As veterinary medicine becomes more advanced and more families seek extensive care for ailing pets, even common genetic disabilities like canine hip dysplasia are easier to diagnose and treat. For many dog owners, understanding what this painful condition is and what treatments are available can help create an easier, more fulfilling life for their pets.
What Is Canine Hip Dysplasia?
Canine hip dysplasia is a genetically inherited musculoskeletal disorder. In non-affected dogs, the hip joint fits together snugly and smoothly. In dogs with hip dysplasia, however, the head of the femur fits loosely into the pelvis, causing excessive rubbing. Eventually, the cartilage that cushions the joint is worn through because of this misalignment, and the dog experiences pain and associated lameness. Severe cases of hip dysplasia can lead to complete loss of mobility in the hind legs.
Current veterinary theory believes that straight heredity only accounts for twenty-five percent of a dog's predisposition toward hip dysplasia. Other contributing factors are the animal's diet, weight, and activity level. Canine hip dysplasia is particularly prevalent in large, fast growing Dog Breeds, including:
- German Shepards
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- St. Bernards
- Great Danes
- Irish Setters
- Old English Sheepdogs
While larger dog breeds have a greater risk of developing hip dysplasia, even Small Dog Breeds can become afflicted with the disease, particularly if they are overweight or lead extremely active lives.
The first symptoms of canine hip dysplasia appear during a puppy's rapid growth, typically between four and nine months old. While there may be no initial clinical symptoms, the dog will eventually begin limping, have a weaving, wavering gait, or may have difficulty running, jumping, or rising from a sitting or sedentary position.
A vet will diagnose hip dysplasia through external examinations (feeling for looseness in the hips) as well as x-rays or radiographs to determine the severity of the joint degeneration. Mild hip dysplasia is similar to osteoarthritis in humans and dogs can easily learn to live with the condition and enjoy full, happy lives.
Treatment for canine hip dysplasia involves managing the condition and helping the dog adjust to more limited mobility. The dog's weight should be carefully managed: even a few extra pounds can add additional stress onto the deteriorated joints, causing greater pain and inflammation. While all dogs need exercise, strenuous games such as chasing balls, jumping, and tricks standing on the hind legs should be avoided to alleviate joint stress. To help relieve pain, many veterinarians prescribe mild anti-inflammatory drugs. Cold can aggravate the condition, so affected dogs should be kept warm, particularly in sleeping places.
If the condition is severe, there are a number of surgical options. For smaller dog breeds, removing the femoral head (the upper part of the femur that rides in the pelvic joint) is an option, and the dog will eventually generate a false joint of scar tissue as a replacement. This is not an option for heavier dog breeds, however, and hip replacement surgery is possible in extreme cases.
Curing Canine Hip Dysplasia
Because it is primarily a genetic condition, canine hip dysplasia cannot be cured. Selective breeding with pre-screened animals can help eliminate the disease, however. Before choosing to breed a dog, its hips should be examined by x-rays for any predisposition to hip dysplasia. If you are choosing a puppy, ask about its family history to insure it does not have a greater risk of the disease, and avoid choosing a large-breed puppy if the breeder is unable to answer basic family history questions.
Hip Dysplasia Summary
Canine hip dysplasia is a genetic deterioration of the hip joints, most predominantly found in larger dogs. Though the condition can be painful, it can be managed through careful weight control, moderate exercise, limited painkilling drugs, and surgery if necessary, allowing affected animals to live full and happy lives. Though there is no cure for the disease, scrupulous breeding can prevent passing it on to future generations.