Hip problems in dogs are most commonly associated with arthritis or hip dysplasia. Arthritis or degenerative joint disease can be caused by cancer, infection, immune system disorders, trauma (e.g., car accident), and general wear and tear. It can also be caused by the inherited disease, hip dysplasia.
One of the most commonly seen hip problems in dogs is hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a result of the abnormal development of the joint, which causes subluxation (partial dislocation) of the hip joint resulting in erosion, pain, and arthritis.
Pain progresses with age as the joint condition worsens over time. Although hip dysplasia is inherited, it can also be worsened by diet and the rate of growth as well as excessive exercise at a young age. While hip problems in dogs can occur in any breed, there appears to be a higher incidence of hip dysplasia in certain breeds. These breeds include:
Signs and Symptoms Of Hip Dysplasia and Arthritis
Owners may notice particular symptoms in their dogs if they suffer from hip problems. These may include:
- Reluctance to jump (e.g., into the car)
- Reluctance to run (e.g., playing fetch)
- Stiffness after exercise
- Bunny-hopping (when the dog uses both hind legs together)
- Abnormal gait
- Pain or stiffness (more severe in cold weather or first thing in the morning)
- Biting or licking at the area of the painful joint
- Behavioral changes (depression, aggression, lethargy, etc.)
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of hip problems in dogs begins with a physical examination to determine the extent of pain and movement, the patient’s medical history and background, and possibly x-rays. Treatment for canine hip problems depends on diagnosis and extent of degeneration. Both hip dysplasia and degenerative joint disease are commonly treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, medications to stimulate cartilage repair and minimize further cartilage damage, and pain relief medications.
Prescription diets to control weight and for joint problems are available, and owners should provide soft, warm bedding as well as exercise their dog daily with low impact activities such as swimming and lead walks. Owners should discuss the best exercise for their dog with their veterinarian as strenuous exercise will do more harm than good. Owners should also do their best to make activities such as getting into the car or up the stairs easier by providing a ramp. Massage, physical therapy, and surgery are also an option for many dogs with hip dysplasia. Surgery is often expensive and owners who have pet insurance should check their policy as many pet insurance companies don’t cover hip dysplasia treatment.
Prevention of Hip Problems in Dogs
It is not always possible to prevent hip problems in dogs, but there are many things owners can do to minimize the risks. Owners should purchase their dog from a reputable breeder, especially if planning on purchasing a large breed puppy; most breeding societies have hip scoring schemes, meaning potential owners can view the quality of the parents of the puppy they are considering buying. There is a much lower chance of a puppy developing hip dysplasia if the parents and grandparents have excellent hips.
Owners should provide an appropriate premium quality dog food (e.g., large breed puppy food). Premium dog foods are specially formulated to provide all the nutrients the dog needs and to limit the rate of growth in large breed puppies. Regular exercise, a comfortable sleeping area, and routine veterinary checkups are also important. Hip problems in dogs can occur in young puppies as well as old dogs, and, while there are no guarantees a dog won’t suffer hip problems, owners should aim to provide the best healthcare possible to minimize the risk.