Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

On Dasher and Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen…..I have no idea if Santa’s reindeer develop hip dysplasia, but it’s certainly a problem for dogs of many breeds. The word “dysplasia” simply means abnormal growth or development. So hip dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket joint of the hip doesn’t form correctly. Hip dysplasia is considered hereditary. A common form of dysplasia occurs when the socket is flat. Instead of cupping the ball of the head of the femur (long thigh bone), the flattened socket (acetabulum) allows the femoral head to wobble. This instability makes it hard for the dog to walk properly. Over time all this sliding around wears down the joint lining. Irritated and inflamed, this is the beginning of osteoarthritis. Most people just call it arthritis. Severe cases can cripple a dog before it reaches its first birthday.


It is only one bone disorder recognized among developmental growth disorders of the dog. The most important factors YOU can control to prevent developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) is how fast and how heavy your puppy grows and the amount of calcium fed in his or her diet.


“Google” was a young German Shephard. Black and tan, he was the biggest boy in his litter and outgoing from day 1. His personality had driven him to fight for the most milk (the last two teats produce the most milk in a dog) and as he outgrew his mates he could ensure he received ample food.  During Googles’ visits for puppy vaccinations we monitored his growth, cautioning the owners to feed the Large Breed Puppy food. This food has fewer calories and a modified calcium ratio to promote gradual growth in very large breed dogs like Shepherds, Mastiffs, Labradors and Golden Retrievers. Gradual growth helps build muscle strength without overwhelming tiny bones trying to support fat bellies! “Butterball” pups are cute but may be more prone to orthopedic disasters.


Google came from a conscientious breeder who had the parent dogs undergo special hip x-rays and certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). By screening x-rays at 2 years of age, the hips are rated from excellent to good or fair – or dysplastic. By only breeding dogs certified free of dysplasia the odds are greatly increased, though not guaranteed, that your puppy will be free of this disease. Another certification process used in the United States  is the PennHIP x-ray and evaluation. All dog breeds must wait until 2 years of age to undergo testing for OFA hip certification as that is when they have stopped growth and their hip joints are fully formed.


Google grew up to become a lovely dog. He benefitted from his owner’s experience with their older shepherd, “Blixen”. Blixen was pure black and had also been extremely big as a puppy. Before he turned two years old he weighed 100 pounds and his owner noted that he “bunny hopped” when he ran and was sometimes slow to get up. X rays were taken and a diagnosis of hip dysplasia made.


There are several surgical options to correct the malformed ball and socket joint found in hip dysplasia. Surgical remedy is offered depending upon the age and actual malformation of the individual dog.


For those who cannot pursue surgery for their dogs there are also many medical options available. None may be more important than simply keeping your dog as fit as possible. Keep him lean! There is NO PILL that will do as much for your dog as keeping him or her not-fat. Every extra pound places extra pressure on the joints that must carry it! Regular exercise will keep those muscles toned! Arthritis creates a vicious cycle: It hurts, so you stop walking your dog and he loses muscle mass. Strong muscle tone helps support joints and carry weight. Walking and swimming are two of the best activities to keep a dog of any age fit.


Medication therapy for hip dysplasia may include joint supplements, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory medications and/or straight pain medications (analgesics). There are many combinations of therapy available to help the dysplastic dog remain comfortable and mobile for many years. Happily, Blixen benefitted from a regime of diet and medication and together he and Google ruled the house for years.


Christine B. McFadden, DVM


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