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Everything you need to know about hip dysplasia in dogs

Vet wrapping a bandage, hip dysplasia in dogs
Table of Contents:


Hip dysplasia is a common joint condition that can deeply impact our canine companions. With causing so much discomfort with each step our dogs take, the condition has the power to truly alter a dog’s life. So, what exactly is hip dysplasia and how can you help to manage the condition?

In this article we’ll dive into the details of hip dysplasia in dogs, and help you understand how you can offer your dog comfort throughout the condition. 

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a joint condition in dogs that is classified by the irregular formation of the hip joint. A normal canine hip consists of a ball and socket joint that glides freely with each step. When a dog has hip dysplasia, the ball, the socket, or both don’t form properly, meaning the two move abnormally together. This irregular formation of the hip joint causes it to rub and grind, resulting in discomfort. The grinding of the joint is not only incredibly painful for our furry friends, but can lead to severe joint deterioration over time.

Causes of hip dysplasia in dogs

hip dysplasia in dogs










While there are a few different factors that have been linked to hip dysplasia in dogs, it’s thought to be a hereditary condition. Hip dysplasia is one of the conditions that breeding dogs, especially those of high-risk breeds, should be screened for. This usually involves x-raying both parent dogs, which provides a ‘hip score’ (the lower the better), although ideally, hip scores of their parents and any genetic markers in the dam and sire should also be checked before breeding.

Of course, there are other factors that can impact dogs with genetic predispositions to the condition. Some things that can exacerbate hip dysplasia in at-risk dogs include:

  • Fast growth periods, often in large breed dogs
  • Improper nutrition that impedes normal growth
  • Excess weight or obesity
  • Excessive exercise, especially during growing periods

      Breeds prone to developing hip dysplasia

      While any dog can be affected by hip dysplasia, there are a few breeds that are more at risk to hip dysplasia and other joint conditions. Though it was previously believed to be a condition that only impacted large breed dogs, it’s clear now that it’s not always the case. Some of the dog breeds that are prone to developing hip dysplasia include:

      • Labrador Retrievers
      • German Shepherds
      • Pugs
      • Mastiffs
      • Golden Retrievers
      • French Bulldogs
      • Basset Hounds
      • Great Danes
      • Rottweilers
      • Boxers

      Common symptoms 

      There are some telltale symptoms to watch for that may indicate your dog is developing or suffering from this uncomfortable condition. The most common signs of hip dysplasia in dogs include:

      • Weakness in the hind legs
      • Limping
      • Stiffness
      • Decrease in activity
      • Limited mobility
      • Change in normal gait
      • Difficulty getting up and down
      • Being hesitant to jump
      • Other signs of pain
        Solution for hip dysplasia - Lively Paws Mobility

        Diagnosing methods

        If your dog is displaying any signs of hip dysplasia, there are a few diagnostic options that your veterinarian can turn to. While every vet’s diagnostic protocol may vary, you can generally expect the following.

        Physical Exam

        The first way to find evidence of hip dysplasia in dogs is through a physical exam. Your veterinarian will first begin with observing your dog’s gait for any abnormalities. Hip dysplasia in dogs can cause stiffness and weakness in the hind legs, leading to a change in gait in some furry friends. Your vet can search for any evidence of these issues by watching them closely as they walk across the exam room.

        The next diagnostic tool in a physical exam will involve manipulating the hips and joints to check for overall flexibility. Your vet will likely have your dog lay on their side or their back as they manipulate the position of each leg. This exam will search for any sign of pain, overall joint laxity, and any abnormalities of the limb. If a dog is too uncomfortable for this exam, the vet may need to offer sedation. 


        The most definitive diagnostic tool for hip dysplasia in dogs are radiographs of the hips. These x-rays will require specific positioning of the hind limbs, leading many veterinarians to sedate the patient for an accurate image. These potions can be uncomfortable for a dog with hip dysplasia, and may hinder the vet’s ability to get the images they need. 

        Once your dog is on the x-ray table, your veterinarian will take multiple images of the hips and legs. Your vet will examine the films for any sign of abnormalities, and assess the conformation of your dog’s hip joints. X-rays will not only help them determine if hip dysplasia is present, but just how severe their condition is. They can even send these films off to a radiologist for specific grading of their condition if needed.

        Managing hip dysplasia

        Now that you understand the condition and how it can affect our pups, it’s time to discuss the many ways that you can help to manage hip dysplasia in your canine companion. Let’s dive into management options involving exercise, at-home treatment, and medical intervention.


        Swimming & hydrotherapy

        Swimming and other types of water exercise are extremely beneficial for dogs with hip dysplasia. Swimming can help dogs accomplish their recommended exercise, all without any serious impact to their joints. Hydrotherapy can help dogs improve their joint rotation, maintain a healthy weight, and gain muscle strength in their back end- which can go a long way to keeping their symptoms under control.

        Rehab centers may have professional hydrotherapy options, including swimming and an underwater treadmill, as well as qualified staff to help your dog progress. However, swimming in safe waters is free, and can work just as well. It’s important that you work your dog up to swimming in deeper water, provide them with a canine buoyancy aid, and ideally help them by getting into the water with them.

        Short & low-impact walks

        Short and low-impact walks can be extremely beneficial for dogs with hip dysplasia. While dogs with hip pain may be hesitant to be as active as they once were, a sedentary life can be risky. A life without exercise can lead to weight gain, muscle loss, and joint deterioration over time. By engaging in low impact walks, dogs can help to maintain their strength and stay as active as possible. Just be sure to pay attention to your dog’s body and never push them if they are struggling. Little and often is usually best!

        Range of motion exercises

        Range of motion exercises are a wonderful way to help your dog with hip dysplasia stay limber! Since hip dysplasia often results in stiffness, it’s important to help them stretch and introduce some range of motion exercises. The longer a dog remains stiff without proper stretching, the more painful their hip condition can become. Some of the most effective range of motion exercises for dogs include hip flexion while your dog is laying on their side and shoulder extensions (since the shoulders often take on extra stress when ‘protecting’ the hips). You may also be able to find a canine physiotherapist to guide you through exercises to do with your dog at home.

        Home treatment options 

        Joint supplements

        Joint supplements are a must-have if you have a dog that is struggling with hip dysplasia. Since the condition can cause severe inflammation and pain, the ingredients in joint supplements are essential for added comfort. Joint supplements are enriched with ingredients that may help to relieve inflammation, prevent further joint damage, and repair damaged cartilage. Some of the most common ingredients in popular joint supplements include glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and green lipped mussel.

        Omega fatty acids

        Omega fatty acids are another essential additive for dogs with hip dysplasia. Omega fatty acids are not only well known for their assistance in dogs with chronic allergies, but also offer support for dogs with joint conditions. Omega fatty acids help to target inflammation in dogs with hip dysplasia, and can offer longevity as they work through the condition. 

        The best dog food for canine hip dysplasia

        What you feed your dog with hip dysplasia is important in potentially easing their pain throughout their condition. Since hip dysplasia can lead to chronic inflammation in dogs, it’s important to find a diet that best suits their needs. Prescription joint diets are created for dogs with chronic hip and joint pain, as well as dogs that have struggled with other orthopedic conditions. These diets can be used instead of supplementation, and can be prescribed by your dog’s veterinarian.

        Most importantly, you want to feed the right calories for your dog to ensure they don’t gain weight, especially if they’re doing less exercise due to their condition. Obesity will severely impact the joints by increasing inflammatory compounds in the body as well as meaning the sore joints have to bear more weight. Prescription diet food may also help your dog to lose weight if they’re already over-conditioned.

        Medical intervention  

        Veterinarian is diagnosing the dog with hip dysplasia















        Prescribed medications

        Many cases of hip dysplasia can become so uncomfortable that they require prescribed pain control. Veterinarians can prescribe an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that works best for your furry friend, and can offer them the much-needed pain relief they seek. Your vet will likely perform diagnostic blood work before starting any new medications, as well as periodically as they continue to take the meds. While the side effects of these medications are generally mild, they may occasionally impact their kidneys and liver over time. But, as always, quality-of-life is essential, and pain relief for dogs with hip dysplasia is important for their wellbeing.


        If a dog is not finding relief from home remedies or prescribed medication, there are surgical options available. While not every dog will be an ideal candidate for surgery, there are three main surgical options to discuss with your veterinarian.

        Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO)

        An FHO can be beneficial for both young and old dogs suffering from hip dysplasia. This procedure involves the removal of the femoral head of the femur in the hip joint, allowing the body to form a false hip joint. By doing this, the original discomfort of the hip joint is diminished and allows for a better quality of life. Dogs with an FHO will not regain normal hip function, but seem to do generally well going forward. Recovery will vary based on your dog’s age and condition, but usually requires 1-2 months of strict rest.

        The typical costs of an FHO will be anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000 based on the severity of their hip dysplasia. The price will also fluctuate based on who performs the surgery, as orthopedic specialists tend to be a bit more expensive.

        Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO)

        A DPO or TPO surgery is often performed in younger dogs that suffer from hip dysplasia or hip abnormalities. This procedure involves cutting the pelvic bone, rotating the segments, and creating a more functional hip joint for the dog. This surgery can help dogs that struggle with hip range of motion, and can offer joint stability they did not have before. Recovery will vary based on your dog’s condition, but will typically require 6-8 weeks of strict rest. Dogs will also need to participate in physical therapy to help their full mobility return, and to ensure a proper healing process.

        The typical cost of a DPO/TPO will be anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 for both hips, but will vary from surgeon to surgeon. Physical therapy after the procedure will also require a fee per session.

        Total Hip Replacement (THR)

        A total hip replacement is a drastic, yet effective method of treating hip dysplasia pain in dogs. Because this procedure is so extensive, it is generally recommended for the dogs that are extremely painful or almost imbole from their hip dysplasia symptoms. This procedure involves replacing the entire hip joint with plastic or metal implants. By doing this, the surgeon is able to create an entirely new hip joint that is free of their previous pain.

        Recovery time will usually require about 12 weeks of rest and physical therapy if needed. Some vets will perform one hip replacement at a time, often with a 4 to 6 month gap in between. Because this procedure is so extensive, it is the most expensive option on the list. Total hip replacements in dogs will often vary from $4,000 to $7,000 per hip, being double the cost if both hips are replaced.

        Preventing hip dysplasia: How to get ahead of the condition

        Prevention is key when it comes to so many health conditions that impact our dog’s quality of life. The best way to get ahead of a condition is by stopping it in its tracks. Some of the most important things you can do to help prevent the onset of canine hip dysplasia include:

        • Choose a responsible breeder
        • Offer a nutritional, anti-inflammatory diet
        • Never overwork growing dogs
        • Offer dietary supplements
        • Keep your dog slim and trim
        • Address injuries immediately
        • Keep up with annual vet exams and diagnostics

          The prognosis of hip dysplasia

          If you're wondering how long a dog can live with hip dysplasia, you're not alone. 

          The diagnosis of hip dysplasia is not lethal in itself, but severely impacted dogs may need to be euthanized if they cannot be made comfortable. The best way to offer your dog longevity in spite of their hip dysplasia is by finding a combination of treatment that works well for them. As you can see, there are multiple options that help to relieve discomfort and prevent further joint damage going forward. By using a combination of inflammation and stress control, your dog can find comfort despite their condition.

          The article was written by  Amber LaRock, RVT on October 30, 2020.
          Medically Reviewed by Dr. JoAnna Woodnutt.

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