Guide to canine hip dysplasia

Canine hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder in which a dog’s ball-and-socket hip joint is poorly joined. This joint should fit neatly together in an arrangement that allows dogs to move their legs freely and without pain. Dogs with hip dysplasia are prone to developing arthritis and related joint pain as they age because the ball and socket rub against each other, eroding the soft cartilage. Hip dysplasia can affect either or both of the rear leg joints.

Commonly Affected Breeds

Hip dysplasia is seen in almost every dog breed, but it is predominant in larger dogs like the German Shepherd, St. Bernard, Labrador Retriever, Pointers, and Setters. Hip dysplasia is primarily a genetic condition, but research shows that environmental factors can also play a part. Overfeeding, especially of puppies, as well as excessive exercise may predispose a dog to hip dysplasia.


Symptoms of severe hip dysplasia usually appear before the dog is a year old. Common signs are rear leg pain, poor coordination, trouble rising to their feet and a limp or wavering gait. Dogs with severe hip dysplasia typically develop lameness by the time they are two. Dogs who have less severe cases may not experience arthritis and the related pain or lameness until they are six to ten years old.

The clinical signs of hip dysplasia are similar to those of other diseases, so veterinarians rely on X-rays, where they look for abnormal hip joints and degenerative changes to make a final diagnosis. Some dogs may need a mild anesthetic in order to keep them in the correct position on the radiographic table.


Veterinarians treat hip dysplasia with either drugs or surgery, depending on the severity of the disease. Drug therapy will not reverse or cure the progression of hip dysplasia, but it does relieve the pain. There are several steroidal and non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs available from your veterinarian, with most requiring daily administration. Many dogs experience tremendous relief from pain, allowing them to return to a more active lifestyle free of joint pain.

Modern advances in veterinary surgical techniques have made surgery a more successful option for treating severe cases of hip dysplasia. Surgeons can make changes to the shape of the femur or pelvis in young dogs that can improve their joints. Another surgical option is hip replacement, which replaces the joint with a stainless steel ball and socket.

Dogs with hip dysplasia need carefully structured exercise. Allow her to move at her own pace, to help loosen stiff joints. Her weight should be carefully monitored as even a few extra pounds can cause skeletal stress and increase pain. Cold can aggravate the attendant arthritis many dogs with hip dysplasia experience, so protect her as much as possible by making sure her sleeping quarters are warm and draft free. Limit her time outside in cold weather.

Breeding Considerations

Breeders should have their dogs examined by a veterinarian to ensure they are free of hip dysplasia before breeding. A dog should be at least two years old before being bred because signs of the disease may take that long to show.

For more information about canine hip dysplasia consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is always your best source for information concerning your individual dog’s health care needs.

Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association