Hip Dysplasia In Dogs

Are puppies born with abnormal hips?


how dog hip dysplasia develops

Hip Dysplasia is a progressive condition. Puppies aren’t born with abnormal hips!

In this article we will look at some of the most common questions asked about hip dysplasia in dogs.

What actually is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a heritable condition in which one or both hips develop an abnormal shape. It is usually painful but the degree of discomfort is variable. The hip shape deteriorates as the puppy grows.

What causes Hip Dysplasia in dogs?

Dogs can carry some of the genetic blueprint for hip dysplasia but not show the disease themselves. So, they could have normal hips but pass on the risk to their offspring who could develop very abnormal hips. This makes the disease difficult to detect. To complicate the picture, environmental factors such as diet, exercise and whether the puppy is male or female can all affect how the hip ends up.

What happens in Hip Dysplasia?

Three events occur :
Event number 1 – The hip becomes loose – the femoral head (ball part) is not held securely in the acetabulum (socket). This is present from a few months of age.
Event number 2 – The hip develops abnormally and becomes ‘dysplastic’. This occurs during growth.
Event number 3 – The hip becomes arthritic (osteoarthritis). In moderate to severe cases this will begin before the puppy is fully grown

These events happen in sequence but they overlap. There will be a period of time when the hip is loose, dysplastic and arthritic.

What can it be confused with?

It is not uncommon for Hip Dysplasia and arthritis to be present but not be causing significant discomfort (we call it ‘clinically silent’). It can be found on x-rays taken as part of a lameness investigation and the lameness attributed to the dysplasia and arthritis when other conditions such as cruciate disease may be a more likely cause in some dogs. Low back pain caused by lumbosacral disc disease can mimic Hip Dysplasia in middle-aged and older dogs. A few condition that can be confused with Hip Dysplasia in growing dogs are Panosteitis (inflammation of the bone marrow), osteochondrosis (a condition that can lead to loose pieces of bone and cartilage in the affected joint) and discospondylitis (a bacterial spinal infection affecting the intervertebral discs)

Signs of Hip Dysplasia

• Stiffness and slowness getting up after rest.
• Reduced ability to exercise, tired quickly and or lying down on walks
• Reluctance or inability to jump into the car
• Using both back legs together when running ( a bit like a rabbit)
• Walk with a ‘waddling’ gait when viewed from behind
• There may be an obvious lameness or limp in one of the back legs.
• The hips may click or clunk

Treatment of Hip Dysplasia in dogs

Mild signs in young dogs

– Rest for a few days and anti-inflammatories usually settle it down
– Hydrotherapy and swimming may help by strengthening muscles around hips

More severe signs in young dogs

– Prolonged use of anti-inflammatories
– Early hip replacement (around 1 year of age) may need to be considered.

Some surgeons advocate surgery to improve the hip shape (triple pelvic osteotomy; juvenile pubic symphysiodesis). These surgeries are not necessarily selected on the severity of the clinical signs but on balancing dysfunction against the likelihood of surgery providing a long-term solution. Decision making here is tricky. A recognised specialist should be consulted if there is any doubt as to the best course of action


In adults the discomfort is largely now being caused by secondary osteoarthritis in the affected hips. Please refer to our Arthritis Information Centre for more details about osteoarthritis in dogs and how it is treated.

Outlook for Affected Dogs

The body’s response to the unstable hip is to deposit scar tissue around the hip joint to stabilise it. This won’t stop the hip developing abnormally but the increased stability may help to reduce discomfort. Arthritis will still develop and progress. Clinical signs (‘symptoms’) will usually settle satisfactorily by a year of age in at least 50% of patients. It has been my experience that the hip discomfort associated with dysplasia can be adequately controlled long-term in the majority of dogs. Surgery may be required. Don’t get too discouraged during the acute phases when signs can be quite severe. This can usually be controlled whilst the hip becomes more stable and less painful.

Key Questions To Discuss With Your Veterinary Surgeon/Veterinarian

  • What stage is my dog at?
  • What treatment options are available at this stage?
  • Is my dog overweight?
  • Have other causes of lameness such as cruciate disease been excluded?
  • What is our management plan?

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