1.  What is canine hip dysplasia?  

German Shepherds commonly get hip dysplasia late in lifeHip dysplasia occurs in humans, but it’s most frequently seen in dogs, especially German Sheppards and Golden Retrievers.  In hip dysplasia, an abnormal formation of the hip socket causes friction and wear between bones that would normally be prevented by cartilage.  Usually, the problem is a loose or partial fit of the bones, or wear and tear caused by misshapen bones in the joint socket.   This is a cause of arthritis over time, as well as pain and eventual debilitation.  Other names for the disease include degenerative joint disease, arthrosis, and osteoarthrosis.



2.  Why did my dog get hip dysplasia? 


Inherited:  To some extent, the disease is inherited from the genetic line of the dog, and purebreds, especially large ones, are the dogs most affected.  Canines with no history of dysplasia in the breed or family are very unlikely to get it, and dogs that do have it in their lineage are much more likely to get it.

Injuries:  Non-genetic causes could be injuries, ligament tears, overwork, and overexertion.  If the ligament that holds the bones tightly in the socket is overly stretched or damaged, the joint will become loose and the bones will start wearing as the joint moves.  While exercise is great, puppies who are over-exercised (like trying to go for a jog with a human) can develop hip dysplacaia from too much stress on young joints.  Very overweight dogs are also at risk from the extra stress on their joints.


3.  What breeds are most likely to be affected? 


Purebred Newfoundland Dogs, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador or Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and Mastiffs are most commonly affected.  One of the factors in dysplasia is the weight of the dog-  large bred dogs tend to get dysplasia more often than small dogs, even if they are not overweight.  In small dogs, purebred Spaniels and Pugs are the most affected.  Cats can get degenerative joint diseases as well, although the symptoms are often less noticeable.


4.  How can I tell if my dog has dysplasia?  


Dysplasia can happen at any age.  Dogs that have had the condition since they were young may not show as many symptoms because to them, the pain is normal.  Symptoms you can look for are changes in behavior such as reduction of movement in the hip joints, or an attempt to keep weight off the hind legs.   Lameness, limping.  They might have trouble standing up and show a lot of stiffness in the morning.  Strong symptoms are an unwillingness to climb stairs or jump up.  Hopping with the high legs together rather than moving them independently, is a classic sign.  The dog will try to reduce the movement of the hip joint by “bunny hopping.”  Over time these behaviors can cause atrophy in thigh muscles, and cause severe arthritis in the joints.

If a dog has congenital hip dysplasia, it is often noticeable by the time the dog is 18 months old, however, the severity can range from mild to crippling, so it might not be noticed early on, especially if the dog has a high pain tolerance.  Many dogs do not show symptoms until much later in life.

Dysplastic joints may come partly out of the socket when rotated through the whole range of motion of the hip.


5.  What other conditions are similar? 


Other problems in the hip area might seem similar but will often show different symptoms.  Cruciate ligament tears usually hurt in a way that the dog will hold the affected leg up, but not so with dysplasia.  Spinal problems such as IVDD or neuropathic diseases often cause dogs to drag their feet and look uncoordinated, but not necessarily restrict motion in the joint.  Canine hip dysplasia is not a nerve problem and is localized to the hips.   It is, however, possible for nerve or disc conditions to be present along with dysplasia.


6.  What can be done? 


Surgical and non-surgical options are available, and your vet will have specific ideas for your dog.  He or she will take into account the animal’s age, lifestyle, your budget, and other health conditions that might rule out some options.

Long-term pain medications may be prescribed, although if the animal has any kidney or liver problems NSAIDS probably aren’t a good choice.  Also different medications are used for different breeds, so your vet will have to decide which is best, and see if the dog responds well.


Surgical interventions can modify or repair the hip joint, and in some cases, complete hip replacement is the best choice.  Sometimes part of the ball of the femur where it meets the pelvis is removed or replaced.  Sometimes the pelvis can be rotated to realign the angles at which the bone and socket connection.

There are some new surgical procedures that are showing good success, your vet will be able to inform you what procedures he or she thinks will be best.  Also, you might consider seeing a vet certified in animal rehabilitation and pain management, who might help with physical therapy or massage, especially if surgery is not affordable for you.


Our favorite device, is the Assisi Loop, which works to reduce the pain and swelling in the irritated joint, helping the dog regain mobility by reducing the symptoms.  Of course we want you to talk to your vet to decide how the Loop fits into the treatment plan he or she will prescribe, but if your vet does decide to use the Loop, all you have to do is turn it on, and place it over your dog’s hips twice a day for 15 minutes.  This can be when you’re just spending time together, or when your dog is resting.   You can find out more about the Loop here.


Whether choosing surgery for your dog with hip dysplasia or not, the Assisi Loop can be of great help in reducing pain and inflammation.  With continued treatment, dogs with less severe symptoms may be able to avoid surgery.  If surgery is necessary, the Loop can provide much faster healing after the operation, with less pain and quicker recovery time.


7.  What can I do at home?


Daily exercise, even if uncomfortable, is still better for your dog, and will keep them in less pain than if they didn’t exercise.  A good walk or some light play helps.

Making sure the dog is not overweight and is getting moderate exercise every day or every other day will not only help with hip degeneration but with a number of potential health problems.

Ramps can help dogs get out of vehicles without making their condition worse, and warm, comfortable sleeping areas away from drafts will help with arthritis.  There are beds specially designed to give extra comfort at night.