You Can’t Give an Old Dog New Hips!

By June 4, 2014 December 14th, 2018 Uncategorized

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia is a condition that all current and future owners of large breed dogs should be aware of. The term ‘dysplasia’ simply means ‘abnormal growth’. So, you can imagine a hip being like a ball-and-socket structure, with the head of the femur as the ball, and the acetabulum in the pelvis as the socket. These bones are covered in smooth cartilage to facilitate frictionless, easy movement. This is the normal growth. Now, the abnormal growth, i.e. dysplasia, is typified by the ball-and-socket structure not fitting quite right. The two do not fit smoothly, the socket may be flattened and the ball will not be held tightly in place. As a result, this may cause slipping, and as the body attempts to stabilize the joint, it only causes joint damage, inflammation, and pain for the animal.

What causes it?

The most common cause of hip dysplasia is simply genetics. That said, no test has been developed to adequately test DNA to predict the inheritance of this gene, so the best way to prevent hip dysplasia is to breed only dogs with normal hips. Many breeders of high risk dogs have their dogs certified free of hip dysplasia before accepting them into their breeding program.

Another cause is nutritional. It is not uncommon for large breed dogs to be ‘pushed’ into growing at abnormally fast paces by their owners with overfeeding or administering extra protein and calcium into their diets. This has resulted in disastrous consequences, causing many unwanted conditions among these animals–hip dysplasia being one. Many companies have recently developed large breed puppy diets specifically designed to slow the puppy’s growth and reduce the risk of this disease.

How common is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is one of the most commonly seen skeletal diseases in dogs, and can occur in 50% or more of some of the larger breeds of dogs!
Large dogs with relatively high incidence of hip dysplasia include:

  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Bloodhound
  • Boxer
  • Brittany Spaniel,
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • English Setter
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Golden Retriever
  • Gordon Setter,
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Standard Poodle
  • Rottweiler
  • St. Bernard
  • Welsh Springer Spaniel
  • Welsh Corgi

Large dogs with relatively low incidence of hip dysplasia include:

  • Borzoi
  • Doberman
  • Pinscher
  • Great Dane
  • Greyhound
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Siberian Husky

What are the symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in my pets?

Oftentimes, a dog experiencing hip dysplasia will show symptoms within the first 4-12 months of life. The first sign is usually a decrease in activity due to joint pain. You may see your pet drawing their hind legs forward more than usual, attempting to put more weight on their front legs. When they run, they may appear to be moving in a ‘bunny hop’ like motion. As the condition progresses, more severe symptoms will begin to reveal themselves, such as difficulty rising after sitting or lying down, or whimpering while climbing stairs.

How can I prevent and treat Hip Dysplasia in my pets?

Hip Dysplasia is most commonly caused by genetics, so sometimes prevention isn’t possible. Making sure not to overfeed a large breed dog may be a smart preventative measure though (and will also help reduce the risk of other conditions such as obesity and diabetes!) Speak to your veterinarian about proper diet choices when your pet is as young as 8 weeks of age.

If any of the symptoms mentioned above have been noticed, then making an appointment with your veterinarian is the best way to help your pet. In order to diagnose the condition, a veterinarian will have to perform a physical examination of the hips, and the diagnosis can be confirmed with a radiographic image. Hip dysplasia will be apparent on a radiographic image if there is a lot of space surrounding the bones, or if the femoral head appears to be out of place.

There are a few options when it comes to treatment of hip dysplasia. Most importantly, it is advised that dysplastic animals participate in activities such as walking, swimming and slow running, but NOT in activities like jumping or prolonged running. Often-times, anti-inflammatory drugs and narcotics may be prescribed to relieve pain, but they will not cure the disease or prevent its progression. With this in mind, products such Glucosamine, Chondroitin, Omega 3 fatty acids and Cartrophen (pentosan polysulfate sodium) can be prescribed to stop the degradation of the cartilage and foster cartilage growth and repair. These products can also improve the production of synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is the lubricant in a joint that allows the joint to move smoothly. Mobility diets are also available which contain many of these products. A joint health plan should be started as soon as hip dysplasia is detected!

If medical therapy is not enough, other treatments are available. A newer procedure, denervation of the hip joint capsule, can be performed. The goal of this procedure is to remove the pain immediately and reactivate the active component of the hip joint. Finally, in severe cases, more invasive surgery is an option where the bones may be rearranged or completely replaced by prostheses.


Brooks, W. C. (2005, February 21). Canine hip dysplasia. Retrieved from Veterinary Partner website:

(2005, February 21). Diagnosis and genetics of canine hip dysplasia. Retrieved from Cornell University website:

Content Contributor: Dr. Sandy Drury

LifeLearn Administrator

Author LifeLearn Administrator

H. Fraser is a LifeLearn author.

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