Hip dysplasia is a condition that is caused by abnormal development of the hip. Affected joints are less stable than normal, and the excess movement leads to the early development of painful arthritis. The condition primarily affects large breed dogs.
Dogs with hip dysplasia typically limp on the leg that is most severely affected, lose muscle mass in their hind end, have difficulty rising and climbing stairs, and will often be less active than is normal. These symptoms often don't appear until a dog is older and has experienced a lot of "wear and tear" on its abnormal joints. A veterinarian can diagnose hip dysplasia by performing a physical exam that includes specific procedures that test the hips, looking at x-rays of a dog's pelvic region, and ruling out other diseases (e.g., traumatic injuries or disorders of the nervous system) that can cause similar symptoms. The osteoarthritis that is caused by hip dysplasia is sometimes evident on routine x-rays, but less advanced cases may require specific types of x-rays that directly evaluate hip joint laxity.
Some young dogs can be treated with a type of surgery that changes the orientation of the hip joint, improves its stability and lessens the severity of the arthritis that would otherwise develop. Older animals are typically given medications that relieve pain and inflammation and supplements that can help heal and protect cartilage within joints. Weight loss and physical therapy can also greatly improve an animal's quality of life. If medical treatment is insufficient, surgeries that either remove or replace the arthritic hip joint can make affected animals much more comfortable.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008