Hip dysplasia is a condition in which a dog’s hip joint is abnormally structured. The ball at the top of the dog‘s femur is supposed to rotate in the pelvic socket under the control of muscles, of ligaments that join the two, and of the joint capsule, which encircles the joint with connective tissue. Cartilage and viscous lubricant cushion the contact point between the two bones.
The hip joints of dogs with dysplasia suffer from weak ligaments and muscles that cause the ball and socket to lose contact with each other in a process called “subluxation.” Many dogs with dysplasia develop it after birth, and it can appear in either or both hips.
Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia can occur at any age, but most frequently among larger dogs in the second halves of their lives. Dogs will start exhibiting symptoms of pain arising from osteoarthritis caused by the dysplasia. These symptoms include a change in the way they walk or climb stairs, stiffness and pain in the rear legs. Many dogs with dysplasia limp and might eventually need assistance to get around.
Breeds susceptible to hip dysplasia include:
• German Shepherds
• Golden Retrievers
• Great Danes
• Labrador Retrievers
At the other end of the spectrum are Borzois and Greyhounds, which seldom suffer from dysplasia. Purebred animals seem to develop dysplasia in greater percentages than do mixed breeds. The condition can also develop in cats and humans (don’t worry, it’s not contagious!).
Dogs more likely to get dysplasia may have genetic and nutritional risk factors. Offspring of parents with dysplasia are more likely to get the condition, although not necessarily to the same extent and perhaps with different symptoms. Overweight dogs are also more likely to develop dysplasia, and a dog with both risk factors is more likely to contract dysplasia. Dysplasia also seems to occur more frequently in dogs that grow quickly from puppyhood to adolescence and are allowed to eat freely. Dogs require a proper balance of calcium and other minerals in their diets for proper hip joint development. Check with your vet for dietary recommendations. Exercises such as running and swimming are easier on the hip joints than is jumping.
If you notice your dog limping or seeming to be in pain, bring it to the vet for a complete physical exam and X-rays. The doctor may detect looseness in the hip joint and might elicit a pain response by extending and flexing the rear legs.
Dogs meant for breeding may undergo testing for dysplasia even if not showing any symptoms. Two different diagnostic tests may be employed:
1. OFA Method: developed by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, this involves sedating the dog before taking X-rays that are evaluated by a panel of three veterinarians.
2. PennHIP: the Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program is administered by specially certified veterinarians who take X-ray pictures of the hip with the leg placed in carefully posed positions. The X-rays are used to determine a score, called a Distraction Index, that indicates the relative tightness or looseness of the hip joint.
Your vet may recommend surgical treatment for your dog. The type of surgery depends in part on the severity of the problem as well as the dog’s age and size. Common techniques include:
• Total Hip Replacement: probably the best solution for dogs with degenerative joint disease resulting from chronic hip dysplasia. The procedure replaces the diseased joint with an artificial hip. The results are often excellent, but be aware that this is an expensive treatment.
• Triple Pelvic Osteotomy: A treatment for young dogs with loose but undamaged joints. Basically, the surgeon cuts and sets the pelvis with the proper alignment of ball and socket. Results are excellent but costs are high.
• Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis: a less radical procedure in which dogs under 20 weeks of age have their two pelvic bones fused together, improving hip joint angle.
• Femoral Head and Neck Excision: the surgeon removes the head of the femur and the hip joint, replacing it with a fibrous pseudo-joint. This is considered a last-resort when total hip replacement is not feasible. Best on dogs weighing less than 40 pounds, the surgery gives good results but the dog’s range of motion will be compromised.
Because of the high costs of surgery, owners may opt for non-surgical medical management of hip dysplasia. These approaches are essentially preventative and palliative; they will not tighten a loose hip joint.
• Weight Control: A dog maintained at its optimal weigh is somewhat less at risk for hip dysplasia.
• Exercise: Walking, swimming or slow jogging are helpful. Your dog might like to ramble on your treadmill. Keep the Frisbee in the closet.
• Warm, Orthopedic Beds: These can reduce the arthritic pain when your dog settles down for some shuteye.
• Physical Therapy and Massage: Ask your vet for instructions.
• Activity Aids: Items such as ramps are easier on the hips than are stairs and steps.
• Oral Supplements: Glucosamine and chondroitin are useful on humans and pets with osteoarthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation. Several other supplements are available — ask your vet.
• Drugs: Ask your veterinarian about injectable and oral drugs that can help protect cartilage, lubricate the joint or reduce pain.
• Therapeutic Laser: Can reduce pain and inflammation.
The best prevention against hip dysplasia is to know the medical status of the proposed parents before they are mated and to avoid parents that have the condition. You also might choose smaller dogs with less risk of hip dysplasia. Your veterinarian can give you sound information to help you decide on a course of action.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.