Canine Hip Dysplasia

Canine Hip Dysplasia

The growing popularity of larger breeds of dogs has brought with it a threat of a crippling disease of the hip joints known as hip dysplasia. 

This disease was first described in the United States back in the 1930s.  Research has produced abundant information on hip dysplasia, but many questions still remain unanswered. It is one of the most popular topics discussed among owners, breeders, and veterinarians.

Hip dysplasia is uncommon in small dogs (toys and miniatures), as well as Greyhounds, but it has been found in almost every breed. The disease is an improper development of the hip joint (properly called the coxofemoral joint) which leads to looseness of the joint, partial dislocation (subluxation), and finally, arthritis.

Basically, the hip is a ball-and-socket type of joint. If the socket is too shallow, or the ball to flattened, the result is an unstable joint which tends to come out of place.

The most commonly affected breeds are: German Shepherd, St. Bernard, Labrador Retriever, Boxer, Springer Spaniel, Great Dane, and the Bull Mastiff. This is by no means a complete or accurate list, since incidence depends a lot on breed popularity.

That is to say, it is possible that the Komondor or Great Pyrenees breeds have a high incidence of dysplasia, but, when the average veterinary clinic sees one of either breed every two to three years, how can an accurate breed incidence be determined?

Dysplasia is the most common disorder of the hips that a veterinarian will encounter in practice. Because it is considered to involve several genes, more work is necessary to establish the exact means of inheritance. Other factors, such as rapid growth, management, nutrition, hormones, and anatomic variations have been put forth as construing causes, but thus far selective breeding has given the best results in controlling hip dysplasia.

Clinical Signs Of Hip Dysplasia

The clinical signs range from a normal dog to one that cannot walk more than a few steps without collapsing.  The usual course is that of lameness following strenuous exercise or difficulty arising after prolonged rest.

The gait is often diagnostic and is characterized by waddling, slinking, or “cow hocks” (toes pointed out, hocks pointed toward each other). Any larger breed of dog with a history of hind leg lameness should have hip dysplasia eliminated as the cause before extensive investigation of other diseases is undertaken.

A radiograph of the pelvis is necessary for accurate diagnosis of the disease. This is best performed under anesthesia to ensure proper positioning of the dog. Unless the animal is motionless and symmetrically placed on the x-ray table, a good evaluation of the hip joints cannot be made, especially in mild cases.

Treatment & Prevention

One of the most difficult tasks facing a veterinarian is how to manage hip dysplasia. There are several modes of therapy available, but only the most commonly accepted techniques will be discussed.

  1. Maintenance: This is non-surgical management and consists of rest and restricted exercise, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Its best use is in mild cases or in dogs who are poor surgical risks.
  2. Hip Joint Reconstruction: This is extensive bone surgery with the ultimate goal of returning the hip joint to a normal anatomical relation. It is quite difficult to perform and often must be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.  Surgery to correct hip dysplasia works best in young dogs before arthritis of the joint has become a problem. The techniques include pelvic osteotomy, acetabuloplasty, and varus osteotomy.
  3. Joint Replacement: Older animals may benefit from surgery in this classification. The “ball” part of the joint is either replaced with a synthetic ball or removed entirely. Synthetic replacement has not been very successful to date. Removal of the femoral head eliminates its bone contact with the pelvis and, eliminates the pain.


Any disease with a hereditary component can be at least partially controlled by selective breeding and studies thus far have been very rewarding. A nonprofit organization, the Orthopedic Foundation For Animals (O.F.A.), has been engaged in the study of orthopedic diseases since 1966.

Their program for the control of dysplasia is centered on x-ray evaluation of the hips. Three independent veterinary radiologists interpret every film sent to the foundation. If the joints appear normal, an O.F.A. Certification number is given. If any degree of dysplasia is found, the owner and his veterinarian are notified.  Dogs showing any degree of dysplasia should not be used for breeding.

Large-breed owners should insist on a radiographic evaluation of the hip joints of any dogs to be used for breeding, whether male or female. Anyone who has suffered with a growing pup afflicted with this crippling disease can appreciate the importance of this type of control program. It should be noted that the O.F.A. certified parents may produce dysplastic offspring, but the incidence is greatly reduced.

Since the treatment of hip dysplasia is far from satisfactory in many cases, restrictive breeding remains as our best weapon for exterminating this disease.

The information shared on this site is for information only. It does not take the place of professional advice from your pet’s healthcare provider.

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