Hip dysplasia is a common condition often found in larger dog breeds, but even small breeds may suffer from it. Owners may notice a problem when the dog is only a few months old, but for some, the issue does not make itself known until adulthood.
Understanding what hip dysplasia is, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking out appropriate treatment can help an owner make vital decisions for the pet. If ignored, hip dysplasia can become painfully debilitating for the dog.
What is Hip Dysplasia?
A dog’s hind quarters consists of a pelvis, two femurs, and a hip joint for each. Each hip joint is a ball and socket joint that should smoothly glide between the pelvis and femur. When the ball and socket don’t fit together right, they rub and grind. This is hip dysplasia, and it can lead to instability, inflammation, and even arthritis.
Hip Dysplasia Symptoms
Changes in mobility are often what signal an underlying problem to owners. The dog may become lame, not wanting to move in the way it had once before. It may be hesitant to walk, run, and jump. It may refuse to climb up stairs as it did in the past. When a dog with hip dysplasia is in motion, its gait may have a bit of a hop to it, as the dog is in pain and is trying to resist using the hip joint as it should. Many times, the dog will try to lessen the weight on its hips by supporting more of its weight in its forelegs. In time, the front limbs may appear enlarged as the rear limbs may show signs of atrophy. Stiff, short movements are red flags. Hip dysplasia can reach the point where a dog may have extreme difficulty in getting up on its legs at all. The dog may wince in pain if a person tries moving the dog’s hip in a normal motion. Hip dysplasia cuts short the range of motion the ball and socket joint are supposed to have.
These are all symptoms an owner tends to notice prior to an annual veterinary examination.
Hip Dysplasia and Breeding
Hip dysplasia is inherited through a dog’s genetics. Breeders of large dogs (especially German shepherds, Saint Bernards, Rottweilers, and Labrador and Golden Retrievers) must keep a cautious eye out for hip dysplasia in their litters. It is irresponsible to breed dogs known to have hip dysplasia. Large dogs can grow too fast too soon. This can cause hip dysplasia, and that is one reason why their dog food is specially formulated with their growth rate in mind. Improper weight and nutrition can lead to hip dysplasia in any breed. Exercise or lack of it also plays a role. Sedentary dogs and those that engage in exercises that are stressful on their hips may develop problems down the road.
Common Treatment Options for Hip Dysplasia
Owners should schedule an appointment with their veterinarian right away if a dog seems to be showing symptoms of hip dysplasia. The vet can confirm this through an exam that often includes an x-ray since hip dysplasia is a skeletal condition. Bloodwork is often done, as well, to detect inflammation. Following the initial exam, the vet may recommend a range of ways to manage hip dysplasia. Diet is a primary concern. The dog needs to eat the right food and the right amount. Supplements may also be added to their diet; common supplements aimed to support normal joint function include glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Many dogs improve their mobility after dropping a few pounds. Exercise can also help, but it needs to be appropriate for the dog. Once the level of inflammation and discomfort drops, a dog may go for walks on soft surfaces while on a leash. Swimming may be recommended, but playing with other dogs, running, and jumping are highly discouraged during treatment. In some circumstances, a vet may recommend exercising on an underwater treadmill. Other parts of a treatment plan may include medication for pain relief and even surgery. Common surgeries are performed on dogs with the goal of treating hip dysplasia. Some types only help in managing the dog’s pain. The most effective type is a total hip replacement in which plastic and metal implants give the dog more motion in its hip.
If you suspect your dog is showing symptoms of hip dysplasia, contact your vet right away. Catching the problem early can improve your dog’s overall wellbeing throughout its lifespan.