The Signs, Treatments, and Truth of Canine Hip Dysplasia

Giant or large breed dog owners need to make themselves aware, and be on the lookout, for the symptoms of hip dysplasia in their dogs but it’s not just a big dog problem. Dogs of all sizes and breed can find themselves among the many with the issue. In fact, states that, a little over 15% of all dogs develop hip dysplasia. Interestingly enough, when a focus is placed on a dogs breed, that percentage hugely varies from 0 to 74%.  So, whereas it’s very true that some larger breeds have a high genetic or hereditary chance that they will eventually encounter hip dysplasia, it’s not a “big guy” problem.

To dig a bit deeper into what hip dysplasia really is starts with an improperly formed hip join. The join is already loose, so as an active dog does active dog things (playing, jumping, running, walking, everyday activity) the bone moves and shift around in the joint and this causes wear, tear and eventually a lot of pain. Just like in their human counterparts, the hip joints are under a constant pressure from the dogs weight and actions. If the ball and socket in the hip joint’s grown are stunted by uneven growth, that joint wears unevenly. This will eventually cause wear and tear, destroy cartilage and bone, then eventually make movement and common actions very painful for your fur buddy.

So you should stop your dog from being active, right? We all know this is not possible, nor would it be fair to the animal. It’s in all canines nature, especially puppies or younger dogs, to be active and have fun. All you can do as primary care giver, and dog lover, is to watch for the signs and take needed steps to help your pet avoid the condition. Even though, for some, the actuality and probability of the disease are just a fact of life, having your attention focused on prevention and a plan for managing the issue are key to their longer and pain free life.

Maintaining a good weight is of paramount importance for all dogs, but especially key for keeping dysplasia away. Rapidly gained, and unnecessary pounds can complicate any dogs development, but those predisposed to the illness see a faster onset of issues than those with a thin or average build. Prevention also seems to be a “Catch 22”, as exercise helps to speed up the process but not having a good activity and play time with cause weight gain. The dog is “stuck in the middle with you” and it may seem like the inevitable is coming, regardless of what you do. While true that the condition is coming for some dogs, how you monitor and react to signs of hip dysplasia tell the long term tale of the dogs life.

Signs that your dog is developing Hip Dysplasia

  • A noticeable stiffness in the back legs: you’ll see a noticeable favoring of their hind legs. It will also appear as a slight limp, which will become worse over time.

  • Reduced activity: as the disease advances, your dog will become more and more lazy due to pain. They will simply avoid those things that hurt, even those they love.

  • Unwilling or unable to climb or get up and down on their own: Like their owners who develop osteoarthritis, simple and common things become difficult and painful. You will begin to see your dog avoid steps up and down, then the simple motion of standing up or lying back down becomes a chore they’d rather avoid.

  • A decrease in muscle mass in their bottom half and thighs: Due to pain and stiffness, the dog naturally will avoid using their back legs in the same way they always have. The muscles will atrophy, become weaker and loose their shape and form. As the legs become weaker, they become useless.

  • Shoulder muscles become larger and stronger: The expected impact of NOT using your legs would be that your arms take on the brunt of the load to compensate. Think of a body builder who only focuses on “arm days” to develop the triceps and pecks. They look “odd” and the underdevelopment of the lower half of the body makes the appear to be two different people. This is true for your pet, as well. As a side effect of avoiding a painful hip motion, they will unintentionally build stronger shoulders and legs.

  • A sway in their backside or a “bunny hop” instead of stride: You’ll see a favoring of one side vs the other stronger side displayed as a swerve when they walk. Some dogs stop using the walking motion and start to use both legs together in a hopping motion. You might even see your dog drag their back legs for short distances, instead of enduring pain in the hips.

So you may ask, “If they can’t play or exercise, what’s a parent to do? I feel like I’m caught between a joint and hard place.” Where it may seem that way, you can actually play a great part in helping keep a balance in their life and stave off pain. As we discussed, diet is key… so talk to your primary care doctor on how, when, and what to feed your dog. Then STICK TO IT, as hard as that is. No table food, stop the excessive snacking, and keep to a schedule of feeding. Grazing is bad, routine is good. Also, plan out your exercise on a schedule that your dog will learn and eventually look forward to participating in. Things like two 15 to 20 minute walks a day, perhaps getting a pool that is big enough for them to move around in, swimming is less impact and easier on the joints. You can guide them on a slow pace and easy playtime vs a running and jumping free for all that they are used too. By taking control and leading the charge, they can avoid massive pain and still enjoy the time with you.

Home Help for a Dog Diagnosed with Hip Displasia

Once a dog shows signs of the disease, there are some suggested actions you can take at home to help them manage their symptoms and help them cope with the growing pain. Here are few suggestions you might hear from your veterinarian and try in your home;

  • Massage around the hip joints: This may bring pain when your first try it. Your buddy might show signs of discomfort or it may seem to irritate them. If this is the case, back off massage and try again another day. Use short circles and light pressure. If they tolerate that routine, move to a bit more pressure, increasing the massage time until you reach 10 minute sessions. Make is a good thing, fun thing, special thing just for them. They will learn to love it and feel better because of your efforts.

  • Provide them a comfortable resting and sleeping space: We all know that dogs love to lay and sleep where we are, but as the disease advances the simple action of climbing and jumping will become a painful task and they will stop. Help them find a new comfort level by offering orthopedic beds in multiple locations that YOU rest or relax. Then, get down with them. Make this the new normal in their lives and they will not only adjust, but eventually welcome it as part of their routine.

  • Use a warm bottle or compress on the hip joints: Again, the owners patience and involvement is needed to make this work. It will seem strange and intrusive to the dog at first, but once the warmth gets into the joints and some relief starts, they will understand and welcome the heating process. If you can find two “quiet times” a day to apply heat, it will help them manage their pain.

  • Make your home “hip”: Look for ways to make their lives easier in your shared environment. Can you relocate or change some things so they travel less on sore and painful joints? Can you provide a ramp up to your bed or sitting places to avoid jumping but still give access to you and their usual routines? Could you bring their food, toys and fun things closer to where you normally hang out? By adjusting your world at home, they can put less pressure on their hips and still enjoy their favorite things.

  • Be a home health aide to your favorite patient: Stairs will become difficult, ups and downs hard, balance and movement challenging. You can assist the most by putting down carpets for traction in slippery places in your home, or lifting them up instead of letting them jump, helping them up from a laying position, keeping their world on the first floor of life and not expecting them to climb stairs, looking for ways that you can be their back legs or provide the muscle to keep their lives as normal as possible.

What’s a Doctor to Do?

If your dog is a good candidate for surgery, there are additional options you can explore to bring a more normal life back to your fur buddy. A lot of factors go into the decision on if your dog qualifies for surgery. Things like age, weight, preexisting conditions, breed and the stage of the disease and condition of the hip joints at the time of surgery. Your DMV can evaluate in an exam and give you an idea of the dogs likelihood of being a candidate for surgery. If they do qualify, there are a few possible surgeries they could have

DPT/TPO – this is for younger dogs. The surgeon actually cuts into the pelvic bone then rotates segments of the ball and socket to assure better growth and movement.

FHO – This surgery involves cutting off the “ball” of the hip joint, thus creating a new or “false” joint that reduces the pain and discomfort associated with hip displasia. FHO will not recreate normal hip function but it does help in pain reduction. You give a little to regain comfort in this procedure, which is akin to form of pain management.

THR – This is the best way to assure a more normal life. THR is a “Total Hip Replacement” in which the entire joint is replaced with plastic and metal parts. Most dogs regain a more normal range of motion and all but eliminate the pain and discomfort they were experiencing.

Other veterinarian drive help options are things like physical therapy, joint supplements that can be found at most pet stores, anti-inflammatory medications, and joint fluid modifying injections. Your primary care doctor can discuss these treatments in more detail.

It’s key to remember that dogs with hip dysplasia can lead a full and mostly normal life. Your commitment to monitoring the signs and seeking treatment options is key to helping your pet manage the disease and pain. This may include wholesale lifestyle changes for your dog… and that means changes for you, as well.

If the thought of the time and change commitment concerns you, then you should do research of the breed and hereditary illness for their bloodline. Every dog has some possible genetic illnesses that are predisposed. Regardless if it’s hip dysplasia in large dogs, breathing issues in snub nosed dogs, knee joint issues in small dogs, kidney or heart conditions and eye conditions in various breeds, dog ownership comes with built in risks. Educate yourself on the breeds you have the most interest in and decide is the risk is worth the reward for the long term because that’s what loving a dog is, a long term commitment. You are signing up to care for a living creature, an animal that comes with all the health concern chances that a human child might have.

If you see reoccurring symptoms or actions that are out of character for your pet, keep an ongoing list and seek out the advice of your primary care veterinarian. It’s better safe and silly, than overlooking a potential life changing illness or disease in your fur kids. Call your vet in advance with a list of symptoms or unusual actions and let them help you determine if your pet needs to be seen. You’ll be glad you did for your own peace of mind and the health of your buddy.

We hope this quick lesson on the signs, treatments, and impact of canine hip dysplasia has been helpful and informative. To find out more about pet related lifestyle, illness, product, or fun topics, check out our online archive of blog topics.

That’s it for this weeks Dog Blog. Keep in mind that the 4th of July is right around the corner, and that means it’s time to make a plan on fireworks proofing your home and dogs environment. Fireworks are loud, scary, and potentially trauma inducing. Help your dog cope with the night by planning a safe and comfortable space for them to ride out the night. You’ll be glad you did.

Look for our next issue in the upcoming weeks, as you find out what’s what in the word of your pets, as you discover what #FreddieSez! Until then, be safe and pet friendly!