The leading cause of lameness in the back legs of dogs is hip dysplasia. It occurs when the ball (round head of the thighbone) and socket (acetabulum – concave indentation of the pelvis) joint of the hips do not develop properly. The abnormal formation causes the ball and socket to rub and grind and not slide smoothly. 

In the normal anatomy of the hip, the ball and the socket in the pelvis grow at the same rate. The round ball fits comfortably into the acetabulum, with no friction. If this constant, smooth  growth doesn’t occur in puppyhood, the laxity of the joint can lead to joint disease as the ball and socket deteriorate over time. 

Dog Ramp Co hipdysplasia diagram
Dog Ramp Co. Hip Dysplasia in Dogs Diagram

How Does Hip Dysplasia Occur in Dogs?

Canine hip dysplasia is problematic as it can cause a severe impairment of the quality of life. This skeletal condition is a hereditary disorder but the environment can contribute to its development and progression. 

Though all dogs can suffer from hip dysplasia, large and giant dog breeds like Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, American Staffordshire terriers and German Shepherds are more susceptible. 

Development of hip dysplasia is not the same for every dog. Some begin at five months old, and the condition worsens as they age. The state usually becomes noticeable in the middle or senior years. Environmental factors that exacerbate this condition include:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Excessive growth
  • Too much or too little exercise
  • Injury at a young age
  • Overexertion on the joint at puppyhood
  • Ligament tear when young
  • Repetitive motion on the joint when the puppy is under one year old

How Do You Know If Your Dog Has Hip Dysplasia? 

When the hip is fully operational and in excellent condition, the femoral head (ball) fits snugly into a well-formed socket, with minimal space between them. Abnormalities are ranked by veterinarians based on the congruity of the joint as follows:

Mild hip dysplasia: The ligaments that hold the ball and socket together develop tears and start to stretch. These actions increase the distance between the two resulting in reduced stability of the joint.

Moderate hip dysplasia: The ball of the joint barely rests inside the socket. The dog develops arthritis with pain when moving or partial lameness. 

Severe hip dysplasia: The femur’s head (ball) is completely dislocated. The dog cannot walk or does so with incredible difficulty. 

Keep in mind that hip dysplasia in dogs actually begins in puppyhood. Juvenile hip dysplasia shows symptoms as early as three months old and less than 18 months. Mature hip dysplasia occurs in older dogs. Clinical signs of both include: 

  • Pain and stiffness
  • Difficulty with normal walking over some time
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Reduced movements
  • Challenges when climbing, jumping, running or getting up from a lying down position
  • Lameness
  • Bunny hopping gait (walking with both back legs moving simultaneously) 
  • Thin thigh muscles
  • Enlargement of shoulder muscles to compensate for the back thigh

It is not unusual for puppies to exhibit any of the above symptoms and then suddenly stop, looking like they are getting better. Their bodies are actually producing fibrous tissues to stabilise the loose joint and compensate. 

Diagnosis

The veterinarian conducts a physical examination. Assessment of the dog as he walks can sometimes detect a clicking or clunking. A hip lift test called the Bardens test can be performed when the dog is under general anaesthesia.

An X-ray of the pelvis is the definitive way for your dog’s veterinarian to diagnose hip dysplasia. Radiographic techniques can assess hip laxity even for pups as young as 4-5 months, allowing early evaluation and detection. 

Prevention, Treatment & Managing Your Dog’s Needs

Prevention of canine hip dysplasia is only possible by selective breeding. Dogs with hip dysplasia will have puppies that go on to develop the condition. Screening programs are available to check the health of the dogs’ hips before mating.   

The range of the severity of the dysplasia makes it challenging for veterinarians to outline typical courses of treatment. This condition may require lifelong care and treatment. Despite this condition, any dog with hip dysplasia can still live a long and happy life. 

Medication. Anti-inflammatory medication can relieve pain and inflammation. Some medicine can repair damaged cartilage. 

Maintain minimal bodyweight. Weight loss reduces strain on the joints. Veterinarian approved diets based on the dog’s breed and age ensures your dog does not gain excess weight, especially whilst still a puppy because this is a critical period for bone and joint development. Maintain a healthy diet with proper nutrition while avoiding table scraps and unhealthy snacks. 

Diet management. Consider adding natural supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health and reduce the symptoms of dysplasia and arthritis. Adding Omega-3 fatty acid can also promote healthy joints. Talk to your vet about the best supplements to help your dog’s symptoms.

Exercise routine. Keep to an appropriate amount to keep your dog in the best physical condition with restrictions on walking on hard surfaces. Puppies should be discouraged from jumping or standing on their hind legs to avoid putting too much stress on the joints—dogs experiencing lameness need to be walked gently on a leash to prevent them from running and jumping. With large breeds it is also recommended to not exercise them by throwing balls/frisbees/sticks at the park, as a dog’s natural instinct is to run at full exertion, then come to a sudden halt when they reach the ball, causing a jarring on their joints with the sudden impact of stopping and changing direction. 

Physical therapy and hydrotherapy. Physical therapy can improve muscle strengths. Swimming is a beautiful form of exercise for dogs with hip dysplasia as it facilitates the building of muscle mass without stressing the joints. Acupuncture can alleviate pain and improve motion.  

Solvit by PetSafe Deluxe XL Telescoping Car Pet Ramp for Dogs (Adjustable 119cm-221cm) - The Dog Ramp Co Australia

Adapting the environment. This is especially necessary for elderly dogs as their ability and mobility are changing. Adjusting the dogs’ home environment includes using dog steps and ramps to get onto furniture and cars, orthopaedic dog beds and mattresses, raised dog food and water bowls and dog clothing to protect the dogs’ elbows. 

Early surgery for puppies has been proven to prevent degenerative joint disease. Surgical advancements, like total hip replacement, are highly invasive and require lengthy recovery times. Dogs older than nine months have high recovery rates after replacement of old joints with artificial ones. 

Conclusion

Research continues to provide better ways to treat hip dysplasia in dogs. It has been observed that some young pups with this condition can stabilize as they mature as long as they have limited exercise, pain management and physical therapy. 

At The Dog Ramp Co., the health and comfort of your dog is our number one priority. We believe your dog should be able to be actively involved in your lives together. We offer dog stairs and ramps to assist small and large dogs in helping them get on the sofa or bed with you as well as get into your car for your drives together so that a fun and adventurous life can still happen as best as possible, with lots of exploring, and couch cuddles at the end of the day!