Hip dysplasia is one of the most common orthopaedic diseases in dogs and is a degenerative condition leading to osteoarthritis, reduced mobility and can have a significant impact on quality of life.
Genetics, weight and environmental factors all have a role to play in this disease which can affect any breed but is most often seen in Labradors, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers.
A normal hip joint allows the head of the femur (ball) to sit into the acetabulum (socket). This joint has a large range of movement and allows flexion and extension of the hip joint along with a small amount of rotation and abduction and adduction (moving the limb away from and towards the body).
The joint is supported and stabilised by the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons which allow movement but can also restrict incorrect movement.
In the dog with hip dysplasia the head of the femur and/or the acetabulum have developed abnormally and do not have the smooth rounded surfaces of the normal joint.
The muscles, ligaments and tendons that surround and support the joints are also affected. They become weak due to improper use and over time this weakness allows the joint to become unstable as the supporting tissues are unable to provide the structure and stability the joint requires.
Dogs with hip dysplasia may show signs from as young as 5-6 months or into middle aged to later years. Those affected often develop an abnormal gait which may be as subtle as stiffness when first rising but improves with exercise to difficulty running, negotiating stairs or limping. When running, dogs affected often demonstrate a ‘bunny hopping gait’ where both hind limbs move together. Changes in behaviour and temperament may also be seen as your dog copes with pain or tries to adapt to the condition and their environment.
Due to the abnormal movement of the joint, cartilage which protects, nourishes and cushions the joints begins to be damaged and wear away. Inflammation in and around the joint occurs as the body attempts to heal the damage and pain develops due arthritic changes, stretching of nerve endings and the inflammatory process.
There are many things you as an owner can do to help manage this disease and make your dog more comfortable. Firstly always follow advice from your vet once the condition has been diagnosed. They may suggest surgery, pain relief or conservative management.
Excess weight puts more pressure on already weakened joints therefore keeping your dog at his ideal weight can help to alleviate some of the signs of this disease. You may also find your dog is more prone to putting on weight as they are less inclined to exercise. Regularly weigh your pet and check their body condition score to spot any changes and adjust their food accordingly. The staff at your local veterinary surgery may hold regular weight clinics to offer advice and support as canine nutrition is a minefield of information.
Many dogs with hip dysplasia benefit from frequent short walks instead of one long one. This helps to prevent them stiffening up through the day and means they do not overtire themselves.
In cold weather consider investing in a coat for your pet. By keeping the muscles warm you can help to reduce pain and keep your pet more comfortable.
Consider your dog’s home environment, do they have to negotiate slippery laminate or tiled floors? Do they struggle to do stairs to sleep upstairs? Is their bed padded and comfortable?
Physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and massage are often prescribed as part of the management of this disease and can help to alleviate pain, strengthen muscles and improve mobility. Specific exercises may be prescribed that target your dog’s weakened muscles and a home care plan can be discussed that fits your lifestyle and your pet’s needs.