Dogs with Hip Dysplasia – How to Identify It

Hip dysplasia in dogs is one of the most common orthopedic problems, especially when it comes to large breeds. It is a disease that develops as the pet grows and affects the hip joint.

This condition can become very severe over time as it leads to progressive degeneration. That is why it is important to know what the symptoms are in order to diagnose this medical condition early.

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a disease of the hip in which the joint between the femoral head and the socket does not function (meet) properly. 

Usually, the hip has a femoral head that resembles a ball, placed in the socket of the pelvis. It is connected by a ligament and protected by a capsule with connective tissue. This “ball” moves without friction if the joint is not deformed. When hip dysplasia occurs, the socket has a shape that does not allow the femoral head to move without interruption and causes friction in the joint. This results in a joint that rubs and grinds instead of slipping smoothly.

Causes of Hip Hysplasia in dogs

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Hip dysplasia in dogs often begins in young and physically immature dogs. Early-onset usually develops after the age of four months. 

There are also cases of later onset, in which the hip dysplasia develops later due to osteoarthritis, a form of joint inflammation (arthritis) that is characterized by chronic damage or degeneration of articular cartilage.

The development of hip dysplasia is caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. There are multiple genes involved, and the pattern of inheritance for this disorder is complicated. It can also be caused by rapid weight gain through excessive nutritional intake. However, the biggest risk factor remains genetic inheritance.

Dogs’ gender is not a factor that influences the occurrence of the hip dysplasia, but some breeds have a genetic predisposition to it, such as:

  • Great Dane
  • Saint Bernard
  • Labrador
  • German shepherd
  • Cane Corso

Hip dysplasia can also occur in small breeds, but these cases are rare and show no clinical signs.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in dogs

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The disease can manifest itself in varying degrees of severity and, depending on the pet, symptoms may occur at different stages. Some dogs may also show no obvious signs of the disease, while others show specific symptoms.

Symptoms depend on the degree of joint weakness or laxity, the degree of joint inflammation, and the duration of the condition. In the early stages, the signs are related to joint weakness or laxity. Subsequently, as the disease progresses, the following symptoms of joint degeneration and osteoarthritis occur:

  • Growing difficulties.
  • Decreased activity.
  • Decreased range of motion – reluctance to run, jump, or climb stairs.
  • Narrow position of the hind limbs – they are often unequal.
  • Pain in the hip joints.
  • Pain in the groin that increases with activity.
  • “Bunny hopping” gait.
  • Lameness on the hind legs when walking.
  • Loose or unstable hip joint.
  • Decreased movements in the hip joint.
  • Difficulty sleeping on the hip.
  • Loss of muscle mass in the thigh muscles.
  • Enlargement of the shoulder muscles – the dog tries to avoid weight on the hips, which leads to extra work for the shoulder muscles and their subsequent enlargement.

Most often dog owners will notice weakness and pain in their pet’s hind legs. The dog will seem to walk wobbly and have difficulty getting up or lying down. 

If you find your dog is walking strangely and is adopting unnatural positions when walking or lying down, contact your veterinarian. Only the radiological examination can reveal the malformations in your dog’s hip joint.

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