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The nightmare of Hip Dysplasia in dogs

I had a 16 year old German Shepherd, Boris, who suffered with Hip Dysplasia. Boris was diagnosed at 4 years old when I got him. He was a stud in a puppy farm before I homed him, so he was locked in a crate for the first 4 years of his life, this meant, no fun, and no steps or over activity as a puppy and not early castration. When I got him he was skeletal with severe muscle wastage, and very likely never been out, which did mean that he did not suffer from his hip dysplasia until he got older. On his first vet check, the vet told me “Never, ever let this dog get over weight! Have 5kg weight range that he never gets out of!” Boris’ perfect weight was 45KG. So for the rest of his life, Boris never got above 45KG or below 40KG!

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What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a degenerative condition affecting the hip joints that is quite common in dogs. Large dog breeds in particular are susceptible to hip dysplasia. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint in which the rounded portion of the femoral (thighbone) head inserts into a socket in the pelvic bone. When this joint functions normally, it allows a wide range of motion, as well as provides maximum body support. When hip dysplasia occurs, the femur fits loosely because of loose ligaments, poor muscle condition, or a malformed ball or socket. More than one factor may contribute to the condition, which can range from minor looseness to hip dislocation. One or both hips may be affected during the dogs development. The abnormal joint erosion causes pain and arthritis in the affected hips. While dogs as young as four months may begin to have symptoms, the condition might not manifest itself until middle age or later.

Hip dysplasia is a complex disease. It was first described in the 1930s and was thought to be a rare, uncommon disease. The disease process begins early in life, and as it progresses, causes a deformation of the hip joint as well as the development of arthritis. Abnormal hip looseness is the initiating factor that results in hip dysplasia. Today, it is a common disease, not helped by breeders breeding from dogs with a history of hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia can be seen in almost all breeds of dogs, although it occurs most commonly in the large and giant-breeds. It is the most common inherited joint disease of large dogs and the most important cause of arthritis in the hip.


Breeds of dogs with a high incidence of hip dysplasia include

· Saint Bernard’s

· Labrador Retrievers

· German Shepherds

· Akitas

· Golden Retrievers

· Old English Sheepdogs

· Mastiffs

· Rottwilers

· Bulldogs – mainly large and giant breeds

Some small breeds are also affected, especially

· French Bull Dogs

· Pugs

Hip dysplasia is not caused by one single gene. It is a polygenitic, complex disease, caused by several genes. The expression of the disease, or how it affects individual animals, depends upon several factors. Altering the environment in which the puppy is raised can contribute to the severity of symptoms. Factors such as excessive growth rate, types of exercise, improper weight, and unbalanced nutrition can magnify this genetic predisposition.

Experiments have shown that low protein diets may reduce the symptoms of hip dysplasia. In these dogs, even though symptoms may not be as severe, they still have dysplastic hips and carry the genes that contribute to the disease. Another factor that influences the symptoms of hip dysplasia is pain tolerance level. Like humans, individual dogs have different pain tolerance levels. Some dogs with mild hip dysplasia have painful hips and are severely crippled. Other dogs with similar radiographic features do not have painful hips and do not exhibit the same degree of lameness.

I am getting a puppy

Because it’s usually genetic, the only way to really prevent hip dysplasia is to never breed dogs that have the condition, so ensure you do your research on the breeders.

Breeds that are prone to it can be hip scored to help avoid producing affected puppies.

If you have a breed of dog that’s prone to hip dysplasia there are a few things you can do to help them avoid the condition.

Prevention is better than cure

There are many factors into a dog getting hip dysplasia and how badly it manifests itself. Ensure you do all you can to avoid the onset of hip dysplasia, and then if it does happen, you know you have done all you can to keep its effects as small as possible.

Excessive growth rate can magnify this genetic predisposition. There are special puppy foods that are formulated for large breed or certain breeds of puppies. These foods help prevent excessive growth which can initiate skeletal disorders like hip dysplasia and other joint conditions. Slowing down their growth helps them to develop and strengthen without putting too much strain on them and prevents other problems as they get older. Obesity must also be avoided as this puts a lot of pressure on dogs joints which can exasperate or even cause hip dysplasia. Many large breed foods also have joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. You can also purchase supplements with these ingredients.

Another contributing factor can be too much, too little and the wrong type of exercise. Puppies playing in the park, off lead, rolling around, having fun is very unlikely to cause any issues, but going for lead walks on hard surfaces is highly likely to increase the risk of hip dysplasia. The pounding of the roads in the repetitive movement is the contributing factor in this and going up and down hills does not help. Studies have found that large breed puppies under 18 months that frequently climb stairs are much more likely to suffer from hip dysplasia. Get your training going, practice the recall and off lead walking and go for nice, off lead walks on flat grass instead. While out walking and playing with a ball, ensure you keep it limited and do not throw a ball for a healthy dog until they are at unlimited exercise age as the fast stops and turns contribute to joint issues.

Dogs that have restricted walks often get extra exited when they go out on walks, so keep walks regular and slow (not running) to keep their muscle mass up and prevent the damage done by over excitement. Off lead walks are better if possible, do lots of find it games and training to walk nicely off the lead to avoid the strain that pulling on a lead and having to adjust their pace to suit you, which might not suit them, that lead walking causes.

· Avoid high impact exercise for the first 18 months of life (for example agility training)

· No excessive lead walking from puppyhood: one minutes per week of age twice daily for first six months for smaller breeds, 12 months for large breeds and 18 months for giant breeds

· Avoid walking on roads or uneven surfaces wherever possible

· Keep to grass and soft, flat surfaces

· Absolutely No stairs

· Never use a ball thrower

· Swimming for exercise, one minute is equivalent to 4 minutes of running with no pressure on the joints

· Delaying or neutering for large and giant breeds is important for joint support and muscle

· No enough exercise, the muscles need to develop well to support the joints.

· If you have slippy floors, put down some none slip rugs so they are not putting pressure on their joints while walking

· Keep a low protein diet. Get foods specifically for large breed puppies.

· Ensure your puppy is not overweight

· Ensure you do enough suitable walks


· Decreased activity

· Hind Leg Lameness

· Lack of Movement

· Difficulty or reluctance rising, jumping, running, or climbing stairs

· Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait or running with both back legs together

· Grating in the joint during movement due to bones rubbing together

· Loss of thigh muscle mass in the back end

· Noticeable enlargement of the shoulder muscles as they compensate for the back end

· Reluctance to sit

· Pain

· Stiffness or limping

· Reactive when you are near their sore joints

Diagnosing hip dysplasia

Your vet will first spot hip dysplasia based on your dog’s gait and signs of pain.

X-rays can then be used to confirm the diagnosis and to see if just one or both hips are affected, and how badly.

When the worst has happened

There are many supplements that can really help with Hip Dysplasia, talk to your doctor. If you have a dog that seems slightly lame, get them to the vets and start herbal supplements immediately. Boris had Yumove for years, later adding Tumeric, Ester C, CBD and when this would not cut it, he had vet prescribed medication.

· Avoid hard roads, rocky surfaces and hills.

· Ensure there are grippy flooring throughout your house

· Avoid steps

· Do not throw balls to chase.

· Learn lots of scent games

· Your vet may give you anti inflammatory

· Ensure your dog is not even slightly overweight.

· Do not let them get muscle wastage

· Physiotherapy

· Hydrotherapy

· Acupuncture


Surgery is not cheap, but 12 years of pain medication isn’t either and could exceed this one off cost.

Dogs with severe hip dysplasia that do not have surgery will have greatly shortened lives.

Does pet insurance cover hip dysplasia

As long as you took out your dog insurance before your dog showed any signs of hip dysplasia, most dog insurance policies should cover both the pain relief and surgical options. The main issue is that many policies simply won’t have a high enough vet fee limit to cover the cost of surgery for both hips.

Most insurers will treat hip dysplasia as a bilateral condition. That means that once one hip has been diagnosed, the second hip will be classed as the same condition, even if it was healthy when the first hip was diagnosed.

That could be a problem if you have a time-limited or per-condition policy, as you may have exceeded either the time limit or the condition limit on the first hip, leaving nothing for the second one.

It also means that if you had the first hip treated before you took out pet insurance, the other hip would be classed as a pre existing condition if it developed dysplasia after you took out cover and probably wouldn’t be covered, so do check into this.

Long term

Dogs with hip dysplasia can live comfortably, for the whole life expectancy but will need ongoing support and extra care. Even if they have had surgery, do continue to give them a herbal supplement with glucosamine and chondroitin in to support all their joints as arthritis is very likely in all old dogs.

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