About Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Is your dog having trouble running, jumping or climbing stairs? It might be more than old age. Read more about hip dysplasia and its effects.

Large breeds are especially susceptible to hip dysplasia.

Many times when we see an older dog refusing to jump, walk up stairs or whining when doing physical activity, it is commonly attributed to old age. Sometimes age is just a number, and hip dysplasia could be the real culprit behind even a puppy’s discomfort.

What Is It?

Hip dysplasia is a condition that affects one or both of the hips. The rear leg attaches to the body by a ball and socket joint at the hip. These two bones are shaped to fit each other and allow movement. The connecting ligament and surrounding tissue and cartilage aid in smooth functioning of the joint.

Hip dysplasia occurs when the bones do not develop properly, develop abnormally or deteriorate over time. The ligament, tissue or cartilage can also affect the contact and movement of the joint if it breaks down, forms abnormally or is worn through wear and tear.


This condition is widely believed to be inherited through genetics, but nutrition and exercise are also suggested to play important roles.

When Does It Occur?

Every dog is different and may show signs of hip dysplasia at different ages. Some dogs develop symptoms during their puppy years, while others may not experience any problems until their senior years. It is more often seen in dogs during their middle to later years since wear and tear or erosion contribute to the condition of the joint. The condition may be present in one hip or both.

All dogs can experience hip dysplasia, but the condition is more commonly seen in large dogs. Larger breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog, Rottweilers, St. Bernards, Newfoundlands and retrievers such as the Labrador and golden are more susceptible to the condition because of their rapid growth in addition to genetic predispositions.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

There are signs that your dog may be suffering from hip dysplasia. This can happen at any age and to any breed. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Back legs stand too close together
  • Reluctance to play
  • Pain or discomfort from exercise
  • Stiffness in rear leg(s)
  • Difficulty climbing stairs
  • Limping
  • Difficulty getting up without assistance
  • Changes in running or walking patterns (avoids using a leg or appears to hop)
  • Inability or refusal to jump or climb
  • Loss of muscle mass in the thigh
  • Enlargement of the muscles in the opposite hip or shoulders from compensating or shifting weight

One obvious sign I noticed in my dog was her reluctance to jump on the bed. She would always hop up with ease; so when she hesitated and then whimpered upon her attempt, I knew something was wrong. Your dog may not exhibit clear signs of hip dysplasia, so keep an eye out for the more subtle signs.

View this video to observe some of these symptoms before we move on to identification and treatment:


Identification and Treatment

If you notice any of the above symptoms or sense something is wrong with your pet’s movement, head to the vet to get a confirmation. The vet will run several tests and exams, such as a physical exam, manual test (test for laxity), radiographs (X-rays) or blood or fluid tests to detect inflammation.

You or your vet might also choose to have the radiographs examined by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Keep in mind the dog may need to be sedated for the radiographs, but it might not be necessary.

Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and the dog’s level of pain or discomfort. If your pet is much older or suffers from other conditions, treatment may have to be carefully reviewed before being implemented.

Possible treatments include:

  • Oral supplements
  • Injections
  • Change in diet
  • Increase in exercise
  • Physiotherapy or hydrotherapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Pain medications
  • Surgery to repair the joint, replace parts or completely replace the hip
  • Laser therapy

Prevention can be impossible when hip dysplasia is caused by genetic factors, but there are many ways to minimize the severity of the condition. Provide a healthy diet to control your dog’s weight, offer regular exercise and comfortable and warm sleeping areas. Consult your vet about additional supplements and suggestions to keep your pet as active and healthy as possible.

Additional Resources

Photo: daniela.magallon/Flickr


Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, has been researching dog and cat breeds for nearly a decade and has observed the animals up close at dog shows in both the United States and the United Kingdom. She is the author of the book One Unforgettable Journey, which was nominated for a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. In addition, she was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. Kristine has researched and written about pet behaviors and care for many years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, another bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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