Hip Dysplasia Explained


Hip Dysplasia is a complex genetic disease generally affecting larger and giant breeds of dog. Regular readers of our breed profiles may have spotted it several times amongst the potential health issues. We thought a more comprehensive article on the subject might be useful. We’ve also asked Helen Murray, Chief Veterinary Nurse at King’s Road Vets, in Sunderland, for her expert knowledge on the subject.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease involving the hip joints. An abnormal hip joint combined with a laxity of the muscles, connective tissue and ligaments that usually support the joint create a subluxation (separation of two bones within a joint) of the hip joint over time. Dogs that inherit the condition often start out life with ‘normal’ hips. However the genetic composition of the joint and surrounding tissues eventually leads to subluxation. External factors can exacerbate this separation leading to worsening of the condition.

Labrador with Hip Dysplasia

What are the risk factors of hip dysplasia?

Genetics is undoubtedly the root cause of the condition. Whilst hip dysplasia can affect any breed, it tends to be larger breeds that are particularly susceptible. Breeds often seen at King’s Road Vets with hip dysplasia are German Shepherd, Labrador and Retriever. Nutrition and exercise also play a part in the severity of hip dysplasia however. Studies have shown that rapid growth in puppies as well as obesity have a huge effect on the hip joints of dysplastic dogs. Exercise is naturally important in maintaining a healthy weight, but it can be detrimental to exercise young dogs too much whilst their joints are still developing. High impact exercise that involves lots of jumping should be avoided when all dogs are very young and generally in dysplastic dogs.

What are the symptoms of hip dysplasia? How does a vet diagnose the condition?

Helen notes that the main symptoms are:

  • an abnormal gait
  • lameness
  • pain
  • stiffness when rising from lying down or resting
  • reluctance to exercise, climb stairs or jump
  • loss of muscle tone as condition progresses

A vet would perform a physical examination to check for abnormalities in the joints. X-rays would follow to confirm the diagnosis.

How do you treat or alleviate hip dysplasia? Is there any way of preventing it?

Unfortunately “as hip dysplasia is an inherited condition there is no product on the market which will prevent its development.” As the high cost of corrective surgery is off-putting to most of their clients, the treatments at King’s Road Vets concentrate on reducing the progression of the joint and alleviating the condition. Treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, joint supplements and weight management. “Medical treatments will be far more successful if the pet is not overweight. Extra weight will put more strain and pressure on the joints. This can be managed through diet and exercise. We now offer hydrotherapy to our clients. This is brilliant for orthopaedic patients as the water will take a lot of strain off the joints while helping them keep active.” For overweight dogs, Gilbertson & Page recommend gradually reducing the amount of food they are eating combined with appropriate exercise until they reach the desired condition. Foods that can aid in weight loss include Gilpa Slimline or Dr John Silver with Chicken, which is a lighter maintenance dog food for adult and senior dogs.

In terms of the large breeds that are susceptible to the condition, Helen advises “feeding a food especially made for larger breed dogs could be helpful. As they grow so rapidly, they require a different nutrition to smaller dogs.” Gilbertson & Page recommend Gilpa Kennel, which is specially formulated to provide all the nutrition a larger breed needs. Helen also says dog owners should be careful not to over-exercise young dogs. This avoids their muscles developing too quickly whilst their bones are still growing. She recommends a joint supplement for any dog, whether they are suffering joint problems or not. Many Gilbertson & Page dog foods contain a bone and joint complex to maintain healthy bones and joints.

Many thanks to Helen Murray, King’s Road Vets for her help with this article. Any dog owners with concerns about their dog’s joints or any other health issues should always consult an experienced, qualified vet.