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Can Dogs Live with Hip Dysplasia?
If you own a large or giant dog breed, there are two important words you never want to hear your vet say when examining your pet: hip dysplasia. This painful condition is one of the most common skeletal problems that affects our canine companions, and it can have a significant impact on your dog's quality of life.
However, it's not a death sentence and it doesn't mean your dog won't be able to live a full and happy life. Dogs can live for many years with hip dysplasia, but it's up to you as an owner to carefully manage the problem to ensure that your pooch stays as comfortable as possible.
Signs of Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia can cause a significant amount of pain for our furry friends, and watching your much-loved pooch battle the discomfort of this degenerative condition can be quite distressing. One of the first signs many owners notice is decreased activity levels from their pet. Whereas once your dog may have been eager to get up and go at every opportunity, now they prefer to sleep or rest and show much less enthusiasm to go for a run or get active.
More specifically, you may notice that your pet has increasing difficulty jumping or climbing stairs. The hind legs are obviously essential to your dog's ability to perform these everyday tasks, so the reduced range of motion within the joint and the accompanying pain of the condition may show in your pet's movements. Your dog may also have difficulty rising from a lying position - especially first thing in the morning when they're still getting "warmed up".
Another common symptom to keep an eye out for is known as "bunny hopping". This is when an affected dog lifts both their hind legs simultaneously, similar to what a rabbit does when jumping, in an effort to reduce pain. Along with hind limb lameness, pain, or sensitivity around the hips, and a narrow stance, it's a warning sign that shouldn't be ignored.
Science of Hip Dysplasia
The canine hip joint is a ball-and-socket arrangement. In a dog with hip dysplasia, this joint doesn't develop properly and ends up rubbing and grinding instead of sliding smoothly. Though most common in large and giant-breed dogs, it can also affect smaller breeds.
There are many contributing factors that can lead to hip dysplasia, with the headlining factor being genetics. Breeds like the Labrador, German Shepherd, and Great Dane are commonly affected, though responsible breeders can screen for the condition before selecting an animal for breeding.
Excessive growth, a problem that commonly affects larger breeds, places a significant strain on joints that have not yet fully developed can also lead to hip dysplasia. Large and giant breed puppies need to be fed foods that have been specially formulated to meet their nutritional needs and help control the excessive growth that can cause hip dysplasia and a number of other joint disorders. This is why a delayed spay or neuter procedure or an entirely different sterilization tactic is often used for these breeds.
Next, diet and exercise can also play a part. Improper diet and insufficient exercise can lead to obesity, which places additional strain on your pet's joints. At the same time, too much exercise can also put too much pressure on joints, either exacerbating or even causing hip dysplasia.
With this in mind, it's worth speaking to your vet about what you can do to reduce the risk of this nasty condition affecting your pet.
Treating Hip Dysplasia
If your dog is showing any signs or symptoms of hip dysplasia, take them to the vet for a check-up. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and test the flexibility of the joint, and then take some X-rays to determine the exact nature of the problem and its severity.
The good news is that there are several treatment options available, and they range from some simple lifestyle changes right through to surgery. Weight loss and reduced exercise can take the strain off your dog's hips, while physical therapy (for example swimming) can help improve their mobility. A range of anti-inflammatory medications can also be given, and joint fluid modifiers can enhance joint health.
If surgery is recommended and a viable option from a financial point of view, there are several potential courses of action. The most common surgeries are:
- Double or triple pelvic osteotomy, which involves cutting the pelvic bone to improve joint function.
- Femoral head ostectomy, which sees the "ball" of the hip joint cut off and reduces pain.
- Total hip replacement, which uses metal and plastic implants to eliminate most discomfort and return hip function closer to a normal level.
However, the best treatment for your dog could vary depending on their age, breed, the severity of the condition and a range of other factors, so speak to your vet about the options available.
By a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Published: 04/05/2018, edited: 04/06/2020
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