It’s pretty easy to pick up on your dog’s habits. You probably know which bark or cry means your dog wants to go on a walk, and which sound means they’re hungry. But when it comes to medical issues, it’s up to you to do some extra investigating and pay attention to silent behaviors. If your dog’s not in pain, it likely won’t alert you that anything’s wrong, but things like walking funny, not using a certain paw, or a bone starting to jut out can all be telltale signs that it’s time to see a vet about Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD).
Hip dysplasia is one of those conditions you have to look out for, especially in larger dog breeds. “Hip Dysplasia is the abnormal development of the coxofemoral joint (aka hip),” explains Dr. Rachel Mar. “This joint is what we call a ‘ball-and-socket’ joint. So, the ‘ball' is the head of the femur and the ’socket’ is the acetabulum. With hip dysplasia, these are growing at different rates and thus joint laxity/looseness occurs.” If left untreated, hip dysplasia can turn into degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). Here’s how to spot the signs of hip dysplasia in your dog, which dogs are prone to getting it, and what you can do if you discover your dog has this condition.
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“Hip dysplasia’s cause is not entirely known, but we assume it is mainly genetic/ an inherited condition,” says Dr. Mar. That means it can occur in young dogs, but may not be diagnosed or even noticed until the dog is much older. If hip dysplasia is not diagnosed until a dog is older, it may be discovered with accompanying arthritis, says Dr. Mar.
Large and giant breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Newfoundlands, and Rottweilers are most prone to having hip dysplasia.
Dr. Mar points out that there are a few classic signs that will alert a vet that your dog has hip dysplasia.
-”Bunny-hopping” (This is when a dog will lift both hind legs at once and end up looking as if they are hopping like a rabbit. This occurs because the patient’s hips are luxating outside the hip socket.) - Lameness - Limping on one or both hind legs - Difficulty rising up - Wobbly movements
“In general, if your dog is limping or showing signs of lameness (even if it is intermittent), it is definitely worth getting an appointment with your vet so an exam can be performed and radiographs can be taken to rule out the presence of hip dysplasia,” says Dr. Mar.
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There are a few different options to treat hip dysplasia in dogs:
Dr. Mar says that an early diagnosis is key to effective treatments. “Hip dysplasia can be surgically corrected with various different procedures,” she says. “The two most common surgical techniques for hip dysplasia are a total hip replacement and femoral head ostectomy (FHO). Other surgical procedures used to treat hip dysplasia include triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) and juvenile pubic symphysiodesis.”
The type of surgery that’s best for your dog will be based on your dog’s age, lifestyle, and the severity of the disease.
If you do not wish to schedule your dog for surgery or if the vet doesn’t recommend it for your dog, there are medications that can help manage hip dysplasia. Your vet may prescribe NSAIDs and exercise restriction to minimize further damage on the hip joints. There are also hip/joint supplements you can add to your dog's regular diet.
“There are also some integrative approaches which can be performed to help patients with hip dysplasia, whether this is done with or without surgical correction,” says Dr. Mar. “This includes physical rehabilitation therapy, acupuncture, and laser treatment.” She points out that physical rehabilitation has proven to be essential in a dog’s recovery after a surgical correction of hip dysplasia, as it helps speed recovery and increase strength in your dog’s muscles.
If you want to make your dog more comfortable at home after receiving a hip dysplasia diagnosis, Dr. Mar suggests making sure the surfaces in your home are easier for your dog to walk on. Adding rugs, mats, or anything that makes a surface non-slippery will help.
Dr. Mar suggests limiting the use of stairs in homes and if possible, lifting your dog in and out of the car or couch as needed.
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Unfortunately, since hip dysplasia is genetic, it’s not entirely preventable. Dr. Mar notes that dogs with hip dysplasia who breed will most certainly pass it on to their puppies. “Environmental factors which have been correlated to hip dysplasia include early castration/neutering and obesity,” adds Dr. Mar.
Communicating with your vet about an appropriate time to get neutered for your dog’s breed and age, and helping your dog maintain a healthy weight may help prevent hip dysplasia in dogs who were not born with it.