Hip dysplasia is a condition that develops in dogs as they grow. It results in abnormal growth of the hip joint. Over time the abnormal development can lead to degeneration in the hip joint, which results in hip arthritis.
The abnormal developmental of the hip joint can cause pain and inflammation. It may also increase the sensitivity of the nerves, so otherwise innocuous movements lead to more pain. This can be debilitating to dogs if left untreated.
Early Signs of Hip Dysplasia:
- Pain response when touching around the hips
- Lameness (limping through one or both rear limbs)
- Bunny hopping gait
- Narrow stance
- Reluctance to jump
- Shifting of weight to the front limbs
- Loss of muscle mass on one or both of the rear limbs
- Audible click when walking
If you have a young puppy and notice any of the above signs, then please see your Vet. Diagnosis and treatment of hip dysplasia are very much linked to a dogs age (see here for more details).
Principles of Home Treatment:
Hip dysplasia in dogs can’t be cured. There are however a number of treatment options that can minimize progression, as well as keep your dog comfortable, happy and healthy.
If you would like more information on hip dysplasia treatment options in dogs, please click here.
Modification of the Home Environment
Making sure your home and car are set up for your dog with hip dysplasia can reduce pain and flare ups.
Jumping: Minimize or avoid jumping, especially up to high places e.g. sofa’s, beds, and cars. A dog ramp or stairs may be an appropriate management tool, or another option is to use a harness like the help-em up harness.
If your dog jumps up to greet you or others, teach them not to jump. One idea is to have food outside and scatter it on the floor as you enter. Otherwise, you might redirect your dog to find a toy.
Non-slip floors: Make sure you have non-slip flooring in your dog’s main traffic areas e.g. rugs, carpet. Not only will it stop them from sliding if they’re running around, but it will also help them get up without slipping, especially if they tend to lie on the hard floors in hotter weather. If rugs aren’t an option you may consider booties or toe grips, such as the Ruffwear or Dr. Buzby’s brand.
If you’d like guidelines on safe puppy exercise click here for a downloadable chart.
Bedding: As important as our bed is for a comfy nights sleep, the same is true for dogs. A hammock style bed would be similar to you sleeping in a hammock when you’ve got a sore hip. Your dog will benefit from a firm supportive mattress, that’s easy to get on and off.
If you would like more information on the best dog beds click here.
Ideal Weight Range: Minimizing extra stress through the hip joint is a really important part of hip dysplasia management. One of the single best things you can do for your dog is keep their weight on the low side of the ideal weight range (especially if they have hip dysplasia).
- Weight control in dogs is no different to us. If your dog needs to lose weight they need to burn more energy than they consume. If your dog is not losing weight, then they’re eating too much for the energy they’re burning. You need to decrease the amount of food they’re eating and/or increase their exercise where possible. If exercise is limited by pain, then you could try hydrotherapy or swimming. Check out my article to determine if your dog is in its ideal weight range.
Good nutrition: While weight loss is about consuming less energy than you burn, it’s also about eating good quality foods that contain a range of important nutrients. Even if your dog is in the ideal weight range the quality of their food is important. You may also consider supplements such as omega 3, or glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. Supplements are discussed further below.
Avoidance of Aggravating Factors
There are two main mechanisms for pain generation – either mechanical or inflammatory:
- Mechanical Pain: In mechanical pain the joint is sore at the time of activity. In this case you may see limping or altered gait regress over time.
- Inflammatory Pain: In inflammatory pain patterns movement usually makes the joint feel better so gait may improve. It’s only afterwards, and the next morning, that the pain becomes worse.
These are important factors to distinguish, as it may be what your dog did yesterday that made your dog sore today.
So look for signs not only at the time (mechanical pain):
- change in stride length (shortening)
- limping, or worsening limp if they have some ongoing lameness
- avoidance of exercise (sitting down)
As well as afterwards, and the next day (inflammatory pain and stiffness):
- limping, or worsening limp if they have some ongoing lameness
- not wanting to get up from rest
- stiffness getting up after rest
If your dog warms up when exercising (their limp disappears), this doesn’t mean they can keep going. Your dog needs to be no worse after the activity, or next day too.
Off leash Running: If your dog likes to run around madly chasing the ball or other dogs, then the repeated twisting, turning and sudden stopping / starting can make their hips sore and inflamed.
If you still want to have some off leash time, just be mindful of the intensity of the activity, as well as the frequency and duration. I’m sure you’d pull up sore if you played your first game of social touch / soccer when you haven’t played in a while.
Beach time: If your dog is anything like mine, then they love the beach. Unfortunately running around in soft sand is even more taxing on joints than running around at the park. If you still want to take your dog to the beach then stick to the firmer sand and preferably leash or controlled walking. Swimming may also be another option.
Weekend Warrior: If you’ve never heard the term “weekend warrior” it basically depicts a person (or in this case dog) that does nothing all week then goes out on the weekend and “makes up for it”. This is not ideal in any circumstance, however, it’s even worse if your dog has hip dysplasia as the weekend warrior style exercise session can over stress the hip joint, leading to pain and inflammation.
The Importance of Regular Exercise
It important to note that regular exercise is really important for the ongoing health of your dogs hip joints. Strong healthy muscles support joints in dogs, just like they do in humans. Find a routine that is regular, with enough intensity, but not too much.
In humans, 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on five, if not all days of the week, is considered a good base point. With your dog it may not be too dissimilar, but it’s going to depend on their size and breed.
If walking aggravates your dog then it’s important that you work with your vet, or canine rehabilitation professional to develop an appropriate exercise routine. This program may include swimming, hydrotherapy (e.g. underwater treadmill), rehabilitation exercises, and a graduated return to walking program.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Natures anti-inflammatory. You can look at natural options like sardines, good quality dry pet food with additional omega’s, fish oil, or omega 3 supplements.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate: Known as chondroprotectants, this class of supplements act to preserve cartilage. Nutramax Cosequin DS & Paw by Blackmores Cosequin DS (Australia) are considered one of the best on the market.
- Glucosamine, Chondroitin & Avocado / Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU): Nutramax Dasuquin for Dogs. The next generation supplement, Dasuquin is a step up from Cosequin with the inclusion of the disease modifying osteoarthritis agent ASU.
Manual Therapy and Rehabilitation
As an Osteopath that treats dogs, my aim is to maximize your dogs quality of life through balance and optimization of the musculoskeletal system. This requires an assessment of your dog, their environment and the goals of you, their owner.
Treatment and advice is aimed at minimizing pain and reducing the stresses placed on the musculoskeletal system. Exercises may be given that aim to strengthen your dogs hip muscles, so that they can better support the hip joint.
If you have a rehab vet, or a physiotherapist, osteopath, or chiropractor that treats dogs in your area then i’d suggest you get in contact with them to develop an ongoing management plan.
If you would like to discuss your dog don’t hesitate to get in touch. Alternatively, check out this article on the treatment of hip dysplasia in dogs.