Animal Wellness


Hip Dysplasia in Animals

What is hip dysplasia?

The hip joint forms the attachment of the hind leg to the body and is a ball and socket joint. The ball portion is the head of the femur while the socket is located on the pelvis. In a normal joint, the ball rotates freely within the socket. To facilitate movement, the bones are shaped to match each other, with the socket surrounding the ball. The two bones are held together by a strong ligament. In a dog with normal hips, all of these factors work together to cause the joint to function smoothly and with stability.

Hip dysplasia is caused by a laxity of the muscles, connective tissue, and ligaments that would normally support the joint. This separation of the two bones of the joint is called a subluxation, and this causes a drastic change in the size and shape of the two bones. Most dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips but due to their genetic make-up (and possibly other factors) the soft tissues that surround the joint develop abnormally causing the subluxation. It is this subluxation and the remodeling of the hip that leads to the symptoms. Hip dysplasia may or may not affect both the right and left hip.

What are hip dysplasia symptoms?

Dogs of all ages are subject to hip dysplasia and the resultant osteoarthritis. In severe cases, puppies as young as five months will begin to show pain and discomfort during and after exercise. The condition will worsen until even normal daily activities are painful. Without intervention, these dogs may eventually be unable to walk. In most cases, symptoms do not show until the middle or later years.

The symptoms are similar to those seen with other causes of arthritis in the hip. Dogs often walk or run with an altered gait. They may resist movements that require full extension or flexion of the rear legs. Many times, they run with a bunny-hopping gait. They will show stiffness and pain in the rear legs after exercise or first thing in the morning. They may also have difficulty climbing stairs.

In milder cases dogs will warm up out of the stiffness with movement and exercise. Some dogs will limp and many will become less willing to participate in normal daily activities. Many owners attribute the changes to normal aging, but after treatment is initiated they are surprised to see a more normal and pain-free gait.

Who gets hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia can be found in dogs and cats. In dogs, it is primarily a disease of large and giant breeds. Dysplasia in German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, and Saint Bernards appears at a higher rate than in other breeds. This disease can occur in medium-sized breeds too, but only rarely in small breeds.

It has been shown that obesity can increase the severity of the disease in genetically susceptible animals. It stands to reason that carrying around extra weight will exacerbate the degeneration of the joints in a dog. Dogs that may have been born genetically prone to hip dysplasia and are overweight are therefore at a much higher risk of developing hip dysplasia and eventually osteoarthritis.

How do you mitigate hip dysplasia symptoms?

Helping a dog maintain his or her recommended weight may be the single most important thing owners can do for their pets. Surgical procedures and medical therapies will be far more successful if the animal is not overweight. Exercise is equally important in losing and/or maintaining the appropriate weight. Exercise that provides good range of motion and muscle-building as well as limiting wear and tear on the joints is best.

Leash walks, swimming, and slow jogging are excellent low-impact exercises. Bear in mind that an exercise program needs to be individualized for each dog based on the severity of the osteoarthritis, his or her weight, age, and physical condition. it is important to exercise daily; only exercising on weekends, for example, may cause more harm than good. Regular exercise in shorter sessions is always better than long work-outs on weekends.

Keeping your dog warm may help him or her be more comfortable. consider keeping the temperature in your home a little warmer. Providing an orthopedic foam bed helps many dogs with arthritis. Beds with dome-shaped, orthopedic foam distribute weight evenly and reduce pressure on joints. They are also much easier for the pet to get out of. Place the bed in a warm spot away from drafts.

At Easing Paw, several approaches are used for to help animals with all diseases, including hip dysplasia. The Easing Paw approach keeps the spirit up, producing more stamina, allowing animals to eat better and be more active. It helps to eliminate signs of depression, produce a stable immune system so the the body can fight harder against all diseases or problems, and allow animals to be more active and act like themselves. It especially helps with the kind of pain produced by joint problems, hip dysplasia, and arthritis. It also helps with stressful situations in general, seen for example in very sensitive animals.