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How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia is a common illness in dogs, affecting about 15 percent of the canine population. CHD, as it’s abbreviated in vet lingo, usually affects larger dog breeds more than the smaller ones.

It is also hereditary – passed down through the genetic make-up of a dog’s lineage. Although it is genetic, there are ways to lessen the progression of this disease, manage its symptoms, or to delay its onset as much as possible. For dog owners of at-risk breeds, that’s good news. Prevention is better than cure, after all!

How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

You can prevent hip dysplasia in dogs by ensuring the skeletal system grows properly, choosing a breeder who caters to good hip health of the dogs they have, giving diet appropriate for the dog, avoiding exercising young and at-risk dogs, providing essential nutrient supplements, avoiding neutering at-risk puppies, and testing early for hip dysplasia.

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a disease whereby the hip joint develops a malformation that makes it difficult and painful to move about.

Dog wheelchair for severe hip dysplasia in German Shepherd

Normally, the hip joint’s ball and socket should fit like a glove. However, with canine hip dysplasia, the ball and the socket grow at unequal rates – in most cases, the socket grows slower.

As a result of the unequal growth rates, the ball may become too big to fit in a socket that’s not deep enough, and vice versa – the socket becomes deep but the ball is small.

Either way, the hip joint is loose.

Due to the loose hip joint, the leg tends to move about in that part, resulting in wear and tear and is painful for dogs. By the way, this wear and tear also cause degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis.

Now, the body may attempt to repair some of this unevenness by forming a hard bony material within the joint to ‘fix’ the unevenness, but that material does not actually fix the deformity and might actually cause more unevenness.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia include the following:

  • The dog shows an abnormal gait that involves a limited range of motions.
  • The distance between the width increases.
  • The dog is reluctant to rise after lying or sitting down.
  • The dog does not want to go up a flight of stairs.
  • A wobbly walk, often coupled with a ‘click’ sound. This sound usually occurs since the joint grates as the dog moves about.
  • Thigh muscle mass decreases as the shoulder muscles increase in an attempt to compensate for the inefficiency of the hind legs.
  • The dog shows that he/she is feeling pain when walking.
  • Weakness of the hind legs and especially the hips – this may be seen from the swaying movement when standing or walking.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia?

1. The Genetic Factor

Hip dysplasia is caused by any number of factors. The biggest factor is genetics. A dog carrying the gene may pass it on to his/her little one, making that puppy more at risk of developing hip dysplasia within 1-2 years of life.

Larger-sized breeds of dogs also tend to develop hip dysplasia more often than smaller-sized ones. A few of these breeds include Saint Bernards, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Rottweilers, American Staffordshire terriers, bulldogs, and mastiffs.

2. Nutritional Factors

Some diets may lead to obesity which is itself a contributing factor towards hip dysplasia.

Too much weight puts pressure on the hip joint and will likely result in more friction for the ball of the femur. This tends to worsen the condition of the hip joint.

3. Environmental Factors

This also includes lifestyle patterns. Excessive movements may trigger or worsen hip dysplasia. For example, if the puppy is living in a place where it is forced to be moving about too much or scaling up a flight of stairs. Activities like Frisbee and agility, should be avoided in dog’s with bad hips. Jumping and other high impact exercise is not recommended for dogs with hip dysplasia.

Regular exercise is incredibly important and plays a critical part in the treatment regimen applied for canine hip dysplasia. All exercise should be structured and carefully planned out by a licensed vet – not over-exercised without that expert guidance. Work with your pet professional to determine the right way to exercise your dog and keep their hips healthy.

Professional guidance ensures that physical therapy is targeted to solve or ease the problem rather than expand the deformity.

4. Injury

An injury to the ligaments, muscles, and tendons of the hip joint may cause misalignment and degeneration of the joint’s ball and socket. This is because those injuries damage the support structures of the hip joint.

Thankfully, this cause is the most preventable. With several cautionary measures that avoid injury to the dog, you can significantly reduce the chances of your furry pal developing CHD.

This prevention involves avoiding activities and environments where the dog may suffer injuries.

Preventing Hip Dysplasia

First off, it’s important to keep in mind that certain cases of hip dysplasia are not preventable. Nonetheless, several measures can be used to keep hip dysplasia at bay, especially for the at-risk dog breeds:

Keeping the Dog’s Skeletal System Healthy

This measure applies, especially to puppies. It’s important to ensure that you give your dog sufficient and appropriate nutrition. This will strengthen bones and assist joints develop properly. As well as help maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity resulting from an unmeasured diet.

Choosing a Breeder Who Caters to the Hip Health of the Dogs They Breed

Albert from Lucky Dawg Rescue enjoys wheelchair time with foster

The genetic make-up of a dog plays a huge role in the development of hip dysplasia. A breed’s prevalence for the hip dysplasia gene is important to consider – actually one of the most impactful preventative measures.

If possible, prospective dog owners are advised to check three or four generations of dogs before their favorite pick. This will ensure that there are no carriers of the gene in the bloodline.

Evidence of good hip health is one of the things to check for. And, in this respect, ensure that the dog’s lineage has both a Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP) certification and an Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification.

Both of these certifications are good markers for good hip health.

Ensure an Appropriate Diet for Your Dog

Many studies agree that maintaining a healthy body mass or weight contributes to a delayed occurrence of hip dysplasia. A healthy weight, decreases the clinical signs associated with hip dysplasia.

And it’s simply good sense to apply this measure because an optimum body weight will ensure that the hip joints have ample time to grow without having to carry the excessive weight.

However, some dogs may already have put on some weight and if you’re ever in this situation, it’s not too late to adopt this measure.

Weight loss combined by physiotherapy (involving transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) improves the outcomes for overweight dogs that show signs of osteoarthritis (OA) in radiographic scans.

Avoid Over-Exercising Puppies

Excessive exercising tends to increase the damage to the hip joint region, particularly for growing puppies.

For this reason, it is important to fight the temptation to play catch for hours and hours, running on the beach, jumping, and other activities that may place an undue strain on the hip joints when he/she is not ready.

Provide Dietary Supplements for Healthy Joint Development

Daily supplements can help prevent and lower the risk of hip dysplasia in dogs. Consider supplementing your dog’s nutrition with vitamins and minerals. Including antioxidant vitamins C and E, Green Lipped Mussel, glucosamine, and chondroitin are known to benefit a dog’s joint health.

It’s a good idea to consult the vet for the appropriate dosage for these supplements before dishing them out to your dog. Every dog’s supplement needs will be different, and your vet will help you find the right supplement for your dog’s age, activity level, and size.

Avoid Neutering the Dog Young

Researchers have found that dogs neutered in their first year are 2 times more likely to develop CHD than sexually intact dogs. It makes sense. Neutering tends to be followed by a growth sprout that involves increased body weight.

Therefore, neutering (or delaying until after the first year) may be something to reconsider if you have a dog whose breed and/or lineage is more prone to developing hip dysplasia.

Test Early for Hip Dysplasia

Regular physical exams are an important part of determining if your dog has hip dysplasia. However, to determine the severity of of a dog’s dysplasia further tests will be needed. Testing early for hip dysplasia is important, especially if they are an at-risk breed. Early radiography tests will rule out or confirm early signs of hip dysplasia.

Depending on the test results, the vet will guide you towards an appropriate lifestyle and nutritional plan for your puppy.

How to Treat Canine Hip Dysplasia

For those dogs who are not as lucky with the preventative measures above, it’s not the end of the road.

Hip dysplasia is not a fatal disease and there are several treatment options available. Treatment options are available to give some measure of comfort to dogs with moderate and severe forms of hip dysplasia:

Therapeutic Management

Therapeutic management options are aimed at reducing the hip pain felt by the dog. These measures may include:

Using Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs – NSAID drugs are used particularly for dogs with severely arthritic joints. Anti-inflammatory meds help to reduce the pain in those joints. With the reduction of joint inflammation, the NSAIDs can also improve overall mobility.

Food Supplements – Various food supplements are available to promote canine joint health. Supplements range from fish oil to green-lipped mussels are used to reduce the joint pain experienced by dogs with hip dysplasia. Daily supplements help to lower the risk of hip dysplasia in dogs.

Acupuncture and Gold Bead Implantation – this is an alternative intervention that vets sometimes use to ease the pain felt in the affected CHD joints. Every dog’s results will vary. The overall success of the treatment results are dependent on the dog’s prognosis. Always speak with your pet professional to see if this will help your dog. A dog may show some improvement whereas in other cases there’s no change.

Physical Therapy/Exercising – Certain massage techniques together with exercising the hind limb in certain motions may help to alleviate some of the pain. If these techniques work for your dog, you can learn then and then apply them at home when your pooch needs some pain relief.

Tip: If it is painful for a dog to walk or support their full weight, a dog wheelchair can be used to improve mobility.

Surgical Interventions

There are three different surgeries for hip dysplasia treatment:

Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO) – in FHO surgery, the ball part of the hip joint is removed in this procedure. FHO is most effective in young dogs, since the surrounding area and scar tissue create a false joint which returns a bit of mobility to this hind leg.

FHO surgery is recommended for dogs with severe arthritis and dysplasia. Or if the dog’s hip dislodges, and if the expense of the other surgical procedures is too much.

Double or Triple Osteotomy – During osteotomy surgery the pelvis is cut in two or three areas around the hip joint. The bone is then rotated to better align with the ball of the femur.

This set of procedures is only ideal for younger dogs and should apply to dogs who have not developed arthritis in the joints.

Total Hip Replacement (THR) – THR is a last-resort intervention – for when other procedures and treatments have yielded little or no success.

During THR surgery the dog’s entire hip joint is removed and replaced with a ball and socket created out of plastic and stainless steel. The good news about THR is that it can give instant pain relief that lasts for a long time. THR is a very specialized procedure and may be more expensive than the other surgical procedures.

It is important to discuss the range of options available and appropriate for your dog’s condition. There are no one-size-fits-all with these treatment measures but a vet will help you figure out the best way to go as far as treatment is concerned.

Mobility Support for Canine Hip Dysplasia

Mobility struggles and hip dysplasia go hand in hand. Dogs dealing with hip pain and occasional joint stiffness may experience a change in their gait and the way they move. This may indicate that your dog needs some support in order to stand, maintain their balance, and walk. In the earliest stages of mobility change, a supportive lifting harness can be a great way to help your dog on the stairs or to get outside quickly. As the hip dysplasia progresses and your dog’s mobility is impacted, a dog wheelchair is the best option to help a dog walk and limit the pressure placed on aching hips.

corgi wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
German Shepherd DM harness
Buddy Up Harness

Final Thoughts

Hip dysplasia can be a tough condition to battle. By applying the above preventive measures, you stand a better chance at delaying the onset of hip dysplasia and reducing the symptoms of the condition. Always consult a licensed vet to ensure you come up with a preventative course suitable to your furry friend, especially with early test results in mind.

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