Many people have misconceptions about this disease, thinking it is a congenial form of arthritis that affects the hip joints. While it is true severe arthritis is seen in dogs with hip dysplasia, arthritis is the secondary result of dysplasia, not the primary problem.

Canine Hip Dysplasia is an inherited disorder of one or both hip joints that is brought about by a laxity of the muscles, connective tissue and ligaments that should support the joint. Significantly more common in the larger, rapidly growing breeds, the soft tissues that surround the joint start to develop abnormally as the puppy grows, even though the puppy may be born with normal hips.

To better understand the condition, first look at the hip joint of the dog.

Your dog's hip joint forms the attachment of the hind legs to the body and is a ball-and-socket joint. The "ball" portion is the head of the femur (the long bone between the knee and hip), while the "socket" (also called the acetabulum) is located on the pelvic bone. These two form the joint in the normal dog with the ball rotating freely within the socket.

To facilitate movement, the bones are shaped to perfectly match each other, and are held together by a ligament and a very strong band of connective tissue called the joint capsule. The smooth area where the bones actually touch each other is called the articular surface, which is cushioned underneath with a layer of spongy cartilage. In normal dogs, all of these factors work together to cause the joint to function smoothly and with great stability.

In dysplastic dogs, these bones are not held in place but actually move apart. The joint capsule and the ligament between the two bones stretch, causing the articular surfaces of the two bones to lose contact with each other. This separation of two bones with a joint is called subluxation and this alone, causes all of the resulting problems we associate with this disease.

If two bones within any joint lose their normal positional relationship with each other, the surrounding muscles work to force the bones back together but they are never totally successful. Because of the dog's weight, the femoral head now rides up onto or over the edge or rim of the socket. With every movement of the dog, we now have two areas of the bones grinding against each other without a nice smooth articular surface to act as a cushion.

Wherever these bones come in contact and irritate each other, new abnormally shaped bone grows. It is a vicious cycle as this new bone causes further irritation which causes more new bone growth, and so on. That is what we call arthritis and it is one of the most painful conditions that we know of . The femoral head that once looked like a smooth billiard ball, now looks like a head of cauliflower. The acetabulum (socket) that was once deep enough to enclose the femoral head is now shallow an its edge is covered with bone spurs. As the condition progresses, more new but abnormal bone forms with further deformation and pain.


The affected puppy usually starts showing signs of mild discomfort to extreme pain between 5 and 10 months of age when using its hind limbs. It will usually be noted following prolonged activity and when the dog is trying to get up or lie down. Later on in life, the signs become more consistent and may be noted daily regardless of activity levels. Adult dogs that are in severe pain usually decrease their activity. They are unwilling to run and climb stairs and with decreased use, the muscles of their rear leg atrophy. There are some, however, that will learn to compensate or change their gait and show little or no signs of discomfort even though the bony changes are severe internally.


In the past, treatment of the dysplastic dog was limited to decreasing or eliminating the pain with pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications, or through surgery. Today, however, many veterinarians and pet owners report significant, and frequently astonishing improvements after placing dogs on a nutraceutical containing glucosamine HCI, Chondroitin Sulfate and Vitamin C.

Keeping excess weight off dogs with dysplasia is important to minimize joint stress, and moderate exercise to maintain muscle mass will also help. Dogs that show sign of pain should be given a buffered canine aspirin and receive rest. A firm, orthopedic bed with domestely foam also provides the support these dogs need while sleeping or resting and are recommended.

As the dog matures, and if outward signs of discomfort are consistent, surgery is also an option.

Diagnosis and Prevention

The way dogs are diagnosed with hip dysplasia also provide the hope for elimination of this debilitating disease. Only with x-rays can we truly diagnose it. You can never be positive that a dog showing rear leg lameness has dysphasia unless it is x-rayed. And, you can never be positive that a dog showing no signs of rear leg dysfunction does not have dysplasia without an x-ray.

Hip Dysplasia is a disease spread from one generation to the next through genetics. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise! Parents that have the trait can pass it on to their offspring. Today we can certify that dogs are not dysplastic by having them x-rayed after they are 24 months old. These radiographs are then sent to OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) for grading and those that show no indications of the disease are so certified.

By breeding only those dogs that are certified free of the disease can we continue our efforts to eliminate this disease. Breeders that are not x-raying their breeding animals are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. When buying a dog, particularly any of the larger breeds, we suggest that the first thing to ask from your breeder is the copy of the OFA certification for the parents certifying they are free of the disease.

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