How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Your Dog

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Hip dysplasia in dogs is a common problem, with approximately 15% of the canine population experiencing some kind of displacement disorder with their hip joint. The term ‘hip dysplasia’ is used to describe a situation in which the end of the femur (thigh bone), which is shaped like a ball, does not fit into the acetabulum, or hip socket, the way it is supposed to.

When it works, the hip joint is a great ball and socket design that provides rotation to the hind limb. Unfortunately, many dogs experience misalignment, or degeneration of the structures associated with this joint, causing hip dysplasia. Up to 50% of certain large breeds experience hip dysplasia due to genetic orthopedic anomalies, or deformities in the hip. Other dogs experience it as they age and cartilage begins to deteriorate or due to an injury that has been acquired.

Signs your dog may be experiencing hip dysplasia are limping in the rear limbs, which may appear as a bunny hopping gait, compensating with their front limbs by shifting weight to them, loss of muscle mass in the hind end, stiffness or soreness when rising, reluctance, or inability to jump onto furniture, into vehicles, or use stairs, pain in the hip, and pelvic area, reduced activity, and sometimes an audible clicking sound coming from the hip joint. If the condition is genetic, it may appear in a young dogs affected as young as 1 to 2 years of age or younger. In other dogs, a genetic predisposition, coupled with other factors, may cause hip dysplasia to manifest later in life. In any dog, the condition impacts their quality of life, as movement becomes difficult and painful. A veterinarian will diagnose this condition using x rays, and several surgical and non- surgical treatments are available to help address the condition once it has manifested.

Causes and Prevention of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Genetics and Development

Genetic predisposition due to orthopedic structural anomalies is a factor in the development of hip dysplasia for many dogs. Up to 50% or more of certain breeds exhibit hip dysplasia due to genetic conditions. Those most affected are German shepherds, retrievers, Rottweilers, Old English sheepdogs, St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, and mastiffs. In these breeds, hip dysplasia may appear in puppies, or in very young dogs. Structural anomalies include the socket being shallow so the ball of the femur is not well placed within and/or looseness of fit allowing damaging movement and rotations in the hip, resulting in degeneration of the joint to progress rapidly.

In young dogs, avoid feeding a high calorie, high fat, protein diet that leads to rapid bone growth and can cause genetic predispositions of hip dysplasia to manifest. Puppies should be given adequate food to promote slow, steady growth, not rapid growth that can lead to bone and joint problems. Also, excessive exercise and jumping that puts strain on the joints should be avoided in very young dogs. If hip dysplasia manifests in a very young dog, corrective surgery to provide alignment and stability of the hip joint can be undertaken to correct hip dysplasia. In dogs that do not exhibit hip dysplasia at an early age, but are identified as being prone to the disorder, steps to minimize stress on the hip joints can be taken. The best way to avoid inherited hip dysplasia, is to select a puppy or dog from a reputable breeder who has a population of dogs that have been screened for hip dysplasia. It is worthwhile to check records and references prior to selecting a dog from a high risk breed, to avoid hip dysplasia. Dogs that inherit hip dysplasia should be spayed or neutered to remove them from breeding programs and prevent future generations from inheriting the condition.

Diet and Exercise

Genetic anomalies, injuries of the hip, or degenerative conditions such as arthritis in the hip may be exacerbated by lack or activity, poor diet and weight gain. Also, it is very important for any dog, and especially for high risk breeds, to ensure your dog does not become overweight or obese. Ensuring that a high quality diet is provided, in the appropriate amounts, and making sure your dog gets plenty of injury-free, appropriate exercise to control weight, increase muscle tone and strengthen structures associated with the joints such as ligaments and tendons is recommended. You can also provide supplements that promote joint health to decrease the effects of structural anomalies in the hip joint.


Arthritis and Joint Degeneration

Osteoarthritis or degeneration of the cartilage in the hip joint can lead to misalignment, inflammation, and dysfunction of the hip joint. When cartilage deteriorates and bony formations appear, the position of the femur ball in the hip socket can be altered causing hip dysplasia. In addition, calcium deposits at the socket, or ball of the femur, or near the joint capsules can occur, causing displacement. Ensuring a diet with adequate and appropriate nutrients, vitamins, and minerals will help minimize degenerative conditions. You can also provide supplements, such as glucosamine, that promote joint health to counteract degenerative conditions. Providing soft bedding, and avoid exposing your dog to extreme humidity or temperature changes, especially cold damp conditions, or drafts to decrease degenerative conditions that contribute to hip dysplasia.

Injury

Injury to the hip joint can result in hip dysplasia. Damage to ligaments, tendons, and muscles, that support the hip joint itself, or the position and angle of the femur, can cause the femur to become misaligned or result in degeneration of the hip joint structures from increased strain due to lack of support from associated structures. Ensuring your dog's chance of injury is minimized will help minimize their chance of experiencing hip dysplasia. Rugs and mats provide better traction than hard floor surfaces to prevent your dog from slipping and injuring their pelvis, and hip. Avoid letting your dog jump, this includes jumping on and off high furniture, or during play. Many dogs, especially large dogs, like to play frisbee or catch balls in mid air. The impact when they land can be hard on their joints and result in injuries of the hip. Always keep your dog contained when outdoors, on a leash or in a fenced in area, to avoid motor vehicle accidents, fights with other animals, and falls. Even the most well-behaved dog can be distracted by a squirrel or bird and run into a dangerous situation if not controlled. Injuries that occur to the hip or femur from such accidents can result in misalignment of the femur in the hip socket and cause hip dysplasia.

Surgical intervention to repair and/or realign the femur in the hip socket is available for dogs experiencing hip dysplasia due to genetic anomalies, injury, or arthritis.

Importance of Preventing Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a painful and debilitating condition that can result in the inability of your dog to adequately use his hind limbs and cause pain and discomfort for your dog. Although distressing at any age, it is especially heartbreaking when it occurs in a puppy or young dog. Spending time researching the dog and the breeder you intend on purchasing your dog from to ensure they are not dysplastic will result in much saved time, money and heartbreak in the long run. The most important step a pet owner can take to minimize hip disorder in their dog is to ensure they are a healthy weight. Avoid having an overweight or obese dog by providing healthy, species-appropriate food in recommended amounts, and appropriate low-strain exercise to avoid hip dysplasia and many other diseases and disorders. Exercising your dog is good for you too!

Practical Precautions

Hip dysplasia is a common condition in dogs usually caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Certain breeds that are prone to this disorder will require steps to ensure that excess strain, injury, or degeneration to the hip joints does not occur. Avoid allowing your dog to become overweight, malnourished, under exercised, or injured to minimize the chances that the hip joint will experience misalignment in order to minimize the risk of hip dysplasia,  whether genetic anomalies exist or not. A high quality diet and joint health supplements may be beneficial to preventing hip dysplasia. Dogs that experience this condition can be treated with surgical intervention to repair or correct joint misalignment. Dogs with the condition should be removed from a breeding program to prevent future incidence of hip dysplasia.