What is Hip Dysplasia in dogs?

  • By: Mick Whitefield
  • Time to read: 8 min.

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a painful condition caused by the abnormal development growth of one or both hip joints while a puppy is still growing, the Ball and Socket of the hip joint fail to grow at the same rate or they grow to an incorrect shape, causing instability of the hip when moving. The head of the femur (the ball at the top) grows to a different size to the acetabulum (the Socket Joint in the Hip) and thus the joint is not stable and is not smooth in its operation (it knocks or it grinds). It is a genetically inherited condition that can be affected by other factors such as the puppy being overweight. It is more common in larger dog breeds, although still prevalent in some particular small breeds.

The joint should move smoothly without grinding or being loose enough to move sideways. When it doesn’t move correctly it creates pain and the dog limps or refuses to use the leg. If left untreated it can cause lameness, lead to malformation of the leg muscle and eventually cause arthritis.

Hip Dysplasia Small Cartoon

As an example; If you take one of your hands and form it into a cup shape and then take the other hand and ball it into a fist, then place the fist inside the cupped hand and move the fist around, you will feel that the action is not entirely smooth, you can feel the knuckles rubbing against your fingers and palm and this closely resembles the action of a hip in the early stages of dysplasia when it is moving.

CHD or Canine Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

The hip joint is made up of a ball (thighbone or head of the femur) and socket joint (acetabulum). As the dog grows up, both the ball and the socket must also grow at equal rates. Hip dysplasia in dogs is an inherited condition that comes from an incorrectly formed hip joint. Consequently, because the hip joint is loose, a dog’s leg bone will tend to move around too much. That causes painful wear and tear.

Hip Dysplasia

The onset of clinical hip dysplasia symptoms varies, first signs that most owners notice usually show at about 5 months of age and it’s commonly diagnosed by veterinarians between 6 to 12 months of age.

Although this is considered to be a problem for puppies it may not be noticed and so in mild cases you may not be aware that there has been a problem until your dog has aged several years.

The signs also vary a great deal, and they include stiffness of the leg, problems climbing stairs, exercise intolerance, gait abnormalities, difficulty lying down or getting up, limping on one back leg or both refusing to walk. 

In general this condition affects medium to large dog breeds in particular fast growing dogs that have been over exercised when too young or adversely those puppies who have been over fed and have put on too much weight. An estimate puts the affliction rate at 20 to 40% but not all of these are serious.

For a list of breeds at risk see below

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

A genetic disease, Hip dysplasia, is affected by several factors such as growth rate, diet, exercise, environment, hormones, and muscle mass. Because this condition is most commonly found in large breeds (generally over 22 kg or 50 lbs as adults.), their puppies should not be encouraged or overfed to grow “big” but kept at a lean, normal weight during growth.

Although primarily a genetic condition, other factors like obesity during early puppyhood may influence whether a dog with the genes coding for hip dysplasia is likely to develop a clinical problem. Currently, it is estimated that there are over one hundred hip dysplasia gene codes. 

Puppies with a genetic predisposition for the condition are more exposed to developing Hip dysplasia if they get more food than needed. Overfeeding leads to faster weight gain and growth than normal. 

Injuries to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the hip joint might cause degeneration and misalignment of the hip joint’s ball and socket. Such injuries damage the hip joint’s support structures, as such sensible exercising and not over energetic exercising for your puppy is recommended.

Because genetics play such a significant role in developing hip dysplasia, dogs easily pass the disease to their offspring, and large breeds are particularly more prone. Therefore, screening for this genetic identity, before breeding is recommended.

  • Most dogs inherit hip dysplasia from one of their parents and symptoms usually start while they are growing.
  • Hip dysplasia most commonly affects medium – large breed pedigree dogs.
  • Treating hip dysplasia involves careful exercise, weight control and pain relief. Severely affected dogs may also require surgery.
  • Schemes are in place to check for hip dysplasia before mating two dogs. This reduces the number of puppies born with this painful condition.

Hip Dysplasia Symptoms

Hip dysplasia is the most common orthopedic disorder in dogs. Although it mostly affects large and rapidly growing dogs, small dog breeds can also be affected. And because your four-legged family member cannot express what they are going through, it’s your job as the pet owner to look for and detect the signs that they are not comfortable. 

Often, affected dogs will have more difficulty when climbing upstairs as opposed to going down. This is because the weight distribution is more on the back legs as the dog ascends creating pressure to the muscles and the hip joints. Depending on the Hip dysplasia severity, some of the common symptoms to look for in dogs include:

  • Stiffness and limping in one or both back legs
  • Difficulty with rising up from laying down
  • Difficulty walking up stairs
  • An Apathy toward playing or exercise
  • A Decreased level of physical activity
  • Bunny hopping, swaying, and/or other abnormal gaits when walking
  • Popping or cracking sounds emanating from the joints
  • Less toned thigh muscles (muscles wasting)
  • Evidence of pain, swollen or sensitive hips/joints.
  • Hip dysplasia is a painful condition that causes one or both hip joints to develop abnormally while a puppy is growing.
  • Hip dysplasia causes pain, swelling to the joint area and eventually arthritis.

If any of the above symptoms are noticed in a puppy, contact your vet for a more thorough diagnosis.

Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia 

At your pet’s regular check-up, the vet will usually perform a physical exam. This is sometimes enough for your veterinarian to diagnose or suspect hip dysplasia. It may also rest upon you to let the vet know when your dog is experiencing pain or discomfort.

Vet Examining Dog

Among the initial tests done by your veterinarian is the manipulation of your dog’s hind legs to test the joints movement. He will check for a reduced range of limb motion, a looseness of the joint, grinding of bones/cartilage, or possibly pain shown by the dog. The exam might also include a blood count to rule out joint disease inflammation. 

If available the vet may also require a history of your pet’s health, any possible injuries or incidents that might have contributed to any hip dysplasia symptoms. You may be asked about your dog’s parentage.

Hip Xrays Displasia And Healthy

However, the definitive diagnosis for hip dysplasia usually comes with an X-ray or radiograph. The vet takes radiographs of the dog’s hips to determine the condition’s severity or degree, this is vital in determining the best method of treatment.

Your vet may refer your dog to an orthopaedic specialist in case additional investigations are required.

Treatment for Hip Dysplasia

Though Hip dysplasia can be present from a tender age, many pets won’t show any clinical symptoms until they are older. Early screening for the condition can give you a better chance of treating and managing the deformed hip joint before it causes major problems for your dog. 

All dogs with the condition develop secondary osteoarthritis around the affected joint. Also, the vast majority of affected dogs tend to have dysplasia of both hips. Clinically affected dogs will often show visible signs of pain when the vet extends their hips.

There are several options available for the treatment of hip dysplasia. However, the best treatment approach will depend on the dog’s condition, lifestyle, and age. Your vet may recommend surgery if your dog is young with an active life ahead because it provides the best and most long-term comfort.

If this is the case there are two surgical options commonly used for hip dysplasia in dogs they are femoral head ostectomy and total hip replacement. In osteotomy, the neck and head of the femur are surgically removed and replaced.

Hip Dysplasia Replacement

For older dogs or others for whom the surgical option isn’t an option, medical management at home may be the best option. It helps relieve and manage the pain effectively.

The most commonly used pain medications are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs. However, it’s important to note that NSAIDs must be monitored closely as they can have significant side effects. 

Supplements like chondroitin and glucosamine can help prevent cartilage breakdown in the hip joint, thus easing pain. Other potential hip dysplasia treatments include physical therapy, cold laser therapy, and acupuncture. Your veterinarian can advise on the best options for your dog. 

Very occasionally a mobility brace could make all the difference for a dog suffering from this condition. Your vet can help you choose the best mobility brace for your dog.

Hip Displacia Mobility Brace

All hip braces for dogs essentially work in the same manner; they help support your dog’s hindquarters (joints and muscles of your dog’s), making it easier for them to move.


Regular physical exams at home are an important aspect of determining if a dog has hip dysplasia. However, further tests may be necessary to determine the severity of dysplasia in a dog. Early testing for hip dysplasia is critical, especially for the at-risk dog breeds. Early radiography tests help in ruling out or confirming early symptoms of hip dysplasia.

Lifestyle changes and treatment options can help your dog well into old age comfortably. The vet can help you in identifying suitable medication for your dog, such as anti-inflammatories, to help in reducing the pain

If you suspect that your dog could be affected, consult a veterinarian. Although Hip dysplasia cannot be 100% cured, there is a broad spectrum of medical and management options that may be suitable for your dog. Affected dogs will often lead full, long lives, especially with timely treatment. 

Common Breeds At-Risk for Hip Dysplasia

In no particular order

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers
  • Great Danes
  • Saint Bernards
  • Neopolitan Mastiffs
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Otterhounds
  • Boxers
  • Bloodhounds
  • Newfoundland’s
  • Catahoula Hounds
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Norwegian Elkhounds
  • Chows
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Pugs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Basset Hounds
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