it heals, the area fills with scar tissue that ultimately works like a new joint and restores your dog’s mobility. 

If you’re interested in surgical intervention, your veterinarian will review the best available options with you. You’ll be able to work together to determine the safest and most effective procedure to help your dog. 

Medications and Joint Health Supplements

If you and your veterinarian feel it’s better to save surgery as a last resort, you can manage your dog’s discomfort with medication, supplements, or a combination of both. Talk to your veterinarian about the best course of treatment for your pet.

Medical Therapies

Physical therapy can help to restore joint mobility in dogs with well-managed hip dysplasia. Physical therapy can help your dog stretch, move, strengthen their joints, and learn to compensate for the differences in their hip joints. 

What Can I Do at Home for My Dog’s Joint Health?

Your dog will be with you more than they’ll be with the veterinarian. You should speak to your veterinarian about changes you can make at home to improve the way your dog feels. 

Prioritize Your Dog’s Nutrition

Excess weight makes the discomfort of hip dysplasia much worse. Every time your dog moves the affected hips, they carry the burden of extra weight. Feeding your dog a well-rounded diet in weight-appropriate serving sizes is important. 

Your veterinarian might be able to recommend a dog food formulated to provide joint health support. If you choose that route, you can create a “best of both worlds” scenario. 

Your dog will get healthier and reduce excess body weight while their food’s special nutrients and supplements work to protect their joints. 

Make Life Easier for Your Dog

Dogs with joint health issues have difficulty climbing up on furniture or stairs. If possible, get a ramp to help your dog get where they need to go. Ramps can help dogs get into the car or onto the couch to snuggle with you. 

Sleeping on the floor can worsen joint discomfort. Your dog can benefit from a supportive bed that will cushion their joints while they sleep. 

Your dog will still need exercise to stay healthy, even though hip dysplasia often makes exercise uncomfortable. Many dogs with hip dysplasia can comfortably enjoy swimming. 

Swimming is a great form of low-impact exercise. Water takes weight and pressure off of the joints, which can help your dog find relief. 

Hip Dysplasia Is Manageable

Dogs with hip dysplasia who receive proper care often live just as long as other dogs of the same breed. Keeping their discomfort managed and working to accommodate their unique needs can ensure that your dog has an excellent quality of life for years to come. 

Make sure you keep your regular veterinarian appointments, adhere to your dog’s treatment plan, and ask your vet about the many ways to relieve your pet from the discomfort of their hip dysplasia. 


Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis–a simple, affordable surgical solution to canine hip dysplasia (Proceedings) | DVM360

Femoral Head Ostectomy FHO in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital

Glucosamine, Chondroitin for Osteoarthritis Pain | Arthritis Foundation