Managing Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: A Comprehensive Guide

Hip dysplasia is a common condition that affects many dogs, particularly large breeds such as the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, and Golden Retriever. It is a multifactorial disease that results in hip joint malformation, leading to pain, stiffness, and impaired mobility (Barr et al., 2011). In this article, we will explore the definition and prevalence of hip dysplasia in dogs and its impact on a dog’s quality of life.

Golden Retriever Labrador Puppy

Hip dysplasia is an abnormal hip joint development characterized by a shallow socket and a poorly fitting femoral head (Smith & Tobias, 2011). This increases wear and tear on the joint, leading to osteoarthritis and associated pain and discomfort (Barr et al., 2011). The condition can range from mild to severe, affecting one or both hips.

Hip dysplasia is one of the most common orthopedic conditions affecting dogs, with an estimated prevalence of 19.1% across all breeds (Smith & Tobias, 2011). However, certain breeds have a much higher risk of developing hip dysplasia, with prevalence rates ranging from 30-70% in some breeds (Barr et al., 2011). This high prevalence is likely due to genetic and environmental factors.

The impact of hip dysplasia on a dog’s quality of life can be significant. Dogs with hip dysplasia may experience pain, lameness, and difficulty performing normal activities such as running, jumping, and climbing stairs (Barr et al., 2011). In severe cases, the condition can lead to a loss of mobility and independence and a decreased quality of life for the dog and its owner.

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Causes of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a multifactorial disorder caused by genetic and environmental factors (Flückiger et al., 2017). While the exact mechanisms underlying the development of hip dysplasia are not fully understood, it is generally agreed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of the condition.


Hip dysplasia has been shown to have a heritable component in many dog breeds, including German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers (Lust et al., 2012; Priester, 1975).

Saint Bernard Puppy

Researchers have identified several genetic mutations associated with an increased risk of hip dysplasia in dogs, including mutations in the COL1A1, COL2A1, and GDF5 genes (Flückiger et al., 2017). However, it is important to note that not all dogs with these mutations will develop hip dysplasia, and not all cases can be attributed to these mutations.

Environment and Lifestyles Factors

Environmental and lifestyle factors can also play a role in developing hip dysplasia. Excessive growth rates and body weight have increased the risk of hip dysplasia, particularly in large and giant breed dogs (Sánchez-Molano et al., 2014). Other factors contributing to the development of hip dysplasia include inadequate nutrition, overexertion, and injury (Flückiger et al., 2017).

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Hip Dysplasia

Signs and Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a progressive condition, and signs may not be apparent until the dog ages. The most common signs of hip dysplasia include difficulty standing up or climbing stairs, limping, stiffness or pain in the hindquarters, reluctance to exercise, and loss of muscle mass in the hind legs (Flückiger et al., 2017). In some cases, affected dogs may also exhibit a bunny-hopping gait, where both hind legs move together.

Image of normal hip joint vs one with hip dysplasia

Diagnostic Tests for Hip Dysplasia

A physical exam and X-rays are typically used to diagnose hip dysplasia in dogs. During the physical exam, the veterinarian will look for signs of pain or discomfort when manipulating the hip joints. X-rays are used to assess the shape and positioning of the hip joints and any degenerative changes that may be present.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP) both offer diagnostic tests that can be used to evaluate a dog’s hips for signs of dysplasia (OFA, n.d.; PennHIP, n.d.). These tests are typically recommended for breeding dogs but can also be useful for the early detection and management of hip dysplasia in pet dogs.

Treatment Options for Hip Dysplasia

Non-Surgical Treatments


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as carprofen or meloxicam can help manage pain and inflammation associated with hip dysplasia (Anderson, 2015). Other medications, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, can also support joint health and reduce the progression of degenerative changes.

Weight Management

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for dogs with hip dysplasia, as excess weight can strain the joints. Weight management can be achieved through dietary changes, exercise modification, and portion control.

Exercise Modification

Regular exercise is important for maintaining muscle strength and flexibility, but high-impact activities such as running and jumping should be avoided. Low-impact activities such as swimming and walking on a leash are ideal for dogs with hip dysplasia (Anderson, 2015).

Large dog breeds tend to have hip dysplasia

Surgical Treatments

Total Hip Replacement

Total hip replacement (THR) is a surgical option for dogs with severe hip dysplasia that have not responded to non-surgical treatments. During a THR, the damaged hip joint is replaced with an artificial joint made of metal and plastic. This procedure can relieve long-term pain and improve a dog’s mobility and quality of life (Flückiger et al., 2017).

Femoral Head Ostectomy

Femoral head osteotomy (FHO) is a surgical procedure in which the head of the femur is removed, allowing the surrounding muscles to support the joint. FHO is typically recommended for dogs with mild to moderate hip dysplasia or those not good candidates for total hip replacement (Anderson, 2015).

Prevention of Hip Dysplasia

Breeding Practices

Breeding practices play a crucial role in the prevention of hip dysplasia. Selecting breeding pairs with good hip scores is important to reduce the risk of offspring developing hip dysplasia (Breed Predispositions to Disease In Dogs and Cats, 2021). Additionally, breeders should screen their dogs for hip dysplasia before breeding to ensure they do not pass on the condition to their offspring.

Environmental and lifestyle factors

Environmental and lifestyle factors can also play a role in developing hip dysplasia. Providing a healthy diet, managing weight, and avoiding high-impact activities can help reduce the risk of hip dysplasia (O’Neill et al., 2017). Additionally, providing regular exercise and ensuring that puppies receive proper nutrition during their developmental stages can help support the growth and development of healthy joints.

Golden retriever have a high incidence of hip dysplasia. photo of a golden retriever.

Living with a Dog with Hip Dysplasia

Managing Pain and Discomfort

Dogs with hip dysplasia may experience pain and discomfort, especially as the condition progresses. Pain management strategies may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and joint supplements (American College of Veterinary Surgeons, 2021). In some cases, additional pain management options such as acupuncture, physical therapy, and massage may also be helpful (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, n.d.).

Helping Your Dog Maintain Mobility and Independence

Dogs with hip dysplasia may have difficulty with mobility and activities of daily living. A supportive environment can help dogs with hip dysplasia maintain mobility and independence. This may include providing ramps or steps to help them get on and off furniture, using a harness or sling to support their hind end when walking, and providing soft bedding and other supportive surfaces (American College of Veterinary Surgeons, 2021).

Quality of Life Considerations

Living with a dog with hip dysplasia can be challenging, but there are many ways to help improve its quality of life. Providing a comfortable and supportive environment, managing their pain and discomfort, and maintaining their mobility and independence are all important factors to consider. Additionally, seeking support from veterinarians, animal care professionals, and other pet owners can help manage the emotional and practical aspects of caring for a dog with hip dysplasia (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, n.d.).


Summary of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is common in dogs that can cause pain, discomfort, and mobility issues. Genetic and environmental factors cause it and can be diagnosed through clinical signs and diagnostic tests. Treatment options include both surgical and non-surgical approaches, and prevention strategies involve careful breeding practices and environmental management.

Importance of Early Detection and Intervention

Early detection and intervention are critical in managing hip dysplasia in dogs. By identifying the condition early on, veterinarians can develop a customized treatment plan to manage pain and prevent further damage to the hips. Additionally, starting preventative measures early on can help delay or prevent the onset of symptoms in at-risk dogs.

Future Research and Development

As our understanding of hip dysplasia continues to evolve, new treatment options and preventative strategies may become available. Research efforts are ongoing to understand better the genetics and environmental factors contributing to hip dysplasia’s development and to develop more effective treatment options for affected dogs.


What is hip dysplasia in dogs?

Hip dysplasia is a common orthopedic condition in dogs where the hip joint does not form properly. This leads to looseness and instability in the joint, which can cause pain, lameness, and arthritis.

What breeds are prone to hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia can occur in any breed, but large and giant breeds are more prone to the condition. Breeds commonly affected include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards.

How is hip dysplasia diagnosed in dogs?

A veterinarian will perform a physical examination of the dog and may order X-rays to confirm a diagnosis of hip dysplasia. Additional imaging studies, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be necessary.

Can hip dysplasia in dogs be prevented?

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent hip dysplasia, certain measures may reduce the risk of the condition. These include maintaining a healthy weight, providing a well-balanced diet, and avoiding over-exercising young dogs.

What are the treatment options for hip dysplasia in dogs?

Treatment options for hip dysplasia may include weight management, exercise modification, pain management, and surgery. The treatment choice will depend on the severity of the condition, the dog’s age, and overall health.

How can I help my dog with hip dysplasia?

You can help your dog with hip dysplasia in several ways, including providing a comfortable and supportive bed, joint supplements, and gentle exercise and stretching.

Can a dog with hip dysplasia live a normal life?

Many dogs with hip dysplasia can lead a normal and active life with appropriate treatment and management. However, some dogs may experience chronic pain or mobility issues, affecting their quality of life.


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