Age and too little exercise can make all of us – human and canine – a bit stiff in the hips. But that is not what hip dysplasia is. To understand hip dysplasia in dogs, it helps to know how the hip joint works. It is a ball and socket joint. The round head of the femur bone normally fits perfectly into the hip socket to allow smooth movement of the leg. When a dog has hip dysplasia, the fit is not good and the movement is not smooth. The poor fit of the femur into the hip socket can cause the joint to be excessively loose and it results in extreme wear and tear.
This inherited condition mostly strikes larger dogs such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Rottweilers and Retrievers. But small dogs can also have it. Pugs seem to be among the most vulnerable of the small breeds. Hip dysplasia is genetic, and it involves multiple genes. Responsible breeders screen their dogs for it, and dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. Not only would breeding a dog with the condition create pups who will grow up to suffer, pregnancy would put a further strain on a female’s joints.
If you have a dog that is particularly vulnerable to hip dysplasia, for example a large breed from a dog rescue, it makes sense to work with your vet to monitor for signs of hip dysplasia and to be proactive in protecting your dog’s hip joints.
Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia
Genetics are complex, and it has not been possible to eradicate hip dysplasia. Therefore, all dog owners should have an understanding of this condition and know what signs indicate their dog could be suffering from it. The following signs and symptoms can indicate hip dysplasia.
- Decreased activity, less interest in going for walks or playing.
- Slow getting up from bed, reluctance to attempt stairs.
- Seems stiff or in pain.
- Loss of muscle mass in rear legs.
- Increased muscle in front legs as they compensate.
- Strange gait, bunny hopping, swaying or limping.
Many older dogs can show some or all of these symptoms. A dog with arthritis will have the same stiffness and pain. Of course, any sign of pain in your dog means he should see the vet. One important distinction is that while arthritis shows in mostly in older dogs, hip dysplasia can develop when a dog is still young. Even puppies can develop the condition.
The definitive way to diagnose hip dysplasia is with an x-ray. A vet can sometimes feel a grinding in the joint while examining it, but the x-ray is still needed to confirm the diagnosis. An x-ray can also show arthritis or injury, so it is well worth getting if your dog is showing signs of pain or lameness.
Protecting Your Dog from Hip Pain
The bad news about hip dysplasia is that as a genetic condition, it cannot be cured. The good news is that it can be treated, and treating it before it develops can spare your dog a lot of pain. Only hip surgery can change the fit of the femur into the hip socket, but by taking a pro-active approach to your large breed’s joint health, you can minimize the damage the condition does.
Proactive protection ideally starts when your dog is a pup. It is important to feed large breeds food specially designed for them, such as Leader Puppy Large Breed nuts. It’s designed to support a healthy growth process for large breeds because growing too fast can actually lead to bone problems. It also contains glucosamine and chondroitin to nourish the joints. Exercise is also critical for joint health. The trick with large breed puppies is finding the balance so they are staying fit and burning up some energy without overdoing it and straining their growing bones and joints. One thing that can help is to walk them on soft surfaces such as grass or dirt trails rather than pavement.
Nutrition and exercise can help dogs of all ages minimize the damage done by hip dysplasia. Adult and senior large breeds also need food designed just for them, which is why Connolly’s Red Mills makes large breed foods for them as well as puppies. You can also boost joint health with treats such as Leader Nutri Vigor Hip and Joint Care Treats that are rich in omega 3 and 6 as well as glucosamine. A healthy diet and regular exercise keep the joints limber and prevent obesity, which puts an extra strain on all of your dog’s joints, including her hips.
Medical Treatments for Advanced Hip Dysplasia
Sometimes hip dysplasia can’t be stopped or alleviated through diet and exercise. Perhaps the dog came from a rescue or perhaps she showed no signs and no one reason to suspect she could develop it. Untreated, the condition can cause pain and erode a dog’s quality of life. But thankfully, veterinary science has some solutions. The specific treatment that will most help your dog depends on many factors such as age, overall health, size, etc.
For some dogs, the solution can be as simple as pain medication and a carefully devised exercise plan that includes some physical therapy and avoiding walking on hard surfaces. For others, surgery might be the answer. Dogs can have a complete hip replacement, but that isn’t the only surgical option. For pups less than a year old showing signs of hip dysplasia, a surgical procedure where the vet cuts part of the pelvic bone and rotates the segments can make a big difference. Another surgery for pups or adult dogs replaces the round head of the femur bone with a metal one that fits better into the hip socket. This won’t leave the dog with a normal range of motion in the joint, but it should cure the pain.
The important thing is to make an appointment with your vet if your dog shows signs of pain or lameness that don’t go away in a day or two. Whether it is hip dysplasia, arthritis or an injury, the sooner you take action, the less pain your beloved pet will experience.