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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Essential Guide

by Colleen Williams
dog hip dysplasia

Old dog with hip dysplasia
Updated October 16, 2019

Has your beloved dog gone from racing around with abandon to limping, hopping or getting up more slowly lately?

If so, he or she might be exhibiting signs of canine hip dysplasia, a genetic disease of the hip joint. Dogs with this common condition have ball-and-socket joints that don’t fit quite right, causing discomfort when they walk around. If it progresses, this condition can dramatically reduce a dog’s quality of life and is painful for pet parents to witness.

The good news is that educating yourself about common health conditions such as hip dysplasia can help you to take action that will allow your dog to be comfortable and for you both to get back to activities that you love.

What causes hip dysplasia and which dogs get it?

dog hip dysplasia

An x-ray of a dog with hip dysplasia. Photo courtesy of www.dogarthritisblog.info

Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition, which means that certain dogs are more likely to get it than others. Larger dogs have about a 50% chance of acquiring it, and it usually occurs in purebreds, although mixed breeds and smaller dogs can have it too. German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, bulldogs and pugs all have a higher risk of hip dysplasia.

Since the condition is caused by poorly-formed hip joints, it is present at birth, but symptoms may not be visible until middle or later in life. If you believe your pup is more likely to get hip dysplasia, talk to your veterinarian about preventive measures.

How will I know if my dog has hip dysplasia?

If you notice one or more of the symptoms below, your dog may suffer from hip dysplasia. Some of these symptoms could also be due to arthritis or simple aging. The only way to determine whether or not your dog has hip dysplasia is to visit your vet. Hip x-rays and a physical exam are needed to accurately diagnose your pet’s condition.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia

  • An altered gait – limping, hopping, etc.
  • Refusesto jump, run, or walk up stairs
  • Slow or stiff to risefrom lying down or sitting
  • Decreased activity
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Lameness in the hind end
  • Looseness in the joint
  • Narrow stance
  • Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait
  • Grating in the joint during movement
  • Loss of thigh muscle mass
  • Enlargement of the shoulder muscles as they compensate for the hind end
  • Pain

How to prevent it or lessen symptoms

There are a few things you can do to lessen the chance that your dog will develop hip dysplasia, or help reduce the severity of the symptoms:

  • Avoid overfeeding: Rapid growth and weight gain is thought to increase an animal’s risk of hip dysplasia, as a heavier dog will put more strain on its joints.  Puppies should be fed three to four times a day, but an adult dog only twice per day. Know what your dog’s healthy weight should be.
  • Get the right food and supplements: The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends buying food specially formulated for large breed puppies to help prevent excessive growth. Your vet may also recommend a chewable dose of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM, which may lessen the symptoms.
  • Make sure your dog gets enough exercise but avoid rough play, such as jumping, long runs, and sliding on floors. These activities put strain on a dog’s hind leg joints. Walking on a soft surface and swimming are the best exercise for aging dogs and will help reduce pain.
  • Physical therapy such as massage, hydrotherapy and acupuncture may provide some benefit, according to Pet Health Network.

Treatment options

Even preventative measures may not be enough to keep your dog from developing hip dysplasia. If it develops, a vet will recommend one of two courses – nonsurgical treatment with medications or surgery.

Non-surgical treatment: For dogs showing mild symptoms of hip dysplasia you can control and reduce side effects rather than eliminate them. Your dog would likely take pain-relieving medications, often on a daily basis, and could cost more than surgery over time. A drawback to this treatment is that even with medication, the disease can continue to progress, and surgical treatment may be necessary.

Surgical treatments: There are two common major surgical treatments that are used to help dogs with hip dysplasia.

  • Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO) is performed on young dogs with less advanced forms of the disease. The pelvis is reconstructed, which allows the femur to fit better inside the joint and relieves pain.
  • Total Hip Replacement (THR) replaces your pet’s hip joint with a prosthetic one. Even if both your dog’s joints have dysplasia, generally only one will need to be replaced, as it will greatly reduce the stress in the other.

Costs of hip dysplasia treatment

  • Hip dysplasia is one of the most expensive conditions to treat. Even if you go the less intrusive medication route, the treatment can range from $50 to several hundred dollars per round of doses, depending on the type and duration, according to vetinfo.com.
  • Surgery can cost from $2,000-$4,000, depending on a number of factors such as pre- and post-operative care, hospital stays and medication.
  • Physical therapy tends to run from about $80 to $300 per session.

Is it covered by pet insurance?

The Healthy Paws plan covers hip dysplasia treatments as long as:

  • Your pet is under the age of six at the time of enrollment
  • It did not occur during the waiting period, meaning no clinical signs or symptoms manifested within the first twelve (12) months of continuous coverage.*

Some insurance providers don’t cover this and other genetic conditions that develop in pets over their lifetimes, so be sure to read any insurance policies carefully.

One of our pet parents shared the story of Coco’s hip replacement surgery, which was covered and saved them $ 4,768 off a $6,000 vet bill.

*Waiting periods do not apply to the states of Maryland and New Hampshire. Additionally, Maryland does not have age limits for hip dysplasia. For additional information on these states click here.

Bottom line
Canine hip dysplasia is a fairly common ailment, but with the appropriate preventative and medical treatments, your dog can live a healthy, happy life.

If your dog is six years old or younger, get pet insurance so that hip dysplasia will be covered should you need it. Many pet parents rely on pet health insurance to pay up to 90% of their vet bills, so they can focus on what really matters: getting great health care for their pet. Find out more by getting a free instant quote.

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