If you own a large breed dog, you've probably heard about an ailment called hip dysplasia. This genetic (inherited) disease is a progressive degenerative condition of the hip joint. It mainly affects large breed dogs and usually starts to appear in puppies between 4 and 12 months old.
When a dog has hip dysplasia, the hip joints develop abnormally. The head of the femur (thigh bone) does not fit properly into the hip socket. These "ball and socket" joints become malformed and unstable, causing inflammation. Depending on the severity of the disease, it can lead to painful and sometimes crippling arthritis.
How to recognize the symptoms
Dogs with hip dysplasia may walk or run with an altered gait and often resist movements that require full extension of their rear legs. They may be reluctant to jump, and may use a bunny-hopping gait when running. Often, they'll show stiffness and discomfort in the rear legs after exercise and/or when getting up after resting.
These signs do not mean a dog is in pain—he may just be doing activities differently so that he doesn't experience pain. As the condition progresses, the dog will lose muscle tone and may even need assistance in getting up.
Diagnosis and treatment
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from canine hip dysplasia, take him to a veterinarian right away. An X-ray is the only way to determine whether your dog has the disease.
Dogs with mild cases of hip dysplasia can be treated with pain-reducing medication. The most important factor in managing hip dysplasia is keeping the muscle support in his rear limbs as toned as possible. This means keeping the dog active with walking, jogging, and swimming, which are minimally stressful to the joints. Many dogs with hip dysplasia can be treated with exercise and medications well into old age.
Tips for Preventing Hip Dysplasia
- Don't overfeed your dog. Overfeeding can lead to excessive weight gain, which creates a greater load for joints to bear. If a dog is genetically predisposed to—or already has—hip dysplasia, this can aggravate the situation.
- Patronize reputable breeders. If one parent has suffered from hip dysplasia, the risk of it occurring in the litter is doubled. However, be aware that two dogs with normal hips can be bred and produce dysplastic puppies because multiple genes are involved.
- Control the type of exercise your dog engages in. Jumping up and down from great heights can be dangerous, as is standing on hind legs for long periods of time. Acrobatic activity, like ball and Frisbee chasing, is also stressful to joints and should be avoided.
Although researchers now understand a great deal about this degenerative, painful condition, more must still be learned about helping afflicted dogs and preventing further incidence of the disease.