April 24, 2020 6 min read

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Like most orthopedic conditions, hip dysplasia can cause early-onset arthritis in dogs. Some dogs can have significant hip changes with little pain while others can have minor changes yet experience intense pain and lameness. Early detection can be beneficial, and with careful breeding, it may also be avoided.

What is dog hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a genetic or inherited condition that is affected by numerous factors such as environment, diet, growth rate, exercise, and hormones. It occurs when the ball and socket joints of the hip do not develop properly.

The ball and socket joint of the hip is known as the  coxofemoraljoint and involves two main parts: thefemoral head, which is the “ball” portion of the upper thigh bone, and theacetabulum, which is the socket part. Both of these components need to grow in tandem with one another.

If there are factors present that will negatively impact this growth, the result is a shallow acetabulum and/or a thickened or rough-textured femoral head. These problems cause the hip joint to become loose and unstable.

Over time, the body tries to stabilize the joint by causing bony overgrowth that is referred to asosteoarthritis, a major component of degenerative joint disease.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia

Two dogs running down the stairs

Puppies with hip dysplasia may start to favor one side of their hip or the other, and it may seem like they are having difficulty standing up from a prone position. As they get older, pet owners may notice that their puppy is limping or maybe seems reluctant to go up and downstairs. 

It may appear that the puppy is lethargic when he is really experiencing joint pain. As arthritis sets in, dogs with hip dysplasia tend to use their legs as little as possible, resulting in hind limb muscle wasting.

How is hip dysplasia diagnosed?

A good orthopedic examination is best performed under sedation or general anesthesia. This is because pain or muscle tension can yield false results. Once a patient is sedated, he is placed on his side while lying down. 

The veterinarian will then place one hand on the lower back right above the hips and the other hand will grasp the lower end of the thigh bone at the level of the knee. The thigh bone is then pressed into the hip joint while simultaneously abducting the thigh bone upward. If the femoral head “clicks” in the acetabulum of the hip, this is known as a positiveOrtolani sign which indicates hip dysplasia.

X-rays are also used to confirm hip dysplasia, and sedation is highly recommended for optimal patient positioning. This is because the patient’s limbs will need to be held perfectly straight for one view and then pulled back like a frog’s legs for a separate view. 

Pain and tense muscles in a non-sedated patient can negatively impact how a joint space appears on x-rays. Remember that some dogs may appear fine despite severe bony changes while others can appear very painful even though there are minor changes.

Treating hip dysplasia

If you are a dog breeder, make sure that your dogs are certified to be free of hip dysplasia before breeding. Special examinations and x-rays are performed by a veterinarian who is certified by the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals.

There are many details associated with OFA certification, you will need to make sure that your veterinarian is OFA certified. Your regular veterinarian can certainly perform an evaluation and hip dysplasia x-rays, but this is not the same as an OFA certification.

Weight reduction and diet are the most important elements of treatment because they are also elements that can help with prevention. Studies show that puppies who are fed meals instead of being fed free choice are less likely to suffer from hip dysplasia.

Diets that are low-calorie are ideal for overweight dogs, and if you have a large breed puppy, it is best to feed him a diet that is labeled for large breed puppies.

Exercise can help keep your dog from gaining excess body weight, but it is important to avoid high impact exercises such as sprinting and jumping. Hard surfaces can also increase stress on your dog’s joints. Physical therapy can help prevent joints from becoming too stiff, and deep tissue massage can alleviate inflammation and muscle pain.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often recommended to help with inflammation and joint pain. Many joint supplements contain glycosaminoglycan ingredients that have a protective effect on joint cartilage and can also alleviate inflammation. Veterinarians may also prescribe other pain medications depending on how your dog responds to initial therapy, and CBD oil may also provide comfort for dogs with hip dysplasia.

If medical management does not help your dog’s joint pain or lameness, surgical intervention may be necessary. Depending on your dog’s body size and the severity of his hip dysplasia, an orthopedic surgeon may recommend a femoral head ostectomy (FHO) or total hip replacement (THR).

By removing the femoral head, a pseudo-joint is formed and the painful grinding of bone on bone is eliminated. However, FHOs are typically recommended for small breed dogs and are not ideal for large breed dogs.

THR surgery involves the formation of a new joint by installing surgical plates and screws. However, even surgery is not a 100% fix because arthritis will still occur. Therefore, surgery is typically a last resort for treatment.

If hip dysplasia is detected early, surgical techniques such as a double/triple pelvic osteotomy or a juvenile pelvic epiphysiodesis (JPS) can be elected. These surgeries will change how the acetabulum connects with or covers the femoral head, but they may not be very effective if they are performed in puppies greater than four months of age.

Top five breeds susceptible to hip dysplasia

a tan and black pug.

Large breed dogs are the most susceptible to hip dysplasia, but small and medium-sized breeds can also develop hip problems. The following breeds are considered to be high risk for hip dysplasia.

  • German Shepherds – it is extremely important for GermanShepherds to have a lean body condition score because they are veryactive and known for putting a lot of stress on their joints. Hip dysplasia can occur in German Shepherd puppies and young adults, but it is more common for them to develop arthritis and joint pain once they are seven years of age or older.
  • Rottweilers – adult Rottweilers are very large and muscle-heavy dogs, so overweight and obesity can greatly exacerbatejoint pain from hip dysplasia.
  • Retrievers (Goldens and Labradors) – most Retrievers arevery stoic and can hide pain easily, thus problems like mild limping and slowing down should be taken very seriously. Retrievers have a lot of energy and are likely to run and jump when they really shouldbe resting!
  • Great Dane – the Great Dane is considered a giant breed of dog, most of which end up weighing more than 100 pounds! This is a tremendous amount of strain on the joints, especially since many of them are highly active. An abnormal gait is a big sign that yourDane is in pain.
  • Brachycephalics (Pugs and Bulldogs) – these dog breeds are smaller than your typical hip dysplasia sufferers, but they areprone to many skeletal malformations and are thus likely to develop hip dysplasia. It may occur even earlier in life than their larger breed counterparts.


Hip dysplasia is a developmental and multifactorial orthopedic condition in dogs that can contribute to the early onset of arthritis and joint pain. Early intervention can delay or even prevent severe osteoarthritis, especially if your pup is young enough for surgical intervention like the JPS procedure.

If you are a breeder, make sure that your dogs are evaluated by an OFA veterinarian prior to breeding. There are many medical management options for dogs with hip dysplasia, but if your pup still can’t get comfortable, consider an evaluation with a veterinary orthopedic surgeon.


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Meet The Author

Dr. Erica Irish author of Top 5 Dog Breeds Hip Dysplasia

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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