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How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Updated on March 12, 2013
Puppyhood is a crucial time for the prevention of hip dysplasia.
Puppyhood is a crucial time for the prevention of hip dysplasia. | Source

What is hip dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia is a skeletal disease that causes abnormal development and deterioration in the hip joints of dogs. The hip joint, which attaches the hind legs to the body, is a ball and socket joint, strengthened by ligament and connective tissue. In dogs with hip dysplasia, the joint structure develops abnormally and the muscles, ligaments and tissues surrounding the joint become lax. This eventually causes the two bones in the ball and socket joint to lose contact with each other, a condition called subluxation. This leads to abnormal wear and erosion, eventually causing discomfort, pain and loss of mobility. The condition may be present in only one or both of a dog's hip joints.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia:

The symptoms of hip dysplasia are similar to those seen in other arthritic conditions. A dog may begin to show signs of pain or discomfort in the form of an altered gait, stiffness or a hesitancy to participate in activities like walks or climbing stairs. As the disease progresses, a dog may have trouble getting up from a laying down position. It is common for owners to incorrectly associate these signs with old age because the symptoms often do not appear until a dog is middle aged. However, in severe cases puppies may show signs of pain at as young as five months.

Some popular breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia:

  • Akita
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • American Staffordshire Terrior
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Bulldogs (including English, American and French)
  • German Shepherd
  • Great Dane
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
  • Mastiffs (including French, Neapolitan, Old English and Bullmastiff)
  • Newfoundland
  • Retrievers (including Labrador, Golden and Chesapeak Bay)
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard
  • Samoyed

Which dog breeds are prone to hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is most commonly seen in large and giant breeds with a heavy, square build. Great Danes, Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Saint Bernards seem to have a particularly high rate of incidence. However, because these are popular breeds it is difficult to determine whether the data is due to over representation. Medium and small dogs may also develop hip dysplasia, though this is less common. Sighthounds have a very low incidence of the disease.

How to prevent hip dysplasia:

Unfortunately, there is not currently a way to guarantee the prevention of hip dysplasia in dogs with a predisposition. However, steps can be taken to reduce the risk or delay the onset of the condition. The precautions outlined below give a dog his best fighting chance against the disease.

Selective Breeding

Genetic predisposition is the greatest factor involved in the development of hip dysplasia. A dog is at much higher risk for the disease if one or both of his parents are carriers. Selective breeding is proven to greatly reduce the incidence, so purchasing a puppy from a reputable breeder is crucial. Prospective owners should check pedigrees for Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Plan (PennHip) or Genetic Disease Control in Animals (GDC) certifications. This is particularly important for sires and dams, but grandparents for up to four generations will also ideally be hip dysplasia free.

High quality dog foods are well worth the price to help ensure a healthy, long-lived dog.
High quality dog foods are well worth the price to help ensure a healthy, long-lived dog. | Source

Proper Nutrition

Rapid growth in puppies between the ages of three and five months has been shown to increase the incidence of hip dysplasia. Feeding a puppy the correct amount of high quality food helps to ensure a normal growth rate which may prevent or reduce the severity of the disease. Dogs prone to hip dysplasia should not be fed high-protein or high-calorie food, especially while in the growing stages. Too much or too little calcium can also be detrimental to developing hip joints. A vet should be consulted to determine whether the appropriate amount of calcium is being included in a dog's diet.

Specially formulated foods are available with the appropriate blend of nutrients for dogs with a genetic predisposition. While these high quality foods cost more than cheaper brands, they are well worth the investment to give a dog the best quality of life possible and to potentially prevent future large vet bills.

Dogs who have already reached maturity are also at much higher risk for hip dysplasia if they are overweight. Weight management is crucial at all ages for dogs that are at risk for developing the disease.

Appropriate Exercise

Exercise is another key factor in the prevention of hip dysplasia. There is evidence that puppies with a predisposition who have been over-exercised at a young age may have a higher risk of developing the condition. At the same time, moderate exercise is needed for the proper development of muscle. To ensure the correct amount of exercise in puppies, owners should consult with their vet for guidelines based on their dog's specific age and breed.

As a general rule, owners should watch the signs that their dog is giving them during exercise. A puppy who wants to romp and play should be allowed, but when he shows signs of being tired he should be made to rest. Excess leash walking should be avoided with young puppies as it may encourage a dog to walk longer than he should.

Once a dog has grown past the developmental puppy stage, appropriate exercise should be continued to fight obesity and maintain muscle tone. Swimming is a particularly good form of exercise for dogs at risk for hip dysplasia because it strengthens the gluteal muscles without being hard on the joints.

References and Further Reading:

Foster, R. & Smith, M. (2013). Hip dysplasia in dogs: Diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Retrieved from March 2013.

Adelman, B., Carlson, D., Carlson, L., Eldredge, D., & Giffin, J. (2007). Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, 4th Edition. Howell Book House.


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