Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

5 min read

Key Takeaways

Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint develops in an abnormally loose manner, creating chronic instability in the hip joint.  

• This leads to excessive wear and tear on the joint and premature development of severe arthritic changes

• The most effective method to prevent dysplasia is to avoid breeding dogs which are susceptible

• Careful management of nutrition and exercise can be utilized to minimize the impact of the disorder

• Dysplasia is often asymptomatic, especially before degenerative changes occur

• Symptoms of joint laxity like limping, or relying on a ‘bunny-hop’-like movement when navigating stairs are often followed by reduced mobility as osteoarthritis progresses

• Diagnostic imaging determines whether a dog has dysplasia

• Symptomatic therapy can help manage discomfort, but only surgery can treat the underlying condition

A Closer Look: What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia can often be asymptomatic. Dogs often mask their pain, which means a dog presenting with discomfort may have been using a dysplastic joint for some time, causing it to deteriorate further. A dog presenting symptoms of dysplasia  requires veterinary attention. 

Symptoms of hip dysplasia are caused by joint laxity and degenerative changes. Early indicators of pain or discomfort can be quite subtle. A dog may not be as sociable as before, or become irritable. They may not want to go on walks for as long, or otherwise move less than before. 

Hip dysplasia is chronic and permanent. If left untreated, dysplasia will usually result in arthritis as the dog ages. Severe dysplasia leads to crippling arthritis and devastating loss of mobility even in very young dogs. Dysplasia will never reverse naturally. The goal of management is to minimize the impact on a dog’s life.

Risk Factors

Hip dysplasia is a common condition, especially among predisposed breeds such as mastiffs, retrievers, and other large breeds. Dysplasia is a lifelong condition, with a highly variable prognosis depending on the severity.

Possible Causes

Genetics is the most common cause of dysplasia. Rapid growth and weight gain commonly result in difficulties with the dog’s joints. Excessive exercise and improper nutrition can also affect the likelihood of developing the condition.

Main Symptoms

Joint pain, limping, and lameness are common, as is a stilted gait as though the dog is walking on eggshells. Limited mobility makes stairs particularly difficult for a dog with hip dysplasia, resulting in a ‘bunny-hop’ motion while navigating them. In severe cases a dog may bite or lick at a sore joint, or struggle to stand.

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnostic imaging determines whether a dog has hip dysplasia, and the degree to which degenerative changes have occurred.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment either focuses on arthritis prevention and management, or efforts to stabilize and minimize wear and tear on affected joints.

Nutritional supplements and physical therapy may reduce the progression of dysplasia. Other symptomatic treatments such as lifestyle or exercise changes may make a dog with dysplasia more comfortable.

Otherwise, there are a variety of surgical operations which help secure a dysplastic joint so that it can function without degeneration.

Prognosis varies widely, and largely depends on the severity of the laxity. Early surgical stabilization of affected joints offers the best prognosis for minimizing arthritic changes. A dog’s size and health, as well as post-surgery rehabilitation, all play factors in long term outcomes.


Avoiding breeding dogs that are predisposed to the condition is the most effective way to prevent dysplasia. Neutering a dog susceptible to dysplasia will help prevent the gene from passing on to subsequent generations.

If an at-risk breed/mix cannot be avoided, the likelihood of contracting dysplasia can be reduced in a couple of different ways, though unreliably. Strategies include:

• Choosing a puppy from breeding stock with good ratings from x-ray evaluations - like PennHip and OFA (the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals).

• Careful management of nutrition during growth, with lighter, leaner dogs less likely to develop dysplasia.

Is Hip Dysplasia Common in Dogs?

Dysplasia is most common in large dogs, specific breeds that are genetically susceptible, and in older dogs.

Typical Treatment

• Pain medications • Physical therapy • Lifestyle changes • Surgery

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