Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Cure, Care and What You Must Know to Help Your Canine Friend

Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

As a dog owner, taking care of your dog is one of the biggest joys and responsibilities that one can have. Knowing that your best friend is always at the prime of its health is important for every pet-owner. With dogs, most common health issues are quite easy to take care of. However, hip dysplasia is something that leaves most dog owners worried about what to do next. Knowledge about the diagnosis and cure for hip dysplasia is essential for any dog owner. Let us try and understand hip dysplasia in dogs and how you can help your dog who is suffering from it.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a skeletal condition that mostly affects large-breed dogs but sometimes affects small dogs too. The hip joint is a ball & socket joint. The thigh bone, also known as the root, connects with the pelvis on the hip joint. The thigh bone, also known as femur, has a spherical end that goes into a concave socket at the pelvis, known as the acetabulum. It is from where the term ‘ball and socket’ joint comes. If not taken care of in time, the joint may get worse as time passes. 

What causes hip dysplasia? 

Many factors can lead to hip dysplasia, with genetic being the biggest one. Large breed dogs, like Saint Bernard and German Shepherds, are among those more prone to hip dysplasia. Apart from being hereditary, other factors that contribute to this include a high growth rate, being overweight, certain exercises, and improper nutrition.

The top cause of hip dysplasia has been linked to genetics. The environment is another factor that affects its development. For instance, it has been observed that dogs neutered before full maturity are at a greater risk of hip dysplasia. For large breed dogs, improper nutrition increases the chances of hip dysplasia development. Excess or even lack of exercise can lead to this condition. Dogs that are obese are at increased risk due to more stress on the joints.

Owners of such dogs need to stay in touch with their vets and monitor their risk of developing this. There is also a list of the top 100 dog breeds that are most affected by hip dysplasia. The OFA or Orthopedic Foundation for Animals maintains this list. If your dog is from one of the breeds in the list, then exercising some caution may go a long way in preventing this. 

Common signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia

Spotting the signs of hip dysplasia in your dog early on can help manage and control the degeneration. While the symptoms discussed ahead may be associated with other conditions, too, ensure you get a professional opinion if you notice these in your pet. 

Decreasing physical activity and willingness to go out

Dogs that have hip dysplasia will become less active as the condition progresses. If you can see your dog is suddenly becoming lethargic or not that willing to go out for walks, then hip dysplasia may be a reason. If you notice your dog becoming more lethargic or less willing to go out, discuss it with a veterinarian.  

Decreased agility in jumping and climbing stairs

A dog’s hind legs are crucial in helping him/her jump and climb stairs. The inflammation arises due to hip dysplasia, and this leads to increased pain around the joint. This makes it hard for dogs to perform different types of motion, which affects their ability to climb stairs or jump. If your pet suddenly refuses to climb stairs or to jump, then you should get it checked.

Difficulty Rising after prolonged periods

With progress in hip dysplasia, dogs will find it more painful to stand up after lying down for a while. The more time your dog spends lying down, the harder it will be to get up if it is a case of hip dysplasia. It is one of the first things that you can observe after the dog tries to get up after lying down or sleeping all night. As time passes during the day, this stiffness decreases with some activity.

The resting surface also plays a role in this ease of getting up. For dogs with hip dysplasia, having some carpeting on wooden stairs can help in the overall well-being. In areas of the house where the dog frequently moves around, having rugs without slip backing will help.

Bunny Hopping

It refers to the sudden modification of gait that you can see in a dog suffering from hip dysplasia. ‘Bunny hopping’ refers to dogs lifting both their hind legs together, which resembles a rabbit jumping (hence the term). By doing this, it helps dogs go through less pain as they use both legs to divide the weight and required force. However, in some cases, it may look like a pouncing or jumping activity. You should be able to distinguish between that and bunny hopping. 

Sensitivity and Pain on Hip 

Due to hip dysplasia, dogs would experience pain or discomfort on the hips being touched/ examined by the veterinarian or a family member. During the early onset of hip dysplasia, the ball joint may dislocate from the socket and cause tiny fractures at the rim. It causes the surrounding tissues to stretch. You can observe these in dogs that are around four months old. 

As hip dysplasia progresses with age, cartilage breakdown occurs. Cartilage plays the role of being the joints’ shock absorbers. The bone under the cartilage also sees significant change. All these changes cause swelling and the onset of osteoarthritis. In this stage, X-Rays have shown the remodeling of the complete ball and socket joint.  

Diagnosis of Hip Dysplasia

If you observe any of the signs or symptoms of hip dysplasia in your dog, then it is essential to get a professional diagnosis. For dogs showing these signs of pain and arthritis, diagnosis involves x-rays and physical exams. Any signs of arthritis can be seen easily through radiographs or x-rays. The veterinarian may feel some looseness in joints or cause pain by flexion and extension. Results in such cases are simple to interpret. 

However, what makes the diagnosis of hip dysplasia trickier is that most dogs do not show any physical signs. This is a common occurrence in breeding dogs. With dogs used for breeding, the only concern is that it may be passed on to their offsprings. In such cases, two testing methods can be used, OFA and PennHip.

OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals)

This method is the established standard for testing since 1966. They have a hip evaluation database of over 475,000 different dogs. The local veterinarian has to take x-rays as per specific instructions. These x-rays are sent to OFA, who diagnose and classify the degeneration. As per OFA guidelines, radiographs of only those dogs that are above 24 months old can provide an accurate diagnosis. This is because the accuracy of the diagnosis of hip dysplasia increases after this age. OFA’s radiologists grade the hip joints for subluxation, congruity, shape, architecture, and size of the femur’s head and neck. A team of 3 people reviews this, and the grade assigned is relative to other dogs around the same age and breed. OFA uses a 7-point scoring system, with grades from normal to borderline dysplastic to dysplastic. There are three further grades in dysplastic – mild, moderate, and severe. 


This diagnostic method is the result of research by the University of Pennsylvania, known as the PennHIP or Hip Improvement Program. It makes use of compression/distraction x-ray views for diagnosing and quantifying laxity in joints. Radiographs for PennHIP diagnostic techniques are done with the dogs after they are under heavy sedation. An external device and weights help in pushing the femoral head in or away from the acetabulum. Joint laxity or displacement of the femoral head is then given a score using a DI or distraction index. 

The value of DI is related to the probability of osteoarthritis development. A DI under 0.3 means rare chances of the dog developing osteoarthritis. A value above 0.3 is classified as susceptible to degenerative joint disease. However, not all dogs with DI above 0.3 may develop osteoarthritis. This diagnostic technique is generally accurate for dogs around four months of age. The observed accuracy is higher when performed around 6 to 12 months of age.

Treatment of Hip Dysplasia

There are multiple treatments for dogs with hip dysplasia, depending on the condition, severity, age, and other factors. While dog hip dysplasia surgery is most suitable if the condition is too advanced, other treatment options are depending on the progress of degeneration. Let us first look at some dog hip dysplasia home treatment methods and then move on to surgical methods. 

Non-Surgical Treatment Methods

Being an inherited condition, it is not possible to prevent hip dysplasia in dogs through any product. However, there has been a significant advancement in the available treatment methods. Several drugs used for osteoarthritis treatment are beneficial in hip dysplasia dog treatment. With the right exercise, diet, and supplements, the progression can be brought under control. However, the reversal of any looseness that has already taken place in the joint is not possible without surgery. 

A common question that many pet parents may have at this time is how long can a dog live with hip dysplasia. If managed right, dogs can continue to have a long and good life with hip dysplasia too. Let’s go ahead and discuss some of the non-surgical methods.

Weight Control

The first thing to do if you suspect or have diagnosed hip dysplasia in your dog is to manage its weight. No procedure can provide results if the dog is overweight. A majority of dogs in the US are overweight, which means a majority of those suffering from hip dysplasia are also overweight. It is important to keep the dog at the recommended weight. It will also help with preventing many other diseases too. 


Weight management and exercise are equally important steps. It is essential to restrict exercise to prevent any damage to the joints carefully. However, there should be an adequate movement to maintain and improve muscle strength. For young dogs, short walks on a leash and short swimming can help. For older dogs, the time and intensity of the activity can be less to avoid stress. Little or no exercise can worsen the condition, so it is important to get them the right amount.

For a dog with hip dysplasia, jumping in any form should be in control. It places a lot of stress on the hip joints. Regular exercise is important and goes a long way in avoiding muscle wastage. 

Chondroitin and Glucosamine

These two drugs have shown positive results in the treatment of osteoarthritis in both humans as well as dogs. While these drugs had been around for a while, there was a lack of evidence in support. However, now many studies have shown their effectiveness in the treatment of osteoarthritis, and they are becoming one of the most popular treatment options. 

Glucosamine works as the building block of generation and maintenance of the joint cartilage. Chondroitin works to help in curbing the creation of enzymes that may damage the joint. There are a lot of products based on glucosamine and chondroitin in the market, but not all of those are the same. It is essential to consult with a veterinarian before giving any such products to your dogs. While best results come from those that are specially formulated for dogs, professional advice must be taken.

Buffered Aspirin

Aspirin is a highly effective painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug. It finds use in conjugation with glucosamine and chondroitin. These are safe as long-term treatments. However, veterinary advice is mandatory before giving it to your dog. Side effects in dogs like GI upset may be possible. There are special varieties of buffered aspirin for dogs that make giving it to them much easier. Drugs like regular aspirin and ibuprofen have the potential to cause several side effects in dogs. These should only be given under medical supervision. 

Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Surgical Treatment

Hip dysplasia surgery in dogs is possible, depending on the severity of joint degeneration and the age of the dog. If medical treatments and remedies like using a hip brace are not helping your dog, surgery is an option that you can consider. Many surgical methods can be applied, let’s see some of the most common ones, and when they can be done. 

TPO (Triple Pelvic Osteotomy)

TPO is most effective for dogs under the age of 10 months. This is done where radiographs indicate severe laxity of the hip joint, and the severity of damage is under control. TPO involves the surgical breaking of the bones in the pelvis and then realigning the joint to provide the right form and balance. This surgery is expensive but has shown significant results with dogs who fit the criteria. 

THR (Total Hip Replacement)

This is one of the best surgical options in dogs suffering from degeneration of joints due to hip dysplasia. It can help restore a normal joint, cure the degeneration, and help get rid of joint pain. In a total hip replacement, the remaining joint goes through surgical removal and a prosthesis takes its place. For this surgery, the dog must have a mature skeleton and weight of at least 35 pounds. There is no limit on the dog’s size. In case both hips require it, there will be a rest period of 3 months before the 2nd surgery. This surgery again can be quite expensive but has a very high success rate.

Femoral Head & Neck Excision

In this procedure, the femoral head gets a surgical removal, and a fibrous pseudo (false) joint comes in its place. This surgery reduces the discomfort that dogs with hip dysplasia have to go through otherwise. While this does not restore the normal hip joint functioning, it is successful in pain management. This method is suitable for dogs of all ages. 

Is it possible to prevent hip dysplasia in dogs?

While this may seem like the first thing to do, with hip dysplasia being a genetic condition, there is no proven method on how to prevent it. However, it is possible to slow down and control the progression of joint degeneration. As discussed earlier, diet, exercise, and body weight are essential factors in contributing to its severity. 

Selective breeding can help lower the chances of hip dysplasia in future offspring. Breeding animals with good hips can help to decrease the possibility of offspring, but it is not a sure thing. Checking with the breeder regarding occurrences of hip dysplasia in the last 2 or 3 generations will help get a better idea of its chances in the current offspring. 

Thus, with this knowledge, you can ensure that your dog with hip dysplasia gets the best possible care. With the right practices and the help of a veterinarian, your canine friend can continue to lead a healthy life for many years!