Hip Dysplasia in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Natural Prevention
There are so many perks to having a sizable canine best friend. They make you feel safe and protected. They’re full of energy, but also work great as pillows during lazy day naps. However, large breeds come with specific health concerns, one of them being a skeletal condition called hip dysplasia.
Hip dysplasia in dogs is a malformation of the ball and socket joint (the head of the femur and the acetabulum). The malformation keeps the two components from fitting together properly. Instead of hinging smoothly, the ball and socket grind against one another and cause pain, joint deterioration, and loss of function over time. This condition commonly plagues medium, large, and giant breed dogs. It can start before six months of age, but will often worsen with age even in cases that begin asymptomatically. In addition to the malformation of the joint structure, hip dysplasia is also characterized by laxity of the muscles and connective tissue related to the ball and socket joint.
Even though genetic factors play a hefty role in the development of this disease, environmental factors can also come into play. It’s important to identify the potential for hip dysplasia early on so you can take action and prevent your dog from developing degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip, which are closely tied to hip dysplasia and can result in severe pain, restricted mobility, and lameness. Educating yourself and consulting a holistic veterinarian will increase your dog’s chance of living a comfortable and healthy life.
Causes of Canine Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition, but that doesn’t mean the decisions you make as a pet parent are irrelevant to their development. Here’s an overview of various common causes, some of them interconnected:
- Joint wear and tear/injury
- Obesity, weight gain, high body mass index (BMI)
- Too much exercise (common in working dogs)
- Poor nutrition
- Rapid growth in early months
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals has provided an online list of breeds at risk for hip dysplasia. Whether or not your dog has experienced noticeable symptoms, it’s a good idea to ask your holistic veterinarian about the condition if your pet’s breed has a high incidence. Mixed breeds are usually less at risk than pure breeds, unless the two breeds contributing to the mix both commonly suffer from hip dysplasia.
Even though hip dysplasia is rare in small breeds, it can occur. If your small breed dog is exhibiting symptoms, the best course of action is to find out more information from your veterinarian.
Osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia often co-occur. In most cases of hip dysplasia, malformation of the hip’s architecture makes the cartilage wear away, exposing the joint and causing bone-on-bone contact. This leads to tissue destruction, inflammation, and stiffness associated with arthritis.
While over-exercising a dog with a genetic predisposition to hip dysplasia can cause the condition to develop or worsen, a lack of exercise can result in stiffness as well as weight gain that will ultimately put more stress on the joints.
Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
Since dogs can’t exactly tell us when they’re in pain, being a responsible pet owner means looking for signs of unwellness, especially if your dog’s breed is particularly vulnerable to serious health conditions. When it comes to hip dysplasia in dogs, a variety of symptoms can signal pain and discomfort. They include, but aren’t limited to:
- Bunny hopping or gait changes
- Hesitation to jump on furniture or run up stairs
- Reluctance to stand on back legs
- Thigh muscle mass loss
- Loss of interest in activity
- Trouble rising after lying down or sitting
- Stance changes (back legs close together)
- Temporary or lasting hind-end lameness after exercise
- Joint looseness observed by veterinarian, especially in younger dogs
- Arthritic symptoms observed by veterinarian, especially in older dogs
- Clicking sound when joint moves
- Enlargement of front body muscles, such as shoulder muscles (due to redistributing weight from painful areas)
- Trouble taking stance while going to the bathroom
- Subdued behavior
Your dog may be suffering from hip pain due to dysplasia without exhibiting obvious symptoms. If you notice even subtle signs - such as your dog looking uncomfortable, showing weakness in the hind legs, and displaying a reluctance to exercise - the safest course is to consult a holistic veterinarian. Diagnosis of hip dysplasia will require a physical exam to test the joint’s stiffness, and possibly blood tests or x-rays.
Hip Dysplasia Treatment for Dogs
In severe cases of hip dysplasia, surgery may be necessary. Early surgery (juvenile pubic symphysiodesis) can improve joint function for dogs younger than a year who suffer from hip dysplasia. Older dogs can also benefit from surgery, but it will look different than the juvenile surgery in that the entire hip may need to be replaced (THR - total hip replacement). There are also other surgical options, including the femoral head and neck excision, which is a partial hip replacement, and triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO), which involves a surgeon breaking the pelvis in order to realign the ball and socket joints.
Anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections can be utilized to ease swelling and manage pain if surgery is unnecessary or too costly, but these prescribed solutions can cause more problems than they solve. To learn more, look into the side effects of steroids and nsaids for joint problems in dogs.
Another thing you can do to reduce your pup’s pain is manage diet and exercise. A healthy, wholesome, all-natural diet will help your dog shed excess weight that could be placing unnecessary pressure on the joints. It will also allow your dog to obtain the nutrition needed to maintain prime physical health. Remember to gradually transition your dog to a new food by combining a little more new food with the old food each day for a week. This will help prevent a digestive reaction to a changing diet. Complement their new, healthy diet with a powerful anti-inflammatory that is fully soluble in the body, like an eggshell-membrane-based natural supplement that improves hip, joint and muscle function, as well as overall skin health. Also, be sure to trade out unhealthy treats for natural, all-meat treats.
A holistic veterinarian may recommend massage, physiotherapy, acupuncture, or swimming before resorting to surgery. Canine hydrotherapy is an increasingly popular treatment for dogs suffering from joint problems. Swimming is low-impact but also helps keep dogs fit, active, and cool. Whether you visit a local pond or an aquatic gym for dogs with underwater treadmills, your pup will appreciate the chance to exercise with some pain-free buoyancy.
These treatment methods can increase joint mobility and health. Follow the routines and management advice of your veterinarian for optimum results.
The Importance of Hip Dysplasia Prevention
Your everyday decisions can help reduce your dog’s risk of developing this conditions or suffering from its symptoms. Here are some tips for preventing hip dysplasia so that your dog never has to experience the discomfort and pain involved with this potentially serious disease:
- Make sure your dog receives regular checkups with a veterinarian who can present holistic preventative measures and solutions and recommend a personalized plan to keep your pet in premium health.
- Research your dog’s breed and ask specifically about conditions and symptoms to which it might be predisposed.
- Switch to a healthy, all-natural, grain-free diet curated by a brand you trust. It’s best to avoid dairy products, sugars, and wheat whenever possible. While healthy dog foods are typically more expensive, good nutrition can prevent an host of costly medical problems and, of course, conditions that will cause your dog suffering.
- Choose foods and treats rich with Omega-3 fats, which help control inflammation. Corn and soy products contained in many dog foods are too high in Omega-6 (also a good fat in the right doses) and not high enough in Omega-3. To keep it simple, look for foods with not just a high amount of protein and fat, but the right kind of protein and fat. Look for fish-based foods and or provide your dog with an Omega-3 supplement.
- Administer a hip and joint supplement daily. Wondercide’s Fidoflex contains no hormones, harsh chemicals, byproducts, antibiotics, GMOs, artificial colors, preservatives, wheat, gluten, or sugar. The eggshell-membrane base of Fidoplex is clinically proven to be more effective than glucosamine and chondroitin.
- Provide carpeted dog steps that will assist your dog in climbing on furniture or into the car.
- Provide a safe ramp for outdoor stairs.
- Cover hard floor surfaces with cushy rugs, especially large area rugs that won’t bunch up underfoot, to provide traction.
- Avoid giving your dog fatty or unhealthy table scraps.
- If your large dog is still a puppy, find a diet specially formulated for fast-growing, large dogs.
- Avoid exercises that may be hard on your dog’s joints, like playing frisbee or fetch and going for long runs.
- Try to exercise your dog multiple times a day for shorter periods rather than once a day for a longer period.
- Swimming is a great way to exercise your dog, but it’s also a great way for your dog to get ear infections. Moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria, so be sure to clean and dry your dog’s ears after this joint-friendly activity. A gentle, natural ear wash for dogs can help you keep your dog’s ears clean and infection-free.
- Not all dogs instinctively know how to swim. If yours is new to the activity, you may need to get a little damp yourself to make them feel safe, or take them to a canine aquatic center with veterinarians who can monitor the exercise.
- Make sure your dog has comfortable sleeping and napping arrangements by buying a plush dog bed.
- Elevate your dog’s food and water bowls to provide ease of access.
- Don’t breed a dog who suffers from hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is often a reflection of careless dog breeding by owners who did not properly screen for the condition.
- If you can, try to walk your dog on soft surface, likes grass or a school track.
- If your dog is still a puppy, try to discourage jumping on furniture and make it a house rule. This may be hard to enforce if you, like many devoted pet parents, want your dog to feel like a member of the family. But drawing these lines will make everyday life easier on your dog’s joints.
- Wait to neuter a male dog until he is physically mature. Studies show a higher incidence of hip dysplasia in dogs who are neutered before maturity, as neutering causes hormone loss that curbs development.
- Ask your vet for simple range-of-motion exercises or massages that you can learn and perform at home with your dog.
- Do not give your dog human medication. Medications like Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be harmful to dogs. Consult your veterinarian before treating your dog with pain relievers.
While surgical or pharmacological intervention may be necessary to decrease your dog’s suffering and improve quality of life, in many cases you can take a gentle and holistic approach to your dog’s pain with lifestyle adjustments and supplements. Treating your dog’s health on the whole is better than trying to tackle problems as they occur - with treatments that may improve the symptoms while masking the root problem. Your dog’s treatment plan should be developed with the help a holistic vet and tailored to age, size, and the severity of the condition.
If you think your pet may be predisposed to developing hip dysplasia or other joint problems, act now by making healthy everyday choices on behalf of your furry best friend. Don’t wait until you see limping or pain to start taking precautions against this dis-ease. While hip dysplasia is partly genetic and irreversible, diligence and mindful prevention and treatment can help your dog live a fulfilling and pain-free life.