Hip dysplasia commonly affects large-breed dogs, leading to joint dysfunction and pain. If you own or are considering adopting a large-breed dog, you should learn about this concerning condition. Read our Billings Animal Family Hospital team’s answers to frequently asked questions about canine hip dysplasia.

Question: What is hip dysplasia in dogs?

Answer: The term dysplasia means abnormal growth, and hip dysplasia is abnormal growth of the hip joint. A normal hip joint is composed of the ball-like femoral head and the acetabulum, which is the socket where the femoral head sits in the pelvis. In dogs afflicted with hip dysplasia, the acetabulum is flattened, and the femoral head isn’t held tightly in place, leading to joint instability and eventually arthritis. 

Q: What causes hip dysplasia in dogs?

A: Dogs develop hip dysplasia for many reasons. Several factors contribute to canine hip dysplasia, including:

  • Genetics — Hip dysplasia is primarily a genetic condition. Breeds at increased risk include Labrador retrievers, German shepherd dogs, rottweilers, and Saint Bernards.
  • Nutrition — Nutritional factors contribute to hip dysplasia. Large-breed puppies fed high-protein diets or allowed to free feed are much more likely to develop hip dysplasia. 
  • Body condition — Dogs kept at a lean body weight tend to have fewer problems associated with hip dysplasia.
  • Exercise — Appropriate exercise before 3 months of age may help reduce a dog’s hip dysplasia risk. One study demonstrated that puppies allowed to run up and down stairs had an increased hip dysplasia risk, and those allowed off-leash exercise in a contained area had a decreased risk. 
  • Neutering/spaying age — Early neutering or spaying can lead to a disparity in bone and muscle growth, which may predispose a dog to hip dysplasia.

Q: What are hip dysplasia signs in dogs?

A: To ensure your dog receives the veterinary treatment they need, you must learn to recognize this condition’s signs. Canine hip dysplasia signs include:

  • Hind end stiffness after resting
  • Difficulty rising from a resting position
  • Difficulty navigating stairs and jumping up on and down from surfaces
  • Muscle mass loss over the hind end
  • Bunny-hopping gait when running

Q: How is hip dysplasia diagnosed in dogs?

A: If your dog exhibits hips dysplasia signs, you should schedule an evaluation with our Billings Animal Family Hospital team. In dogs exhibiting hip dysplasia signs, diagnostics include:

  • Lameness evaluation — Our team assesses your dog’s gait, and observes them transitioning from a resting to standing position.
  • Ortolani sign — We palpate and manipulate your dog’s hip joint. When a lax femoral head slips into the acetabulum, a palpable clunk is often appreciated. A positive Ortolani sign suggests hip dysplasia.
  • X-rays — To confirm a hip dysplasia diagnosis, your veterinarian will take X-rays. The position required to get proper X-ray views is painful, and we typically sedate dogs for the imaging. 

Q: How can I determine if my large-breed puppy has hip dysplasia?

A: If you have a large-breed puppy, you may want to have them screened for hip dysplasia as early as possible. To detect this condition in puppies, two screening techniques are available:

  • PennHIP — The University of Pennsylvania’s Hip Improvement Program is the most accurate method to diagnose a puppy’s hip dysplasia. The process involves having specific X-ray views taken by a certified PennHIP member, such as Dr. Best, who is one of the few veterinarians in the Billings, Montana, region with this training. Through the use of the PennHIP system, puppies can be certified as having hip dysplasia when they are as young as 16 weeks of age.
  • Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) — This screening method involves taking specific X-ray views when your large-breed puppy is 24 months of age. Several radiologists review your puppy’s X-rays, and assess and grade their hips, which they rate as good or excellent, receiving a registration number. 

Q: How is hip dysplasia treated in dogs?

A: Surgery is typically recommended to treat canine hip dysplasia. Depending on your dog’s age and their hip dsyplasia’s severity, your veterinarian can offer several surgical procedure options: 

  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO) — This technique involves removing the femoral head and allowing the joint to heal with scar tissue to form a “false joint.” FHO is best for dogs weighing less than 50 pounds and for extremely active dogs.
  • Triple pelvic osteotomy — This procedure involves removing the acetabulum, and repositioning the joint for a tighter fit. Triple pelvic osteotomy is only appropriate for dogs who are 8 to 18 months of age who have no arthritic changes.
  • Total hip replacement — Replacing the joint with a prosthetic hip is the best choice for dogs who have established arthritic changes. 
  • Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis — This procedure is performed as a preventive measure on puppies younger than 5 months of age. The surgery prematurely seals the cartilage that connects the right side of the pelvis to the left, causing the developing hip sockets to align more normally.

Q: Can hip dysplasia in dogs be treated without surgery?

A: Some cases—middle-aged or older dogs who lead a sedate lifestyle and don’t have severe hip laxity—can be managed medically, which involves:

  • Weight control — All dogs affected by hip dysplasia should be kept at a lean body weight, and if your dog is overweight, our Billings Animal Family Hospital team will devise a safe weight-loss program to help alleviate their joint strain.
  • Exercise restriction — Daily, controlled exercise is helpful for affected dogs, but they should not run or jump excessively.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapy exercises can help strengthen muscles, improve joint mobility, and reduce pain.
  • Pain control — To help control your dog’s joint inflammation and pain, our team may recommend pain medications.
  • Joint supplements — To help manage your dog’s hip dysplasia, our team may prescribe joint supplements, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Hip dysplasia can significantly affect your dog’s quality of life, but early diagnosis can improve their prognosis. Contact our Billings Animal Family Hospital team to screen your large-breed puppy for hip dysplasia or to treat and manage your dog’s condition.