Hip Dysplasia is one of the most common and devastating genetic orthopedic disorders plaguing dogs. Fortunately, with advances in early detection, treatment and surgery, many dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia can be offered long and pain-free lives.
Hip dysplasia results from abnormal development of the hip joint in the young dog. It can affect both hips (bilateral), or just one, and have varying degrees of severity. The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint, where the head the femur is the ball that fits within the acetabulum of the pelvis. These bones are held in together by ligaments, muscles and connective tissue, as well as a smooth layer of cartilage between the joint, allowing it to function smoothly and with stability.
Most dogs are born with normal hips, but in dogs with hip dysplasia, the muscles, ligaments and connective tissues that support the joint begin to become lax after about 4 months of age, which then leads to abnormal wear of the joint, subluxation (separation) of the joint, and eventually, arthritis in the joint. It is the arthritis and bony changes in the joint that cause the pain experienced by a dog with hip dysplasia.
While any dog can be at risk for hip dysplasia, it is primarily an inherited disease, and it is an extremely prevalent genetic trait among popular breeds such as German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Rottweilers and many others. Also factors that can play a part in the development of hip dysplasia include diet, exercise, growth rate and weight.
The best way to prevent hip dysplasia is to get a puppy from a reputable breeder who is active in screening for hip dysplasia. These include breeders whose dogs have been screened by Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and those actively involved in ensuring their breeding stock is not passing hip dysplasia to their offspring.
Once you have a dog, early screening is important to both predict, and if necessary, treat the dog with hip dysplasia in order to best manage their development and future health. After four months of age, your veterinarian may recommend taking radiographs of your puppy in order to evaluate their hips, and determine if they might be at risk for developing dysplasia.
Several factors have also been found to increase the incidence of hip dysplasia in growing dogs. In large breed dogs, rapid growth has been found to increase the chances of developing hip dysplasia, and studies have shown that providing a diet to slow the growth rate of these dogs can help to lower developing joint problems. Keeping your growing puppy from becoming overweight will both slow their growth rate, as well as avoid causing joint damage from carrying around extra weight.
Later in life, signs of a dog suffering from hip dysplasia can vary from mild to severe, and can include pain and discomfort after exercise, reluctance to fully extend their hind legs, muscle loss and trouble getting up after laying down. Many dogs will begin to show mild signs early in life, which gradually progress. All dogs have a different level of pain tolerance, and some dogs might show symptoms of discomfort relatively early in their disease process, while others may never exhibit pain until their joints have severely eroded.
If your dog is having signs of hip dysplasia, your veterinarian will assist in making a diagnosis. An orthopedic exam, where laxity in the joint may be able to be appreciated, and radiographs of your dogs hind legs will help to make a diagnosis, as well as a plan of action for treatment.
Medical treatment of the dog with hip dysplasia is aimed at helping to lessen the severity of the symptoms, as well as slow down the progression of the disease. In the overweight dog, reducing the dog to his ideal weight is important component of treatment, as it will lessen the stress the damaged joints must support. In addition, controlled, low impact exercise, such as controlled walks and swimming, can help to strengthen the weakened muscles and improve the overall joint condition.
Oral supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may also help the dog with hip dysplasia. Both are important components of cartilage in the joint, and over time may help to rebuild damaged cartilage and improve the condition of the joint. By repairing the damage in the joint, pain and inflammation in the joint will be reduced as well, improving the condition of the dog as a whole. Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM) is another oral supplement that can help to improve the condition of the connective tissue and reduce scar tissue in the joint, thus reducing pain.
In addition to oral supplements, your veterinarian may recommend an injectable disease-modifying ostoarthritis agent to help halt and repair the progression of degradation. Adequan is an injectible medication that is given in a course of shots over several weeks. Like glucosamine, Adequan helps prevent breakdown of cartilage in the joint, as well as encourage new cartilage to form.
Your veterinarian may prescribe a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) for your dog. NSAIDs are strong medicines designed to reduce inflammation and relieve pain in dogs with osteoarthritis, and can often greatly improve the quality of life of dogs suffering from debilitating pain as a result of arthritis. Although these medicines are very effective and valuable in the treatment of dogs with arthritis, side effects such as liver damage make it essential to use them as directed, and follow your veterinarians recommendations regarding periodic blood tests to ensure the medicine is not doing more harm than good.
If medical-only treatment fails, or does not provide sufficient relief for the dog with hip dysplasia, there are several surgical procedures currently available which can help your dog return to a pain-free life. Surgical options include a Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO), which realigns the acetabulum and the head of the femur into the correct positions, and a Total Hip Replacement, which replaces the existing, damaged joint with prosthesis. Consultation with an orthopedic surgeon is essential to decide which surgical option is the best choice for your dog.
Although hip dysplasia continues to be a problem in many breeds of dogs, advances in early detection, medical and surgical treatment have helped to ensure that with proper medical care, your dog will be able to live a pain free and happy life.