Learning that your dog has hip dysplasia can be devastating and you likely will have many questions about your canine companion’s future. Will they be in constant pain? Will they always be limited by this progressive condition? What can you do to slow their deterioration and help them enjoy life? 

Fortunately, the answer to the last question is a resounding “Yes.” Although a hip dysplasia diagnosis will always be difficult news, you can support your dog’s mobility and preserve their quality of life. 

Here are some tips from the Animal Care and Emergency Services team on supporting your dog with hip dysplasia.

Understanding your dog’s condition

You can best care for your dog with hip dysplasia if you have a basic understanding of the disease. 

Hip dysplasia is a degenerative condition that can affect dogs soon after birth. As their hip joint develops, their ball-shaped femoral (i.e., thigh bone) head and the cup-like acetabulum (i.e., hip socket) do not fit together tightly and smoothly, so the joint is loose, and the improperly formed bones move roughly or inappropriately when the dog flexes and extends the joint.

Over time, the joint laxity damages the cartilage in the joint, which results in severely painful, chronic inflammation (i.e., arthritis). When the dog tries to alter or reduce their movement to minimize their pain, they suffer reduced mobility, stiffness, and muscle atrophy (i.e., muscle loss).

Hip dysplasia causes in dogs

Many disappointed dog owners worry that they may have unknowingly contributed to their dog’s condition. Unfortunately, despite its prevalence, what causes hip dysplasia is not completely understood, although experts agree that genetics play a critical role. Other external factors that may contribute to hip joint laxity include:

  • Early life trauma 
  • Rapid growth or weight gain
  • Incorrect nutrition 
  • Inappropriate exercise 

Hip dysplasia treatment options for dogs

Although hip dysplasia is incurable, surgical intervention can help severely affected dogs by halting disease progression and providing a more comfortable life. If your dog is a suitable surgery candidate, your primary veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary surgeon for advanced orthopedic procedures that may include: 

  • Total hip replacement
  • Femoral head and neck excision (FHNE) or femoral head osteotomy (FHO)
  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO or TPO)
  • Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS) for puppies younger than 18 weeks

Owners should note that surgery is not appropriate for every dog. Most hip dysplasia surgeries, except JPS, require extensive recovery and rehabilitation. Also, they do not entirely eliminate the dog’s arthritis, but successful surgery and postoperative care can restore and extend the dog’s quality of life. 

Supporting your dog’s mobility and quality of life

Fortunately, many dogs with hip dysplasia can be managed conservatively (i.e., without surgery) to enhance quality of life. Effective hip dysplasia support includes focusing on several goals or pillars, including:

  • Pain management — Hip dysplasia pain harms your dog’s entire body—not only their hip joint—as they compensate for their discomfort. Chronic pain can also negatively impact your dog’s behavior, increase stress and anxiety, and decrease their immunity. Dogs with hip dysplasia should be continuously monitored for discomfort, soreness, stiffness, and pain. Your veterinarian can recommend medication or therapy (e.g., laser therapy, acupuncture, massage, and veterinary rehabilitation) to reduce inflammatory joint pain.
  • Weight control — Extra weight places unnecessary strain on your dog’s already weak hips, so they must maintain a lean body condition to prevent additional pain and joint damage. Lean dogs are also more likely to participate in low-impact exercise, which increases joint lubrication and reduces stiffness and inflammation.
  • Nutrition — Therapeutic veterinary diets and supplements can ensure your dog’s diet is not only nutritionally balanced and calorie controlled but also that your dog receives appropriate omega-3 fatty acids, which are natural anti-inflammatories, and cartilage-promoting glucosamine.

  • Exercise — Gentle, low-impact exercise, such as leash-walking, hydrotherapy (i.e., underwater treadmill), veterinary rehabilitation, and controlled swimming, can help your dog build or maintain their hind-limb muscle mass and core muscle strength. Avoid high-impact activities that involve jumping, sudden stops or turns, or repetitive motions. Talk to your dog’s veterinarian or a certified veterinary rehabilitation specialist about a controlled exercise program for your dog.
  • Assistance and lifestyle modifications — Dog ramps and stairs can reduce painful jumping or accidental falls and non-slip flooring or rugs can make negotiating smooth tile or linoleum more stable and less slippery. Also, supportive mobility harnesses can assist your dog to rise or change positions. Last but not least, a supportive, low-sided, orthopedic bed can cushion your dog’s painful joints and help them rest peacefully.

Canine hip dysplasia signs you shouldn’t ignore

Because hip dysplasia is degenerative and progressive, your dog’s needs will change over time, and you must regularly observe their stance, gait, and behavior, looking for weakness, pain, or compensation.

Schedule an appointment with your primary veterinarian if your dog is showing painful signs, such as:

  • Lameness, limping, or limb-favoring
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Self-isolation
  • Restlessness
  • Increased sleeping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased forelimb weight-bearing 
  • Difficulty rising or changing positions
  • Increased vocalization
  • Uncharacteristic irritability, sensitivity, or aggression

Owners whose dogs are diagnosed with hip dysplasia should not be disheartened, because diligent care and a knowledgeable veterinary care team—including our Animal Care and Emergency Services specialists—can ensure your canine companion enjoys more belly rubs, longer walks, and an enhanced quality of life.

For world-class veterinary emergency and specialty care in the Bay area, contact our team. We want your dog to enjoy a long, comfortable life.