Canine Hip Dysplasia

Canine hip dysplasia occurs for a number of reasons, including both genetic and environmental factors. It is the most common cause of rear leg lameness in dogs. Most often, this condition occurs in large breeds of dogs, including Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, Bernese mountain dogs, Rottweilers, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, and German shepherds. Such breeds are more prone to congenital malformation of the hip joint. Small breeds may develop the condition as well, but this occurs less frequently.

Causes of Canine Hip Dysplasia.

The genetic causes of canine hip dysplasia are a bit complicated because more than one gene controls inheritance of the condition. As in humans, dysplasia occurs when the ball of the femur fits only loosely into the socket of the acetabulum. Because the hip joint is weight-bearing, instability results and the surrounding tissues also become loose and unsupportive. This, in turn, results in increased wear and tear that exacerbates the condition.

Causes that may contribute to canine hip dysplasia include:

  • Rapid weight gain, especially during high-growth periods
  • A diet with an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus
  • Inappropriate exercise during periods of rapid bone growth
  • Running on pavement
  • Jumping up to land on the back legs

Hip dysplasia often shows up in puppies between 4 months and a year of age, but at times is only diagnosed as a geriatric condition.

Symptoms of Canine Hip Dysplasia

The symptoms of this disorder may include:

  • Pain in the hip
  • Limp or swaying gait
  • Difficulty of rising onto hindquarters
  • Difficulty extending the rear legs

Diagnosis of Canine Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia in dogs is diagnosed through X-rays which, for dogs, require anesthesia or heavy sedation. Under anesthesia, the veterinarian may extend the dog's legs or rotate the knees in order to ensure that the pelvis is not tilted. The degree of dysplasia apparent under X-ray is graded according to severity by how tightly the hip socket is formed.

Treatment of Canine Hip Dysplasia

There are several ways of treating the symptoms of canine hip dysplasia, although, since the condition stems from a congenital abnormality, there is no way of preventing it. The following methods may keep dogs with milder forms of this ailment quite comfortable:

  • Vet-recommended exercise, such as swimming or short, paced walks
  • Massage and applications of warmth
  • A warm bed
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Analgesic medications
  • Proper diet/ loss of excess weight
  • Keeping off slippery floors

There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the administration of glucosamine and chondroitin to dogs with hip dysplasia may ease pain and mobility, but these supplements are not yet FDA approved.

When conservative treatment methods fail to improve the condition of dogs with hip dysplasia, surgical intervention is usually necessary. Such surgery can take several forms, depending on the condition of the individual patient. In mature dogs with degenerative disease in one or both hips, total hip arthroplasty, or replacement of the hip joint, may be necessary. Another surgical option is creating a deeper hip socket by using bone from another site on the body. This latter method is now under clinical evaluation.

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