Vet Check: Hip Dysplasia

Dr Abbie Tipler is back for our September Vet Check looking at Hip Dysplasia in dogs. Dr Abbie works at Mosman Vet in Sydney and once again has taken some time out of her busy schedule to answer all our questions!

1. What is Hip Dysplasia?

To understand Hip Dysplasia, we firstly need an appreciation of the hip joint, which is actually very similar to the human hip joint. It is basically a ball and socket joint and the ball should be able to move freely and in all directions within the socket. The ‘ball’ is called the head of the femur and the ‘socket’ is the acetabulum of the pelvis. To appreciate this, make a fist with one hand, and wrap the other hand around this fist. Now move the fist hand around in all directions.

With Hip Dysplasia, the ball doesn’t fit snugly within the socket, which means that there are abnormal pressures on both the ball and the socket. The body tries to correct the situation by remodelling the bone (this can be seen on a radiograph). Over time, because of the incorrect ‘fit’, the joint becomes osteoarthritic which is a process of cartilage degeneration and inflammation within the joint. Osteoarthritis is a painful, debilitating disease.

Bilateral hip dysplasia in a Labrador Retriever puppy. The left hip (positioned on the right side in the X-ray) is worse than the right hip. Photo of a x-ray taken by Joel Mills.

2. Are there breeds that are particularly prone?

Yes, unfortunately whenever you develop a breed of dog or cat you select for certain genetic look-based traits, but you are also unknowingly selecting for other genes as well. Over time this unfortunately leads to breed-specific health problems. There are many breeds prone to Hip Dysplasia, it is certainly not just Labradors! German Shepherds, Rotweilers, Golden Retrievers, Bull Mastiffs and Saint Bernards to name just a few others but also smaller breeds can also be affected e.g. Spaniels and Pugs.

3. What are the symptoms to watch out for and is there an age of onset?

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia include lameness (limping), a swinging gait (bottom looks likes its swinging from side to side as dog runs or walks!), stiffness after resting or lying down for a while, trouble getting into or out of the car or getting up and down stairs, reduced activity levels or wanting to go for shorter walks or reduced interaction with family members.

The age of onset can vary significantly. It is not always a disease of older pets although because it is progressive (gets worse with time) we often see pets when they are older. Often the first signs of pain occur when the puppy is around 10 months of age. They tend to have a ‘bad spell’ around this age, seemingly recover and then have further clinical signs when they are older.
Labrador PuppyLabradors can be prone to HD

4. How is Hip Dysplasia treated?

I will break this down into conservative and surgical treatment options. Conservative management generally encompasses anything non-surgical or medical.


a) Weight control! I put this first on the list as I truly believe it to be one of the most important aspects in the conservative management of osteoarthritis. Less weight on the pet, is less weight (and pain) within the joints. A lot of veterinary clinics have setup nurse-run weight clinics to help your pet shed those extra kilos. If your pet is overweight, this is your first step, and the best news is that not only will your dog thank you, you can save money! Feed a low-fat dog food. Remember that not all foods are created equal, and some diets are formulated for taste rather than health! As with a lot of things, this is where cheaper is not necessarily better. There are also diets formulated for weight loss specifically eg. Hills R/D (reducing diet!)

b) Exercise. It is a common misconception that if your pet has Hip Dysplasia or osteoarthritis that you should cut back on the walks and exercise. Rest is important for ‘acute flareups’ of the disease ie. when your dog further injures an already arthritic joint, however, the general rule for osteoarthritis is that exercise is very good. Long, slow walks are better than short episodes of tearing around like a maniac! The best forms of exercise are those that have low impact on the joints, but work the muscles eg. swimming, walking in long grass, on sand or soft surfaces.

c) Joint supplementation/nutraceutical treatments. There are many products available that aim to slow the process of osteoarthritis. There are injectable treatments (typically a course of four injections given a week apart and repeated every 6 months) and oral formulas, usually containing a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin, which are building blocks for cartilage. There are also diets that are high in omega 3 fatty acids and the above mentioned ingredients that can help. As you can imagine there are numerous combinations and concoctions and varying evidence to support their use. I have no affiliation with any drug company and can say that based on the current evidence, my osteoarthritic pet would be fed Hills J/D (joint diet) and would recieve courses of Zydax injectable. However, speak to your own vet about the various options here.

d) Pain control. The best way to know if your pet is in pain, is to trial a course of pain-relief. If you notice an improvement in demeanor, activity levels and overall quality of life, then it is likely that he/she IS in pain with osteoarthritis, and may require ongoing pain control. There are different options for pain control and all of them are veterinary-prescription only. Talk to your vet at your next checkup about the options for pain control and if they are safe and advisable for your particular pet.

e) Physical therapies. Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy can have excellent results in some patients. Your vet should be able to direct you to someone in your area.


a) Hip replacement. Some dogs that have a very painful hip that gives them ongoing pain are candidates for total hip replacement. This is a specialist procedure and you would need to get a referral from your veterinarian to an orthopaedic specialist.

b) JPS, this stands for juvenile pubic symphysiodesis. This sounds scary, but is in fact a very simple procedure with a very low complication rate. This procedure can help PREVENT hip dysplasia, if performed on young dogs. It must be performed on dogs 5 months or younger, ideally at around 4 – 4.5 months. The procedure has been proven to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia in suitable candidates. It is performed at most specialist centres, however some general veterinary clinics are equipped and will provide this service more economically. The clinic I work for, Mosman Vets, offers JPS for young dogs. To determine if your pet is a candidate they will have hip radiographs and a mathematical calculation is used to decide if they should have the procedure. They will usually be desexed under the same general anaesthesia.

5) Is there anything I can do to prevent Hip Dysplasia in my new puppy?

Firstly, see above, under surgical treatment b) JPS. This may help! But you must act early as it only works while your pet is growing.

Secondly, it is important not to overfeed or overexercise your puppy. They are still doing more research to investigate the importance of these factors, but there are two rules of thumb that I like to stick to:

  • Invest (it is an investment, trust me!) in a good quality puppy food and feed no more than the recommended amount – no extras! Treats should be taken from the daily allowance. Don’t feed your puppy a diet high in ‘human food’ eg meat/eggs etc as this can lead to imbalances in calcium and phosphorus and subsequent problems. This sounds awfully strict, but it is important for all sorts of reasons in the long-run! The rate at which your puppy grows is important. Hills science diet and Royal Canin are good choices.
  • Less than three months of age, you shouldn’t need to exercise too much (just running round the house and garden should be enough), then from here on in, it is best to avoid strenuous exercise, steep or uneven surfaces and too much running up and down stairs. Never exercise your puppy for longer than they naturally want to and take care that larger or older dogs don’t engage in too much play activity. Around 20-30 minutes 2-3x a day of off-lead running around on a flat surface should be adequate in the first year of life.

If you have any questions for Abbie about your dog’s health please send us an email at [email protected].

Mosman Vet has a Facebook Page, on which they are running a competition to find the face of Mosman Vet for 2012, so go check out the details and the great prize.

Please note: Puppy Tales provides these articles for information purposes only. For any health problems with your pet always seek immediate veterinary advice from your local veterinarian.

Dr Abbie Tipler, BVSc, MACVS (Surgery) Tipler, BVSc, MACVS (Surgery)

Dr Abbie is a Small Animal Veterinarian with 10 years full-time experience. Her passion is Small Animal Surgery and in 2011 she studied towards and obtained her Memberships in Small Animal Surgery from the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists. Although surgery is her special interest, she loves all aspects of General Practice, especially canine medicine. She lives with her family and two Ragdoll cats.