Hip Dysplasia and Your Dog

Your pet's health is important to you. After all, they are part of your family! Sadly, dogs of all ages are subject to hip dysplasia; however, in most cases, the symptoms do not begin to show until the middle or later years in a dog's life. This disease primarily affects large and giant bred dogs, such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, although it can occur in medium-sized breeds as well.

Hip dysplasia is caused by a laxity of the muscles, connective tissue, and ligaments that normally support the joint. Most dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips, but due to their genetic make-up (and possibly other contributing factors) the soft tissues that surround the joint develop abnormally causing the subluxation (a partial dislocation of bones that leaves them misaligned but still in some contact with each other.) This "dislocation" and the consequent "reshaping" of the hip leads to the symptoms associated with this disease, which may or may affect both the right and / or left hip.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia in your pet can include:

o Walking / running with an altered gait;
o Resisting movements requiring full extension of their rear legs;
o "Bunny Hopping" gait;
o Showing stiffness, pain in their rear legs after exercise, or first thing in the morning;
o Difficulty climbing stairs;
o Limping;
o Unwillingness to participate in normal daily activities;

Many pet parents attribute these changes to normal aging, but once treatment has begun, they are pleasantly surprised to see a more normal, pain-free gait return. While researchers agree that hip dysplasia is a genetic disease, they also believe obesity can increase the severity of the disease in genetically-susceptible animals. Lack of consistent, muscle-building exercise can be another risk factor.

Veterinarians typically diagnosed canine hip dysplasia by combining:

1. Clinical signs of arthritis and pain;
2. Complete physical exam;
3. X-rays

If your pet is showing outward signs of arthritis, there are usually easily-recognized changes in the joint (visible on x-rays.) Additionally, your veterinarian may be able to feel looseness in the joint, or may detect pain when they fully- extend your pet's rear leg (s).

Roughly one half of all dogs evaluated by their vets have no physical signs of the disease, but are being evaluated for their "hip health", as they are intended to be used for breeding. Breeders want to ensure their animals are at a "low risk" for transmitting the disease to their offspring. There are two different testing methods that can be performed: the traditional is OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) testing; the other, relatively newer, technique is the PennHip method.

Once diagnosed, canine hip dysplasia can be treated surgically; your veterinarian will determine which procedure, listed below, is best for your pet, based on his or her age, body size, and severity of the hip joint's deterioration:

1. Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO)
2. Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis
3. Total Hip Replacement
4. Femoral Head and Neck Excision

Check with your veterinary pet insurance provider regarding their policy with the above-mentioned surgeries, as they can be costly. Medical management of hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis has improved tremendously in recent years, thanks to innovative drug therapies. However, because hip dysplasia is primarily an inherited condition; there are no preventative products on the market today. Through proper diet, exercise, supplements, anti-inflammatories, and pain relievers, pet parents can decrease the progression of degenerative joint disease, but the looseness in the joint will not change significantly. Below are suggestions from experts in the medical management of the disease:

1. Weight Management: Helping your pet maintain their recommended weight is perhaps the most critical part of this equation; surgical procedures and medical therapies have far better outputs if you pet is not overweight; more than 50% of the pets in the US are overweight, making it reasonable to absorb that many of the dogs with hip dysplasia / osteoarthritis are also overweight. If your pet is overweight, ask your veterinarian for recommendations regarding a lower calorie dog food and an exercise program;

2. Exercise: Exercise is equally important in losing and / or maintaining your pet's specific weight. That exercise should provide good range of motion and muscle building, but minimize "wear and tear" on your pet's joints. Leash walks, swimming, and slow jogging are ideal low-impact exercises. Remember, it is important to exercise daily; regular exercise in shorter sessions is always better than long work-outs on weekends. Again, your veterinarian can recommend an exercise program appropriate for your pet you have questions;

3. Warmth and good sleeping areas: Keeping your pet warm may help him / her be more comfortable; you may consider keeping your home's temperature a bit warmer. Also, an orthopedic foam bed helps many dogs with arthritis; those with dome-shaped, orthopedic foam distribution weight evenly, reducing joint pressure; (they make getting in and out easier for your pet, too!) Remember to keep the bed in a warm spot away from drafts;

4. Massage and physical therapy: Your veterinarian can demonstrate how to perform physical therapy and massage on your pet to help relax stiff muscles and promote a good range of motion in their joints. Begin by petting the area and work up to gently kneading the muscles around the joint with your fingertips using small, circular motions; usually work your way out to the surrounding muscles. (Moist heat may also be beneficial);

5. Making daily activities less painful: Going up and down stairs is often difficult for our arthritic pets; it can make going outside to use the bathroom difficult. Many pet parents invest in ramps, especially on stairs leading to their yard, making it easier for their pets. Ramps can also make car travel easier for arthritic dogs.

By following these recommendations, you can minimize your pet's discomfort from and the progress of hip dysplasia.