A veterinarian explains the common causes, signs and symptoms, as well as treatment plan.
person walking german shepherd outside on a leash
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Our dogs need our love and support. When we bring them home to live with us, it's a commitment to their care—in sickness and in health. Hip dysplasia in dogs can be disconcerting to see because you know that it is uncomfortable for your pup, but it's treatable. "Hip dysplasia is abnormal growth or development of the hips," explains Dr. Callie Harris, DVM, a veterinarian at Purina. "When a dog has hip dysplasia, the ball and socket of the hip joints do not fit smoothly, which can result in deterioration and loss of joint function."

The condition can be genetic and tends to be more common in larger breed dogs, namely Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards; some smaller breeds can be predisposed to it, too, including French bulldogs and Pugs. The severity of your dog's hip dysplasia is affected by things like exercise, growth rate, improper weight or nutrition, and other environmental factors, says Dr. Harris, which is why it's important to ensure proper nutrition early on with appropriate food. According to a Purina survey, 92 percent of puppy owners with large breed puppies didn't know that their puppies needed the puppy food for up to two years. Here, we discuss everything you need to know about this common condition.

What are the signs of hip dysplasia in dogs?

If you suspect your dog is suffering from hip dysplasia, keep an eye out for some of these common signs and symptoms: a cracking or popping sound coming from their joints; apathy towards exercise, walks, or playtime; or a seemingly sudden restriction of mobility—difficulty with using the stairs, laying, or rising; a swaying gait or standing stance; or what some veterinarians refer to as "bunny hopping" with both back legs. Take your dog to the vet, as early diagnosis is important; the sooner you're able to identify the causes of your dog's pain, the sooner you can help support their comfort and recovery.

How is hip dysplasia diagnosed and treated?

The veterinarian will usually begin by conducting a routine test, which includes an electrolyte panel, urinalysis, and blood count. A joint laxity (or looseness) test might help them get a better feel for the problem, too. Oftentimes, the vet will recommend taking an X-ray to get a clear image of the condition of your dog's hips. Once diagnosed, there are several methods for managing your dog's hip dysplasia. "Depending on the severity of your dog's condition, you may be able to make small changes to help their symptoms," says Dr. Harris. "Your veterinarian may suggest changing their diet, weight loss to reduce stress on the hip joints, restricting vigorous exercise, joint supplements, anti-inflammatory medications and/or physical therapy." Some cases of hip dysplasia may be severe enough that surgery could be the best option. Your veterinarian will examine your dog and offer a recommendation based on their findings.

What will be the impact on your dog's life?

Your dog could be impacted by hip dysplasia as early as four months old, or they could develop it as they grow older. "Once your dog develops the condition, they may experience a decreased range of motion, pain, stiffness, and difficulty or reluctance to jump, run or climb," Dr. Harris explains. "It is important for potential puppy parents to know about this condition, which breeds are most affected and have your new pup evaluated by a veterinarian to determine what preventative measures can be taken if your pup is considered to be at risk."

While hip dysplasia can be uncomfortable for your dog, the condition is treatable and manageable. Reducing the risk or severity of your dog getting it can be accomplished early in their development with proper nutrition and exercise. And, when in doubt, talk to your veterinarian about your options.


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