Hip Dysplasia is the veterinary term for ‘abnormal growth’ of the hip joint. The two most commonly affected joints are elbow and hip. In hip dysplasia, a malformation develops in the joint as a puppy grows. Dysplasias can range from mild (you don’t even know your dog has it) to severe, and a dog can develop problems with mobility at any age.

Hip dysplasia is diagnosed with by your veterinarian with a physical exam and radiographs (x-ray). Dogs that have hip dysplasia have skinny back legs with less muscle, and often big barrel chests because they use their front legs to pull themselves up. They have a stiff, stilted hindlimb gait, and can cry out in pain if you stretch their hips out. The pain in hip dysplasia comes from arthritis that develops in the joint.

Hip dysplasia is generally believed to be a genetic disease that is made worse by over-feeding or over-exercising puppies.  If your dog has hip dysplasia, there is no way to prevent it, but you can manage it.

Veterinarians may recommend surgery for dogs with severe hip dysplasia, but often times, the treatment for hip dysplasia is not straight-forward, and many factors must be considered. For young dogs, a surgery called a triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) can be performed to change the angle of the pelvis to try and prevent the onset of osteoarthritis. In smaller dogs, an FHO (femoral head ostectomy) to remove the hip joint can be performed. This is a good option for smaller dogs that already have arthritis in the joint. In large dogs, a THR (total hip replacement) replaces the ball and socket with a plastic and metal joint.

Four out of five dogs (about 80% of the patients) with arthritis in both hips only require one side be operated upon to return them to a satisfactory and comfortable life. The decision on which hip to replace is based on the owner’s observations, the physical examination findings and the hip x-rays. Your knowledge of your pet’s disability is important in making this decision. The cost of the procedure is substantial: $4,500-$5,000 per hip. The best way to decide on surgery to to talk to your veterinarian and a board certified veterinary orthopedic surgeon and make the decision yourself.

Hip dysplasia can also be managed medically. Many pet parents elect to put their dogs on a combination of pain medication, joint supplements, and keep their pet at a healthy weight to reduce the pain associated with arthritis.  Acupuncture, laser therapy, physical therapy, and massage also help tremendously with quality of life. If you dog has hip dysplasia, talk with your veterinarian about options to help your dog enjoy a pain-free life.