What is Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Canine Hip Dysplasia is a hereditary, degenerative disease common in many large breed dogs and large mixed breed dogs that can cause crippling arthritis in the hips. This disease is especially prevalent in German Shepherds; the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals notes that one in five German Shepherds whose hips are x-rayed and reported to the OFA show signs of the disease.

Normal hip joints function with a “ball-and-socket” construction; the head of the femur, or thigh bone, fits tightly within a circular inlet in the pelvis.

Source: Gulf Cost Veterinary Specialists

In dogs who are suffering from hip dysplasia, the ball does not fit snugly within the socket; the head of the femur can be shaped incorrectly, or be a loose fit with the pelvis, or both. This condition causes unusually heavy friction on the joint as the dog moves, which in turn can lead to osteoarthritis, a painful inflammation of the joint.

Source: Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists

Hip dysplasia is rated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals as mild, moderate or severe (there is also a “borderline” category, which indicates the dog is capable of developing hip dysplasia). Dogs with hip dysplasia can show few symptoms, or become incapacitated, depending on the severity of the dysplasia, the progression of arthritis, and environmental factors such as weight and exercise level. Although surgical options are available for severely affected dogs, these are often expensive and are accompanied by a long recovery period.

Hip dysplasia is almost always evident by the time a dog is 18-24 months old. There is no way to declare a dog free from hip dysplasia, or diagnose hip dysplasia, without hip x-rays.

The most common visible signs of hip dysplasia include difficulty rising, stiffness or soreness following heavy exercise, a distinct gait in which the back legs move together rather than independently, and reduced muscle mass around the hips and thighs. Some severely affected puppies will develop a limp before they’re five months old; to the untrained eye, this limp appears to be on a forelimb, rather than hind, as might be suspected with pain in the hip joints.

Maintaining a dog with hip dysplasia requires attention to nutrition, weight, exercise and activity levels. Check with your veterinarian regarding medical options, including surgery or anti-inflammatory drugs.

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