Canine Hip Dysplasia

Joint Problems in Dogs

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is relatively common in dogs. It mainly affects larger dogs both purebreds and those of mixed breeding. However any dogs weighing 30 pounds and over may be at risk. There are a number of diseases which are genetically linked through the bloodlines of different breeds and canine hip dysplasia is one of these.

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint is improperly formed and is loose in the socket. Normally the 'ball' rotates perfectly in the socket but with CHD, the ball falls out of alignment. Whenever the dog moves, the impact is felt in the joint. Continual trauma in this way causes the surrounding tissue to break down. The muscles of the hind leg/s atrophy and eventually the joint becomes arthritic.

Ball and Socket JointCredit: Wikimedia

Although it is a genetic disease, passed on from father and/or mother to offspring, it can also occur in dogs where there is no family history of the complaint.

If buying a puppy, you should always check that the parents are free from hip dysplasia. Reputable breeders will already have had their breeding stock (and any pups to be sold) checked for CHD. Breeding dogs are often given hip dysplasia scores. It is preferable that the parents and grandparents of a pup are free of the defective genes.

Large dogs with a solid body type are more prone to CHD. For some of the larger dog breeds, it is the most common inherited joint problem. The Rottweiler, Neapolitan Mastiff, German Shepherd, Labrador, Retrievers, Akita and St Bernard are all pre-disposed to this painful and debilitating condition. However dogs with a more stream-lined body type such as the Greyhound and Borzoi are seldom struck down. Exceptions are the Standard Poodle and the Giant Schnauzer.

As stated, some breeds are known for carrying a gene for canine hip dysplasia but testing for the disease and not breeding from those with the condition will hopefully result in the ailment gradually disappearing from the bloodlines.

In dogs that have a family history of CHD, the disease can manifest as early as five months of age. Sometimes the symptoms can be so mild that there is no evidence of the disease until the dog is middle-aged or approaching old age.

Muscle AtrophyCredit: Wikimedia

Those dogs that are not genetically disposed to hip dysplasia but which still fall victim to the disease are usually over-weight. Being obese increases the degeneration of the joints, particularly the hips. Obese dogs that are also genetically prone to CHD are at very high risk. Arthritis and osteoarthritis follow when a dog has CHD.

Symptoms which may suggest CHD include:

  • Any sign of soreness in the hindquarters, especially if continual or frequent
  • Lack of co-ordination in the hind legs
  • Out-of-character inability or reluctance to jump up on his hind-legs
  • Slowness or inability to climb stairs
  • Inability to jump into a car or onto a chair
  • Reluctance to go for walks
  • Pain during exercise or when moving
  • Altered gait such as running with a hopping action of the hind-legs
  • Stiffness early in the morning or after exercise
  • Reluctance or inability to fully extend the hind limbs.

There is no cure for hip dysplasia although there are treatments that will help. Prevention is best although if your dog has inherited the disease it will only be a matter of time before he starts displaying symptoms. Good nutrition will help. Feed a well-balanced diet and keep your dog healthy without allowing him to become over-weight. Extra pounds causes stress on joints. Exercise your dog. This will give him mental stimulation as well as helping him stay flexible and toned. If possible, restrict going up and down stairs as this places stress on the dog's hips. Jumping also impacts on the hip joints.

Over-feeding and an unbalanced diet are the main environmental causes of CHD. An all-meat diet has been cited as the most common cause of hip and joint problems in general. Under 12 weeks, puppies should be fed three times a day. They should be fed a balanced diet. This can be in the form of meat and vegetables supplemented with pasta and/or rice or a mix of canned and dry foods. Once over 12 weeks of age, feed twice a day. Don't feed at other times.

Young puppies should not be over-exercised, particularly puppies of large breeds. They need to grow and develop without putting undue stress on young limbs.

A definite diagnosis of CHD can only be given by X-raying the hips and testing under anaesthetic. A hip score can be assigned from these tests. However it cannot be certain that dogs are free of hip dysplasia until they are two years of age or more.

By controlling exercise and diet, the progression of the disease can be slowed. Injections can reduce damage to the joint but it is not possible to completely halt the damage. Pain can be managed in the early stages quite well but once arthritic changes start to occur in the joint, it becomes well nigh impossible to control the pain.

Canine hip dysplasia surgery is not often recommended. It is possible for the dog to undergo surgery which will increase support to the ball part of the joint. However this is major surgery and is costly.

Removing the ball part of the joint can be helpful for medium to large dogs. The hip muscles then have to support the leg which precludes this method as an option for larger, heavier dogs.

Total hip replacement is possible but the cost is usually prohibitive. Just as in humans, it has a good success rate.

As stated, some breeds are known for carrying a gene for canine hip dysplasia but testing for the disease and not breeding from those with the condition will hopefully result in the ailment gradually disappearing from the bloodlines. If you are thinking of purchasing a pup, you would do well to save yourself a lot of heartbreak by doing your utmost to ensure he is free of canine hip dysplasia.