Hip dysplasia is one of the most common conditions affecting medium- and large-breed dogs—prevalence rates are as high as 70% in some purebred breeds. So, we naturally receive a lot of questions about hip dysplasia prognosis, progression, and prevention. 

The Red Oak Animal Hospital team has compiled the most frequently asked questions and our answers into this handy guide.

Question: What is hip dysplasia in dogs?

The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint in which the femoral head (i.e., the round ball at the end of the femur or thigh bone) fits inside the curved pocket of the pelvis. Ideally, both parts fit together like puzzle pieces, with symmetrical curves that create a smooth, stable gliding motion. But in pets with hip dysplasia, one or more of these structural areas are abnormal. A shallow groove (i.e., socket) in the pelvis or a flattened or misshapen femoral head may be involved, which creates looseness or laxity, instability, and a cascade of other problems.

As dysplastic dogs walk, run, and play, these misaligned “pieces” damage each other and the surrounding structures, resulting in cartilage loss, scar tissue buildup, chronic arthritis, and painful bone spurs.

Q: What causes hip dysplasia in dogs?

A: Genetics are the number one hip dysplasia risk factor, although nutrition and development can also play a role in the expression of the disease. Excessive nutrients and rapid uncontrolled growth can affect bone length and shape, resulting in permanent harm. 

Q: What are hip dysplasia signs in dogs?

A: Hip dysplasia can occur in young puppies, as well as adult and senior dogs, and depending on disease severity, signs can be subtle or obvious. Classic hip dysplasia signs include:

  • Exercise avoidance
  • Stiffness on rising or walking
  • Reluctance or struggling to rise from a sitting or lying position
  • Bunny-hopping gait (i.e., moving both back legs together when trotting or using stairs)
  • Persistent limping or lameness
  • Hind end muscle loss
  • Hesitation to jump up or use stairs
  • Forward-leaning appearance (i.e., shifting weight to the forelimbs)

While these signs strongly indicate hip dysplasia, remember—many dogs are stoic and hide their discomfort. Accurate diagnosis requires a complete orthopedic examination and X-rays under sedation.

Q: Does my dog need surgery?

A: Surgical correction is typically reserved for dogs with severely debilitating hip dysplasia. The procedures vary, based on the pet’s age, breed, lifestyle, and overall health, and require an extended postoperative recovery period and rehabilitation. If an advanced procedure is necessary, your pet will be referred to a board-certified veterinary surgeon. The most common surgeries include:

  • Femoral head and neck excision (FHNE) — This surgery, also known as a femoral head ostectomy (FHO), is most commonly performed in small and medium-sized dogs and involves creating a “false joint” by removing the ball-end of the femur and allowing the joint to heal with scar tissue. 
  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO or TPO) — During this surgery, the pelvic bones are cut and rotated to more appropriately align with the femoral head. This procedure is generally performed only on young dogs.
  • Total hip replacement — During a total hip replacement, the damaged socket and femoral head are replaced with a metal and plastic implant. 

Q: How can I help my dog cope with hip dysplasia?

A: Learning that your dog has hip dysplasia can be scary, but many affected dogs can live a relatively comfortable life with appropriate care and lifestyle modifications. Your Red Oak Animal Hospital veterinarian will provide individualized recommendations for your dog and adjust their care regimen as their condition progresses. Hip dysplasia management’s primary goals include:

  • Pain management — This may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections, or alternative non-pharmaceutical therapies, such as laser therapy, acupuncture, and massage.
  • Joint support — Joint-protective supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and antioxidants, can preserve cartilage and decrease inflammatory damage.
  • Lean body condition Extra weight places unnecessary strain on painful hips.
  • Safe exercise and physical rehabilitation — Regular, controlled, low-impact exercise  (e.g., leash walking, swimming, underwater treadmill) is critical to support a healthy muscle mass and preserve range of motion.
  • Lifestyle modifications — Aids such as ramps, slings, harnesses, high-traction flooring, and orthopedic bedding can help prevent additional pain or injury and help your dog stay independent with a good quality of life.

Q: How can I minimize my puppy’s hip dysplasia risk?

A: Although completely preventing hip dysplasia is not possible, you can slow progression and minimize severity by:  

  • Having your puppy screened for hip laxity — Affected puppies under 18 weeks of age may be eligible for a minimally invasive corrective procedure known as the juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS).
  • Feeding a veterinarian-approved diet — Proper nutrition prevents excessive weight gain and rapid growth, which contribute to joint damage.
  • Avoiding slick floors — Puppies are naturally clumsy, but repetitive slipping and falling can worsen joint disease in those with hip dysplasia.
  • Avoiding high-impact or repetitive exercise — Intense exercise can damage growth plates and traumatize developing bones and soft tissues (e.g., tendons, ligaments). Avoid activities that include excessive running, jumping, or speed until your puppy’s growth plates are closed. 

When your dog is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, you will naturally have a lot of questions and fears. The Red Oak Animal Hospital team provides comprehensive and compassionate support for both ends of the leash. If you have additional questions or concerns about your dog’s condition, contact us to schedule an appointment.