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Dog Hip Dysplasia

Veterinarian Reviewed on June 17, 2012 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Signs and Symptoms

Canine hip dysplasia is, unfortunately, a very common ailment. In fact, hip dysplasia is the world’s most common cause of canine arthritis. Causing high levels of pain and severely decreased mobility, dog hip dysplasia is a very debilitating condition that can have a significantly detrimental effect on a dog’s ability to enjoy life. For these reasons, it’s important to have your dog examined by a veterinarian at the first sign of trouble, so that this condition can be diagnosed and treated early on, greatly reducing the painful and troubling symptoms that a pet with this condition will experience.

When a dog is suffering from hip dysplasia, there will typically be a number of characteristic symptoms and warning signs displayed by the animal, most of which will be related to lameness and reduced function. One of the most common of these symptoms is an abnormal, rolling or waddling gait. When a dog with this condition tries to run it will likely use both back legs together, resulting in an unusual hopping movement. A shorter stride when walking is also typical of dogs with hip dysplasia. When standing, dogs with this condition often have a narrow stance, keeping their legs close together, and will frequently shift their weight from one leg to another. Swaying and staggering are other behaviors commonly exhibited by dogs with this problem.

Other symptoms and warning signs triggered by dog hip dysplasia include discomfort when trying to sit or lie down, as well as difficulty with rising from either position. Many animals with this condition will have trouble squatting in order to urinate or defecate, and may fall over when attempting to do so. Climbing stairs is also difficult for dogs with hip dysplasia, and they may exhibit a reluctance to use stairs at all. A general reluctance to exercise is also common, especially with activities that involve running and jumping. Finally, another symptom of canine hip dysplasia is muscle wasting in the dog’s thighs. If you observe any of these symptoms in your dog, young or old, it’s important to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible, as your pet may be suffering from hip dysplasia.


When a case of canine hip dysplasia is suspected, the first steps a veterinarian will take will be to go over the animal’s medical history and to conduct a thorough physical examination. While performing the physical exam, the practitioner will manipulate the animal’s joints in order to check for signs such as reduced or limited range of motion, an increase in the laxity of the dog’s joints, creaking of the joints, atrophy of the thigh muscles, and any of the signs and symptoms described above. At this point, the veterinarian will also want to know about the symptoms and behaviors that you have noticed in the home environment. The veterinary doctor will observe the canine patient as it walks and moves, and also assess the dog’s ability to sit and lie down. In some cases, clinical signs and a physical examination will be sufficient for a veterinarian to diagnose a case of canine hip dysplasia. However, in most situations x-rays will also be used in order to check for the presence of hip dysplasia.

Radiographs are a very important diagnostic tool with respect to this condition, as they can help to confirm the presence of the ailment when symptoms are present and even when there are none of the typical warning signs and symptoms, which does happen in some cases. Since taking x-rays of a dog requires that the animal remain perfectly still, a brief anesthetic may be necessary. Once the radiographs have been taken, a veterinarian can use them to diagnose hip dysplasia. However, only a certified radiologist is able to confirm the absence of hip dysplasia based upon x-rays. When hip dysplasia is indeed present, x-rays are also helpful with respect to revealing the stage and degree of the problem. Once this condition has been diagnosed, an effective treatment plan can be developed and implemented, greatly reducing the patient’s pain and suffering while increasing comfort and quality of life.


Finding out that your beloved pet has a debilitating condition can be very upsetting and sometimes confusing. Having a basic knowledge of canine hip dysplasia can help you to understand what is happening with your pet and how to provide the best care for your furry friend. First of all, hip dysplasia is a form of degenerative joint disease that affects a dog’s hip joints. A canine hip joint is a ball and socket joint that connects a hind leg to the animal’s body. The head of the femur bone forms the ball while the socket is part of the pelvic bone. The bones are held together by ligaments and connective tissue, and are cushioned by a layer of smooth but tough cartilage. In a healthy dog, the femur and pelvic bones are specifically shaped in order to match each other perfectly, and this characteristic, along with the additional joint components, allows for smooth and proper joint function.

In a dog with hip dysplasia, however, the hip joints do not developed normally. In fact, the term “dysplasia” refers to impaired or abnormal growth processes. Sometimes this abnormal development will affect the bones so that the head of the femur (the ball of the joint), does not fit properly into the pelvic bone’s socket. Typically, this is because the socket in the pelvic bone is too shallow. The consequence of this is that the joint is loose and the femur slips out of the socket, leading to dislocation of the hip. In other cases, the abnormal development will be related to the ligaments or connective tissue. When this happens, the joint is not sufficiently supported and, therefore, the joint becomes instable and the femur and pelvic bones become separated. Whether it occurs due to malformation of bones or connective tissue, this separation of the femur and pelvic bones is what causes the numerous problems associated with hip dysplasia. In particular, hip dysplasia causes a dog’s hips to become weak, deteriorated, and arthritic.

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Hip dysplasia can occur in just one hip or in both hips, and can range from mild to severely crippling. While this condition develops in young, growing dogs, the age at which it becomes apparent can vary quite significantly. The youngest age at which this condition can typically be identified is approximately four months, but a dog can also live through to its senior years before showing any signs of abnormalities.


Canine hip dysplasia is a genetically based condition. In fact, research has shown that the genetic contribution to hip dysplasia is very significant. This means that this form of degenerative joint disease is mostly hereditary. As such, there are certain breeds that are more predisposed to developing hip dysplasia than others. Breeds more prone to suffering from this joint disease are typically larger dogs and include St. Bernards, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Neapolitan Mastiffs, and Rottweilers.

While genetics play a significant role in the development of hip dysplasia, there are also a number of environmental factors that can contribute to the expression or manifestation of this degenerative joint disease in an individual dog. For example, nutrition is known to be related to the development and severity of canine hip dysplasia. More specifically, dogs that are overweight are more likely to suffer from joint problems, as the extra weight places more stress upon the joints. Secondly, physical activity can affect the likelihood of a dog developing this condition. Excessive activity, especially when related to climbing stairs or jumping can place extra stress upon a dog’s joints. In a dog predisposed to developing hip dysplasia, too much of these types of activities will eventually cause more arthritis than would otherwise be present, significantly crippling the animal.

Another environmental factor that can contribute to canine hip dysplasia is exposure to slippery flooring or bedding. Puppies that spend most of their time on slippery surfaces such as newspaper or wood floors tend to have more of a problem with hip dysplasia. While slippery surfaces do not actually cause the condition, they can exacerbate it. Thus, while canine hip dysplasia is mostly a genetic condition, there are other factors that can contribute to its development and expression.


While hip dysplasia is not actually curable, it is definitely treatable. In fact, there are a number of forms of treatment that can help to greatly reduce the pain, discomfort, and immobility caused by this degenerative joint disease. The form of treatment necessary for your individual pet will depend upon the severity of the condition. Some methods include arthritis medications, surgery, and carefully monitored weight loss. There are also several natural and homeopathic remedies that can greatly improve your dog’s comfort and quality of life.

Natural and homeopathic remedies that help with hip dysplasia generally focus on supplementing a canine patient with beneficial nutrients. For example, omega-3 fatty acids, chondroitin, and glucosamine are all known to help rebuild and improve the health of joints, thereby greatly increasing comfort. A number of different secondary nutrients can also be beneficial, by helping chondroitin and glucosamine to perform their healing functions while also promoting health and alleviating pain. Some such secondary nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and manganese. By offering a combination of these nutrients, homeopathic remedies can provide your dog with significant relief from the uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms of canine hip dysplasia. No matter what type of treatment you undertake for your dog, however, be sure that it is done under the supervision of a veterinarian in order to ensure the best quality care and results for your beloved canine companion.

Read also: Dog Glaucoma
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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