Hip Dysplasia in dogs – the symptoms and treatment

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Hip Dysplasia is one of the most common skeletal diseases seen in dogs and often begins and when a dog is still young and not yet fully physically developed.

It is a common malformation of the hip joint in dogs where the ‘ball’ at the top of the femur (the long bone above dog’s knee) doesn’t sit snuggly within the ‘socket’ of the hip. This results in excessive movement, wear and tear of the cushioning cartilage and painful degeneration of the joint.

Hip Dysplasia is generally an inherited condition and most commonly affects large and giant dog breeds. Genetics plays a role, whilst environmental factors also have an impact including, but not limited to, rapid weight gain or obesity, poor nutrition and other muscle /joint issues.

It is often first noticed with the onset of stiffness and reluctance of the puppy to exercise or ‘sit’ around four to six months of age but in some instances, Hip Dysplasia may not present itself until much later in life.

Later onset is often the result of osteoarthritis, where the joint has deteriorated and is inflamed. Excessive weight can further aggravate this condition.


Symptoms can vary depending on the looseness of the joint, the degree of inflammation and the time that has condition has been present.

There are many symptoms that are common to other medical and joint or ligament issues, so it can be difficult for an owner to immediately recognise that their dog may have hip dysplasia.

This is why it is important to immediately see your vet if you notice your dog or puppy having difficulty getting up, running, jumping or climbing stairs.

You might see them become less active or even have a reluctance to exercise, they might bunny hop or have a swaying gait when they walk, or you may generally notice decreased flexibility or pain in their hips when patting them, and even muscle loss.

Diagnosis for Hip Dysplasia

Your vet will ask for as much history as possible to ascertain when the symptoms began, as well as any accidents that may have contributed to the symptoms.

They will perform a complete physical examination on your dog and may recommend X-rays under general anaesthetic if they suspect hip dysplasia.

It is also worthwhile knowing as much information about your dog’s family tree to help identify any genetic link.

Treatment for Hip Dysplasia

If your dog is found to be suffering from hip dysplasia, your vet or specialist will talk to you about whether surgery is required depending on your individual dog’s size, age and severity of osteoarthritis.

There are several surgical options focused on correcting the malformation in the ball and socket joint. In older dogs, where the osteoarthritis is severe, a total hip replacement may be recommended to allow return of function.

Maintaining a healthy weight in your dog is important to help alleviate pain and symptoms, whilst anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medications may also be prescribed along with ongoing monitoring of your dog’s condition.

Physiotherapy in the form of water treadmill sessions, swimming and regulated exercises, as well as joint support supplements can also help to provide a holistic treatment plan that sees you pooch return to optimal function as quickly as possible.

As with any health issue in dogs, early detection and treatment plays a vital role in reducing the long term severity of the disease, so do raise your concerns with your vet as early as possible.

Taking out pet insurance when you get a puppy may also help cover you for medical conditions and associated treatment such as Hip Displaysia.


Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service.

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