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7 Important Things to Know About Canine Hip Dysplasia

Colin GrubbMar 27, 2017

What is Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia is a disease that affects a dog's ball and socket joint of their hip or hips. It is an abnormal joint formation where the ball and socket don’t fit into each other properly. Instead of smoothly sliding they grind together causing pain. In serious cases, dysplasia can cripple the dog.

What Causes Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Canine hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition, but is brought on through interaction with environmental factors. To what degree each is responsible is still a matter for debate. On the genetic side, it presents a complex pattern of inheritance involving multiple genes and groups of genes. On the environmental side, there are several known influences.

Neutering a dog before it has reached adulthood has been shown to double the chances of hip dysplasia. Also, overweight dogs are more susceptible, as well as those who suffered injury to the area at a young age. Repetitive stress and overuse of the joint as a puppy is another culprit, i.e. routinely running with a dog before it has reached adulthood.

The critical stage is the first eight weeks. During this time, puppies that are allowed to exercise off their leashes, outside, on uneven ground have less of a chance of developing the condition than those raised in a house with uncarpeted floors and stairs.

Hip Dysplasia Symptoms

All normal puppies are born with fully functioning hips. If they are going to develop dysplasia, the process begins shortly after birth, and the condition almost always presents iteslf by the time the dog is 18 months old. One of the first signs, owners report, is an unwillingness to exercise, or difficulty rising after sleep or rest. Compounding the issue is that dogs with dysplasia have generally been dealing with the condition from a very young age, and have more or less developed ways of coping with the pain. Also, the severity of the disconnect between the ball and socket doesn’t always dictate the level of pain. A dog can be in serious pain from mild dysplasia and vice versa.

An x-ray is the only way to tell to what level the disease has progressed. You might want to seek a diagnosis from your veterinarian should your dog be displaying the following symptoms:

  • Rear end sways back and froth while walking
  • “Bunny hopping” – This is when the dog moves both legs together in an effort to mitigate the pain.
  • Sitting with one hip splayed out
  • Narrow stance with back legs closer together than front legs
  • Stiffness
  • Winces when touched
  • Doesn’t want to run, jump, or play

Hip Dysplasia Treatments

There are surgical and non-surgical options for treating hip dysplasia. The choice of which is usually dictated by the looseness of the joint, and the dog’s size and age.

A non-surgical intervention could include weight control if the animal is too heavy. Decreasing the dog’s weight will take stress off the joint and decrease inflammation. This can be done by an adjustment in diet combined with an exercise plan. The veterinarian will help decide how much and what kind of exercise the dog is capable of. Low impact exercise like swimming is great for increasing muscle and limiting further pain to the dog.

Other non-surgical options include pain medication, vitamins, anti-inflammatory medications, and tissue massage.

There are several surgical interventions that can be employed for canine hip dysplasia. The veterinarian will choose based on the dog’s age and size, as well as the progression of the disease.

Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis surgery is performed on dog’s younger than six months and involves fusing part of the pelvis together. Triple Pelvic Osteotomy is typically performed on dogs under a year old; it essentially reconstructs the hip joint. Femoral Head Ostectomy is usually performed on older dogs that are suffering from osteoarthritis. In it, the joint capsule is sutured. Total hip replacement involves replacing the entire joint with plastic and metal prosthetics.

Does Pet Insurance Cover Hip Dysplasia?

Generally speaking, a given pet insurance plan either a) flat out doesn’t cover hip dysplasia, or b) covers it only if symptoms present themselves after the dog is insured. Given that the disease typically shows up quite early in the dog’s life, you’d basically have to get pet insurance right away if you find your breed is prone to dysplasia.

We suggest you go over a prospective company’s coverage with a fine tooth comb and/or get a direct answer from a representative before you purchase a policy.

Which Dog Breeds Are Prone to Hip Dysplasia?

Dysplasia commonly affects large dogs including:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Bulldogs
  • Saint Bernards
  • Rottweilers
  • Great Danes
  • German Shepherds
  • Bloodhounds
  • Chows
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • Neopolitan Mastiffs

Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Hip dysplasia is considerably less common in cats than in dogs, but it does occur. Purebreds are more likely to develop it, and is more common in females than males. As with dogs, it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The surgical options are also much the same as well.

The best option for dealing with possible hip dysplasia is getting a pet insurance plan that covers the disease early in the dog’s life before symptoms have a chance to show. Also, you must take into consideration all companies have different minimum ages for enrollment. To navigate all this we suggest taking a look at our Top 10 Pet Insurance Providers of this year