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Pet Health

How to Care for a Dog With Advanced Hip Dysplasia

A detailed overview of canine hip dysplasia, what signs to look for to determine whether your pet's hip dysplasia is advancing, and several tools you can use to care for your dog with hip dysplasia.

Dr. Karen Whala

May 21, 2023

Pet parents whose beloved animals have chronic diseases have a unique burden of learning how to alleviate discomfort for their pets. While this can feel challenging at times, you can focus on several factors to improve your pet's quality of life if they have advanced hip dysplasia.

What Is Advanced Hip Dysplasia Disease in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a hereditary condition that progresses throughout your dog’s life. It begins in puppies due to the hip bones and leg bones growing at different rates. Hips are a “ball-and-socket” joint with the head of the femur as the ball that is designed to fit securely within the socket of the pelvis known as the acetabulum.

However when these bones don't grow in sync, they don't fit together properly, resulting in a looseness of the hip joint. Over time the looseness, or joint laxity, causes inflammation and stretching of the surrounding tissues resulting in osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a type of degenerative joint disease characterized by the loss of joint cartilage, changes to the bone, further joint laxity, decreased mobility and joint pain.

As mentioned above, hip dysplasia is hereditary. Therefore, it is important to screen for hip dysplasia and recognize when an affected dog should be prevented from breeding. It is most often seen in large or giant breed dogs who grow very quickly as puppies. Some breeds with a predilection for hip dysplasia include:

  • German shepherds
  • Great Danes
  • Mastiffs
  • Rottweilers
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Labrador and Golden Retrievers

Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

One of the best ways you can help a dog with hip dysplasia is by early detection and management to delay osteoarthritis. Hip dysplasia in a young dog is diagnosed by radiography (X-rays). Proper positioning for these radiographs is crucial to an accurate diagnosis and so they’re often taken under sedation and may be reviewed by a specialist. In older dogs, the veterinarian can often see the effects of hip dysplasia upon physical examination and the official diagnosis is again made via radiography; sedation may not be needed at this stage.

It’s helpful to know the outward signs you may see as the disease progresses and osteoarthritis sets in. Knowing what to watch for can help in management of the disease and monitoring for pain and quality of life.

Signs of advancing hip dysplasia include:

  • A new hesitance to climb stairs, get on/off furniture, into/out of vehicles
  • Difficulty jumping
  • Stiff hind limbs that may result in a "bunny hopping" gait
  • Lowered mobility and range of motion in hips
  • Decreased mass of the hindlimb muscles with or without increased mass of the forelimb muscles
  • Diminished desire to participate in physical activities
  • Pain

5 Ways To Improve Quality of Life for Dogs With Advanced Hip Dysplasia

Although early detection is best, you can still take a hands-on approach to help your dog be as comfortable and healthy as possible while combating the further advancement of hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis.

Consider the following ways you can improve your dog's overall quality of life if they've been diagnosed with advanced hip dysplasia.

1. Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is essential to reducing the advancement of hip dysplasia. Pet parents should avoid high-impact exercises that may lead to discomfort or inflammation for their dog, such as running and jumping and instead opt for consistent low-impact exercises like walking and swimming. If your dog has not been exercising regularly, please speak with your veterinarian about implementing a plan to gradually increase low impact exercise.

2. Physical Therapy

Doing physical therapy can help your pet maintain the range of motion in their joints and can be an excellent tool for pets experiencing flare-ups. Ask your veterinarian for a few exercises you can regularly do to help manage your dog's hip dysplasia or for physical therapy tools they may offer such as sessions on an underwater treadmill.

3. Joint Supplements

Joint supplements can be used to manage the progression of your dog's hip dysplasia and can be added to your dog's food or offered as a treat. Synergistic chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are often beneficial in assisting with hip dysplasia, and a supplement with omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation.

Not all joint supplements are created equal, so consult your vet to ensure you're giving your pet a supplement which will actually help manage symptoms.

4. Healthy Diet

Weight gain puts your dog at risk for increased osteoarthritis. Dogs who suffer from hip dysplasia should be kept slightly under what is considered the ideal weight for a dog of their frame. To decrease your pet’s weight or combat weight gain, feed your dog a healthy diet and be mindful of extra calories from treats. Be sure to identify any potential sources of rogue calories such as treats from delivery drivers, sneaking food from another pet’s bowl, or cleaning the floor after children have eaten.

5. Medication

The mainstay of medical management for pet’s suffering from osteoarthritis are non-steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAIDs). As their name suggests, these medications combat inflammation and they provide pain relief. There are a number of different NSAIDs available for canine use but it is imperative that they are used under veterinary supervision as they can cause damage to internal organs.

Your veterinarian will monitor your dog’s internal organs by checking blood samples and will adjust the dosage or type of NSAID as needed. Your vet may prescribe additional medications for joint support or pain control; such as PSGAG, gabapentin, and others. Additionally, the use of monoclonal antibodies to combat osteoarthritis is a new tool that has very recently been added to the veterinary toolbox.

6. Additional Modalities

Massage, acupuncture, triggered release of myofascial pain, and laser, heat, and cold therapies are all additional treatments your veterinarian may offer. Such treatments may provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation as they target your dog’s sore muscles. For dogs needing assistance with mobility, slings or rolled towels may be used to take weight off your pet’s hips and help them walk.

7. Surgery

Eventually, dogs with end-stage hip dysplasia will reach a difficult point when management is no longer effective. For these dogs, surgery may be the next step. Surgeries to combat hip dysplasia include total hip replacement (THR) and femoral head ostectomy (FHO). Speak with your veterinarian to determine which surgery your dog may be a candidate for as well a what to expect for post-op recovery.

What To Do When Your Pet Is Suffering

If you feel that your pet's advanced hip dysplasia has reached a point when you can no longer keep them comfortable, it may be time to seek out end-of-life services. You can talk to your vet about your options which may include hospice care or humane euthanasia. Your vet can come alongside as you make the decision that best supports the needs of your companion and your family.

If you find that you’re at the stage where the kindest thing is to say goodbye, you can reach out to a CodaPet Vet and schedule an appointment

Dr. Karen Whala

Fresno, CA


Dr. Karen Whala has always had a soft spot for the older pets she’s treated in practice and saw a need for these beloved pets to pass peacefully at home rather than in a clinic setting. To that end, she started Peaceful Passing in 2018 to help families assist their terminally ill, injured, or suffering pets as they transitioned from life in the Fresno and Clovis areas.  Read More

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