Canine Hip Dysplasia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, & Prognosis

Often misunderstood as a dislocation, Dysplasia actually refers to a group of developmental abnormalities that affects the skeletal system.

Dysplasia and dislocations both affect the joints and cause mobility issues, but they aren’t the same thing. A dislocation happens when a bone is shifted out of its normal position whereas dysplasia involves the improper formation, function and alignment of the bones and other joint components like the cartilage, ligaments and other connective tissues.

Types of Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition with large breed dogs being more commonly affected. The hip is a ball-and-socket joint connecting the thigh bone (femur) to the pelvis. In hip dysplasia, the hip joint does not develop properly, leading to an improper fit between the femur and the hip socket (acetabulum) causing a loose hip joint, leading to joint instability, hip deformity, pain, inflammation, and in some cases it leads to other degenerative joint disease like osteoarthritis.

Elbow dysplasia

The elbow joint consists of three bones: the humerus, radius, and ulna and all meet at a junction. Elbow dysplasia occurs when there is an abnormal development in the joint components of the elbow, leading to misalignment and fit between the bones.

Shoulder dysplasia

Shoulder dysplasia is when there is abnormal growth and development of the bones, cartilage, shoulder muscles and ligaments that make up the shoulder joint.

Why do dogs develop hip dysplasia?

In the case of hip dysplasia, there is no one cause to point a finger at and it is usually a combination of several factors:


A genetic base is the most common cause of hip dysplasia in dogs. Certain breeds are more prone to specific types of dysplasia due to inherited traits. Irresponsible breeding practices that do not take into account the genetic health of the parents can lead to the passing on of genetic predispositions of hip dysplasia to the offspring.

Rapid Growth and Development:

During the puppyhood phase, rapid growth and development can put excessive stress on bones, joints, and connective tissues. Large and giant breed dogs in particular may be more susceptible to hip dysplasia as they grow too quickly.

Nutritional Factors:

Inadequate or imbalanced nutrition during a dog’s growth phase can negatively affect bone and joint development. Large dogs need large care and when their optimal nutritional requirements aren’t met, poor skeletal growth occurs resulting in weak joints and bones. A healthy diet is essential to encourage normal joint development.

Trauma or Injury:

In some cases, trauma or injuries to the joints can lead your dog to develop hip dysplasia. Damage to the joint structures can result in abnormal growth and function over time.

Preventing Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia is more common in certain dog breeds due to genetic factors and conformation. While it can occur in any breed or mixed-breed dogs, some breeds are known to be more predisposed to this condition. Here are some commonly affected breeds:

Large and Giant Breeds:

  • German Shepherd

  • Labrador Retriever

  • Golden Retriever

  • Rottweiler

  • Saint Bernard

  • Great Dane

  • Newfoundland Mastiff (all types)

  • Bernese Mountain Dog

  • Siberian Husky

Medium-Sized Breeds:

  • Bulldog (English Bulldog, French Bulldog, American Bulldog)

  • Boxer American

  • Staffordshire Terrier

Other Breeds:

  • Pug

  • Dachshund (particularly the miniature variety)

  • Basset Hound

While these breeds do have a higher incidence of hip dysplasia, individual dogs within these breeds can still have varying levels of risk.

Additionally, large mixed-breed dogs can also develop hip dysplasia, especially if they have genetic contributions from one or more of the breeds listed above.

If you feel like your dog is more predisposed to developing hip dysplasia, here are a few things to help you prevent and reduce its severity.

Signs of hip dysplasia

Here are some common symptoms associated with dysplasia:

  • Reluctance to engage in physical activities, such as running, jumping, or climbing stairs.

  • Difficulty rising from a lying or sitting position.

  • Bunny hop gait (using both hind legs together) instead of a normal walking gait.

  • Lameness or limping, particularly in the hind legs.

  • Reduced range of motion in the hip joints.

  • Pain or sensitivity when the hips are touched or manipulated.

  • Muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass) in the hindquarters.

Some dogs with hip dysplasia may not exhibit obvious clinical signs until the condition progresses or becomes more severe. If you observe any of the above clinical signs or any other difference in your dog’s normal hip function seek veterinary evaluation. Your Vet will perform a physical examination to assess your dog’s joints by observing gait, range of motion, and signs of discomfort while also feeling for swelling, tenderness, or irregularities.

Your pet’s clinical signs might also overlap with other joint conditions dogs face. It is best to get your Vet on board and not self-diagnose as they will perform additional testing such as X-rays which will help in accurately diagnosing hip dysplasia.

Conservative Treatment for Dysplasia

Conservative methods to treat hip dysplasia in dogs focuses on reducing pain, and inflammation, and improving joint function. Here are some common conservative treatment options for treating hip dysplasia:

Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight is key to having healthy joints as excess weight places additional stress on the affected joints. Additional fat in the body also increases inflammation by releasing pro-inflammatory substances, activating the immune system, causing insulin resistance, and promoting oxidative stress.

Physical Therapy: These include exercises to improve the joint’s range of motion, strengthen supporting muscles, and increase flexibility. Low-impact activities like swimming or controlled walking can be beneficial in maintaining joint health.

Joint Supplements: Glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM and omega-3 fatty acids are commonly used to support joint health and reduce inflammation. These supplements help alleviate joint pain, reduce inflammation and slow down the loss of cartilage while promoting joint lubrication and cartilage regeneration.

Medical Management: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed by your veterinarian to reduce pain and inflammation in the affected joints. It’s essential to use NSAIDs under veterinary supervision, as they can have side effects.

Assistive Devices: In some cases, assistive devices such as orthopedic braces or joint wraps are recommended to help stabilize the affected joints and provide additional support during everyday activities.

Environmental Adaptations: Making changes to your dog’s living environment can help minimize joint stress. Providing soft bedding and raised food and water bowls can reduce the need for excessive bending and squatting. Most dogs experience climbing stairs lameness and limiting your dog’s access to stairs, slippery surfaces, and high-impact activities can reduce the risk of further joint injury and discomfort.

Not all cases of hip dysplasia respond equally to conservative treatment, and your veterinarian will assess the severity of the condition and consider your dog’s overall health when recommending the most appropriate management approach. The goal of conservative treatment is to improve your dog’s comfort, mobility, and overall well-being, allowing them to lead a fulfilling life despite the challenges posed by hip dysplasia.

Regular follow-up visits with your veterinarian will help monitor your dog’s progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

Surgical Treatment for Dysplasia

Surgical treatment for dysplasia in dogs is considered when conservative management approaches have not provided sufficient relief or when the condition is severe and significantly affects the dog’s quality of life. Surgical interventions aim to correct any underlying joint abnormalities, reestablish joint stability, and alleviate pain. The specific surgical procedures may vary depending on the type of dysplasia and the affected joint. Here are some common surgical treatments for dysplasia:

Femoral Head and Neck Ostectomy (FHO): In this procedure, the femoral head (the ball of the hip joint) and part of the neck is removed, eliminating the painful bone-on-bone contact The surrounding muscles then form a “false joint,” to provide better stability and reduce pain.

Total Hip Replacement (THR): In THR, both the ball and socket of the hip joint are replaced with prosthetic implants. THR offers excellent pain relief and restores near-normal function, allowing your dog to regain mobility. This surgery is typically recommended for younger dogs with severe hip dysplasia or those with good overall health.

Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO): Triple pelvic osteotomy is usually considered for young dogs with hip dysplasia who have not yet developed severe arthritis. During TPO, the pelvic bone is cut in three places and then realigned to improve the coverage of the femoral head within the hip socket. This surgery aims to delay or prevent the progression of arthritis and hip joint deterioration.

Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS): JPS is a surgical procedure performed in dogs of young age, usually before they reach sexual maturity, to address cases of instability in the hip and joints and prevent the development of hip dysplasia.

JPS is typically recommended for young dogs that show signs of hip joint laxity or instability on radiographic evaluation. Consult with a veterinarian who is experienced in orthopedic surgery to determine if JPS is appropriate for your dog’s specific condition.

Post-operative care for the above would include, pain management, wound care, restricted activity, proper nutrition, physical therapy and finally their gradual return. Follow your Vet’s advice on reintroducing normal activities and be patient, recovery takes time.

The prognosis for Dogs with Dysplasia

Early Detection and Intervention: Early detection and prompt intervention greatly impacts the prognosis. Detecting dysplasia in its early stages allows for early treatment that helps slow down the progression of the condition and improves your dog’s quality of life.

Conservative Management: For milder cases of dysplasia, especially when detected early, conservative treatment approaches such as weight management, physical therapy, and joint supplements are usually quite effective in managing symptoms and improving joint function. With proper care, many dogs lead comfortable lives without requiring surgical intervention.

Surgical Treatment: For more severe cases of dysplasia, especially when conservative management has not provided sufficient relief, surgical intervention may be necessary. The prognosis for dogs undergoing surgery can be favorable, especially with procedures such as total hip replacement or femoral head ostectomy. These surgeries can significantly reduce pain and restore joint function, allowing your dog to resume their normal activities.

Age of the Dog: Younger dogs with dysplasia may have better outcomes following surgical interventions compared to older dogs.

Multimodal Approach: A multimodal approach where both surgical and conservative treatments are combined have shown better results and may be necessary for some dogs with dysplasia, particularly when there are multiple affected joints or concurrent orthopedic issues.

Understanding and addressing canine hip dysplasia in dogs is pivotal when ensuring the well-being of our four-legged companions. With its multifaceted causes, ranging from genetics to growth patterns, and its varied impact on different breeds, it’s clear that a personalized approach is required when we are talking about prevention and treatment. By staying informed and proactive, you can provide your furry friend with the best possible care, enabling them to lead a long, active and pain-free life.