It’s important to understand the early signs of hip dysplasia in dogs. Early detection could reduce the need for surgical intervention. In some cases, non-surgical measures including weight loss and physical therapy may prevent the condition from worsening.
Hip dysplasia happens most often in large breed dogs as a result of genetic predisposition, excessive growth rate, inappropriate exercise, obesity, and poor nutrition.
Breeds More Likely to Develop Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia can happen in any dog breed (large or small); however, there are some breeds that have known risk-factors including:
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
- Great Danes
- Saint Bernards
- American Staffordshire Terriers
The list of breeds noted is not exhaustive and can include a number of other large-breed dogs.
Hip dysplasia in dogs results in loose (or lax) joints. This laxity tends to lead to painful degenerative joint disease and/or osteoarthritis.
Can a Dog Live a Normal Life with Hip Dysplasia?
Yes, dogs with hip dysplasia can (and do) live normal lives. This isn’t a fatal disease and there are many treatment options (described below) that can increase your dog’s quality of life.
You might have to place some restrictions on your dog’s activity for a while, and ongoing non-steroidal medications might become part of your daily routine.
In worst-case scenarios surgery may become necessary.
Is Hip Dysplasia Curable in Dogs?
There is no cure for hip dysplasia. There are, however, treatment options that include non-surgical options.
What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?
Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint becomes loose. When the femoral bone (the top part of the hip) doesn’t fit snugly into the socket, it causes excessive wear and tear in the bone.
As the bone wears down, the hip joint becomes more unstable causing pain and mobility problems. Over time, this dysfunction can cause osteoarthritis to develop in the joint.
Reducing the risk of hip dysplasia should start at the puppy stage. The following are a few things to keep in mind:
Too Much Exercise in Large-Breed Puppies
Growing puppies go through significant physical changes in a short period of time. A little exercise can strengthen their bodies. Too much exercise can put unnecessary strain on the joints and bones, leaving the dog vulnerable to future problems.
Read this for more information on puppy exercise guidelines: Puppies: How Much Exercise is Too Much?
Every extra pound on a dog causes unnecessary strain on the joints. If your dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia the last thing you want to do is start her on a big exercise program.
The best way to manage obesity is through a healthy diet formulated specifically for dogs with hip dysplasia.
Follow your veterinarian’s advice on when and how to introduce more exercise into your dog’s routine. If your dog has been experiencing pain and stiffness, the first step might be physiotherapist to build muscles that have weakened.
How to Spot the First Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
There are at least 11 signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs, each of which are detailed below. Keep in mind that, in some cases, your dog may not show any of these signs but could still have hip dysplasia.
The wear and tear that causes osteoarthritis is sometimes the result of years of undiagnosed hip dysplasia.
#1 Strength in all the Wrong Places
If your dog is experiencing pain and stiffness in the hip, she’s not going to want to put a lot of pressure on that area. Instead, she’ll begin to force her weight to the front. Over time, this can lead to overdeveloped shoulders.
Without enough weight-bearing exercise on the back legs, the muscles begin to weaken.
It’s natural to accommodate pain by avoiding it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem. Once the pain and inflammation are treated sufficiently, the veterinarian (or a physiotherapist) can recommend the best therapeutic exercises to build up lost muscle while relieving overworked ones.
#2. Bunny Hop or Unusual Gait
Hip Dysplasia basically means hip displacement. When a dog’s hips aren’t properly aligned, neither are the ligaments and joints.
A dog’s body will find a way to compensate for pain and stiffness. In fact, pain and stiffness are often the first signs of hip dysplasia in dogs.
In order to get from point A to point B, a dog might push her weight up and out (a hop) rather than extend the legs and activate the hip..
#3. Splayed to the Side
A healthy dog can easily sit on her haunches, knees bent, and back straight. A dog with hip dysplasia might attempt it, but will quickly favour one side or the other.
When this happens, you’ll notice the dog’s leg slide out to the side and her whole body will slouch in that direction.
#4. Inability to Jump
It’s not difficult for a large dog to jump into a car, onto the bed, or stand on her hind legs to see if there’s any food on the counter. A dog with pain caused by hip dysplasia simply won’t be able to do that and won’t want to.
Keep in mind that dogs who display any of these first signs of hip dysplasia may not be suffering from the condition at all.
There can be many reasons for a dog to lose interest or ability in the things they used to do. Excessive fatigue, weight loss, and poor appetite could be a sign of pain or disease anywhere in the body.
You know you’re dog better than anyone. If you have a gut feeling that your dog isn’t well, you’re probably right.
#5. Less Interest in Play Time
The first signs of hip dysplasia in dogs includes limping and reluctance to play. The sooner you’re able to detect those subtle signs, the faster you can get your dog on the mend.
Keep in mind that the condition will not get better, but your dog’s mobility, strength, and pain levels certainly will improve with the right treatment.
#6. Difficulty Rising From A Prone Position
Most dogs are quick to jump to their feet at the promise of a walk to the park, a car ride, or a treat. Older dogs, like people, may experience temporary lameness when standing, especially after resting for a while.
However, if you notice your dog is having trouble getting up, it might be time to bring her in for a check-up.
#7. Limping and Lameness
Limping can mean anything from a torn CCL to a sore paw. However, it’s also one of the first signs of hip dysplasia in dogs.
How can you tell the difference? Well, if your dog has a paw lifted or you notice her over-licking the area, there might be something going on in that spot. Look for split nails, cuts on the pad, lumps, bumps, and anything unusual that might be causing pain.
If your dog is really limping and you notice the hind quarters don’t seem to be moving as expected, hip dysplasia might be the problem.
#8. Unable to Sleep/Restless
Dogs are pretty good at hiding pain, but there’s one tell-tale sign to watch for and that’s the inability to sleep.
Depending on the dog, you might not even realize your dog isn’t sleeping well. Other dogs might vocalize their pain or even soil the floor in an effort to tell you that something is wrong.
If you notice any change in behaviour (suddenly very timid or maybe more aggressive, for example) take note. As much as our beloved dogs think they’re hiding pain from us, there are plenty of hints to tip us off.
It’s hard to get comfortable when you’re in pain and even harder to get quality sleep. If you suspect pain is keeping your dog from sleeping it’s probably time to bring her into the veterinary clinic.
#9. Poor Appetite
A sure sign that something is wrong is when your dog won’t perform the usual tricks expected. Sit? Roll over? Shake paw? It takes a lot for a dog to give up a chance for a treat so if he/she suddenly stops performing, don’t chalk it up to stubbornness.
#10. Weird Walk
Not every sign of hip dysplasia is extreme or drastic. Sometimes, it can appear as a weird walk or abnormal gait.
You’ve probably memorized the way your dog walks without even realizing it. As the dog owner, you’re going to recognize subtle changes that other people might not detect.
It’s hard to describe an “unusual gait” because it can look different depending on the breed. Age, weight, and other underlying conditions might also play a role in how your dog walks.
You’ll be the first person to detect anything out of the ordinary with your dog so trust your instincts. Some of the first signs of hip dysplasia in dogs can be vague but if you feel something is wrong, don’t hesitate to contact the veterinarian.
#11. Clickety-Clack Noises
Dogs with hip dysplasia will sometimes emit a clicking or popping sound when walking. That sound is the result of inflamed tendons rubbing over bone. The reason the tendons become inflamed is because the hip area isn’t functioning properly.
When the muscles and tendons that hold the ball and socket joints in place have to work overtime to compensate for misalignment, they will eventually become inflamed and painful.
At the end of the day…
Our dogs offer us pure joy. They have an infectious energy that is good for our health and theirs. The best way to keep our dogs happy and healthy is to be aware of changes to their behavior (physical and mental).
Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to talk to a veterinarian if you suspect something isn’t right with your dog’s health. At the end of the day, we all just want to keep our dogs happy and healthy for a long time to come.
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sources: www.akc.org; Oberbauer AM, Keller GG, Famula TR (2017) Long Term Genetic Selection Reduced Prevalence of Hip and Elbow Dysplasia in 60 Dog Breeds. PLoS ONE 12(2) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172918