Hip dysplasia refers to an abnormality in the joint caused by loose ligaments, muscles or connective tissue that normally maintain alignment. When the loosening develops, the head of the thigh bone and the socket of the pelvic bone do not have the smooth ball and joint movement intended. The bones often separate, a process known as subluxation. The shifting bones also commonly come in direct contact with each other and the friction causes abnormal deterioration.
Contributors to Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Dogs generally have normal hips at birth; however, genetics and other contributing factors cause abnormal development of the soft tissue surrounding the joint as the animal matures. The tissue loosening and bone damage create the symptoms of dysplasia. The disorder may affect one or both hips.
Hip Dysplasia Symptoms
Symptoms of hip dysplasia vary from one dog to the next. Dogs may exhibit symptoms of hip dysplasia as young as five months of age. However, the condition may not appear until the animal reaches middle age or older. In the early stages of hip dysplasia, the dog often feels stiffness until moving or exercising. Animals might initially display abnormalities when walking or running. Some display bunny hopping. The pet commonly refrains from fully extending or flexing the rear legs because of discomfort, which might include going up and down stairs.
Dogs with hip dysplasia frequently experience pain during or after physical activity or appear stiff when awakening in the morning. The animal may develop a limp or resist physical activity. The condition usually progresses until the animal loses mobility. When hip dysplasia becomes apparent in older dogs, owners may mistakenly believe that symptoms represent the normal aging process.
Breeds Susceptible to hip dysplasia:
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Great Danes
- Labrador Retrievers
- Saint Bernards
Hip dysplasia occurs less frequently in medium-sized dogs and rarely in small dogs. Though the disease typically affects purebred animals, if a mixed breed inherits the trait from both parents, the dog has a chance of suffering from the condition. Realizing that certain dogs have an increased risk of dysplasia, reputable breeders ensure disease-free lineage by having their animals evaluated by a veterinarian. Eventual disease eradication may only occur if breeders continue practicing stringent selective breeding.
Genetics remains the predominant reason that dogs develop dysplasia. An animal may inherit the genes from one or both parents, the dog may or may not develop the problem, however, they carry the genetic information. By practicing selective breeding, responsible owners do not breed hip dysplasia carriers.
What Nutrition Plays in Development of Symptoms
Nutrition also plays a part in the development of symptoms of hip dysplasia. The joints of overweight dogs endure greater stress. If a dog carries dysplasia and becomes overweight, they have an increased risk of exhibiting symptoms. Likewise, puppies provided with liberal meals often undergo rapid growth during the first year of life, which also adds stress to the hip joint and encourages malformation. Homemade diets lacking in calcium or other minerals might also have an effect on growth and development.
Physical Activity and Its Role in Hip Dysplasia
While physical activity maintains a dog’s overall health from infancy through adulthood, the wrong type of exercise poses a threat to dogs carrying the dysplasia gene. Running or swimming builds strong muscles, connective tissues, and bones, but any activities involving jumping create possible trauma.
Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia
Dogs as young as four months may undergo evaluation. However, owners often bring pets to a veterinarian when the animal shows signs of a problem. Upon physical examination, the veterinarian determines if the hip joints display subluxation or the animal expresses discomfort with a range of motion. The veterinarian also usually uses X-rays during the diagnostic process, as the condition may exist before outward symptoms appear.
The veterinarian then sends the images to the Orthopedic Foundation of America, referred to as the OAF, for assessment and rating. The OFA established three categories of ratings. Normal means the animal displays no symptoms of the disorder and may further indicate a rating of excellent, good, or fair. Borderline may signify unclear images along with a recommendation to reassess the animal within a year. The dysplastic rating includes grades of mild, moderate, and severe.
Medical Intervention for Hip Dysplasia
The type of treatment recommended by the veterinarian often depends on the severity of the condition. Oral supplementation with chondroitin and glucosamine products helps maintain healthy connective tissue. Oral or injectable anti-inflammatory, pain, and disease-modifying medications may slow the degenerative process. Affected dogs also require a proper diet, comfortable, warm sleeping areas, and a strict exercise regimen as recommended by the physician. Modified exercise helps maintain joint flexibility and cardiovascular fitness without causing further injury or discomfort. Swimming remains the best option because the activity encourages a non-impact range of motion.
Options for Hip Dysplasia Treatment
Depending on the dog’s age, size, and severity of the condition, veterinarians may suggest corrective surgery. Younger dogs might undergo pelvic realignment procedures that encourage proper positioning of the femoral head and the acetabulum. Older dogs usually qualify for total hip replacement surgery. Similar to the procedure performed on humans, the process entails replacing the defective joint with synthetic materials. Under certain circumstances, the dog may only require femoral head replacement. But, this option may limit the range of motion.
Determining whether a dog qualifies for expensive corrective surgery also depends on the owner’s willingness to comply with the necessary post-operative care. Following surgery, dogs require a period of rehabilitation designed to return range of motion and strength. Physical therapy in the form of passive range of motion, ambulation, or swimming all aid in the healing process of hip dysplasia.