What Is Hip Dysplasia In The Dog

We heard about it, someone was talking about it in the park near the house, a friend told us our dog might have it. But what is hip dysplasia, really? Searching the web we find many interesting articles, but unfortunately full of difficult medical terms. Let’s try to clarify: technically, hip dysplasia is a malformation of the coxo-femoral joint (the hip). What does this mean? The hip is formed by the head of the femur and the acetabulum (the pelvis cavity responsible for its containment). Due to the malformation of the femoral head, there will be a progressive erosion of the cartilage of the joint that will make it unstable. In other words, the dog’s pelvis will move incorrectly due to pain caused by wear and tear on the joint.


Dysplasia is a multifactorial disease, i.e. numerous factors, such as genetic, environmental and nutritional factors come into play in its development and in determining its severity.

Genetic component: the disease can be transmitted from a parent to a descendant even if the parent does not have dysplasia, because he or she is a healthy carrier of the disease’s genes. This means that the grandparents of the puppy had dysplasia but the parent did not. In the case of cross-breeds, dogs adopted in shelters or abandoned, it is clear that genetic control cannot be done. The real problem is instead the unscrupulous breeders who sometimes have the certainty of having a dog with dysplasia but do not hesitate to breed and sell the puppies. Alternatively, they remove the sick subject from breeding and continue to reproduce the siblings without problems.

Environmental component: important environmental factors such as diet, type and amount of exercise, trauma and possible concomitant diseases affect the development of the disease. These environmental factors can affect the degree of dysplasia, but generally not the presence or absence of the malformations underlying dysplasia: they cannot cause dysplasia but can aggravate the situation.

How To Recognise Dysplasia – Symptoms

Usually the disease occurs between 4 and 12 months of age, but cases up to 2 years of age have been reported. It is likely that in these cases dysplasia was already present but had not yet been diagnosed.

Some breeds are more affected than others, but no dog is exempt. Half-breeds can also suffer from hip dysplasia. Among the breeds most affected are boxer, German shepherd, Rottweiler, bulldog, dogue de bordeaux, labrador and golden retriever. As we were saying, the breed is indicative. It’s a widespread problem.


Low resistance to exercise: the puppy will tire very easily after a run. Many attribute this behaviour to laziness or a lack of playfulness, when in reality it is pain that is holding the activity back.

Abnormal posture: The hind legs may take on a shape that vaguely resembles an X.

His running is similar to that of a rabbit: his hind legs will have unnatural movements.

Difficulty climbing stairs or jumping in a car: A related problem is also the difficulty getting up on your hind legs.


If you meet someone in the park who looks at your dog and says with confidence “Your dog has hip dysplasia”, smile and walk away thanking them kindly. Nobody can, with absolute certainty, make a diagnosis in this way, all the more so considering the average level of information found in dog owners in the park.

It is true that a dog with hip dysplasia generally has more squared hips than normal, “noisy” and rabbit-like gait, but a clinical test must always be carried out in case of suspected hip dysplasia. Regardless of the symptomatology that may give important clues, an orthopaedic examination and an X-ray will remove any doubt. By subjecting the dog to a thorough clinical test, other problems that sometimes have symptoms in common can also be ruled out: cruciate ligament rupture, polyarthritis, neoplasms, etc.


Hip dysplasia is catalogued by reference to its severity. Grade HD0 identifies a dog free of (normal) dysplasia; the other grades are as follows:

  • grade HD1 (almost normal);
  • grade HD2 (light dysplasia);
  • dysplasia media;
  • dysplasia.

The therapeutic approach in hip dysplasia varies according to different factors (age, degree of the disease, coexistence of other pathologies). Basically there are two possible ways to go:

Conservative Therapy

If the grade is low and especially if the dog does not have severe pain, you can opt for a conservative therapy that consists of changes in physical activity and dietary regime: said otherwise, do more exercise and put him on a diet. These variations aim at a reduction in weight, which is fundamental for the improvement of lameness; maintaining optimal muscle tone is essential in terms of quality of life, but clearly one should not exaggerate with physical activity as this could even aggravate the situation; excellent choices are swimming and well controlled walks.


As far as surgical treatment is concerned, there are basically two choices available:

Reconstructive interventions: pubic symphysis and triple (or double) pelvic osteotomy fall into this category; pubic symphysis is a surgical procedure performed when the dog is around 3-4 months of age and aims at correcting the direction of growth of the pelvis to allow the best possible coverage of the femoral heads. The triple (or double) pelvic osteotomy (from 5 to 10 months of age) is an operation that serves to improve the congruence between the femoral head and the acetabulum (remember: the pelvis cavity responsible for its containment).

Replacement surgery: it consists in completely replacing the joint through the implantation of a hip prosthesis. It is an operation highly recommended by some veterinarians, but some authors have many doubts about its success. The prostheses are very expensive and the chances of success would not be as exceptional as many would have us believe. The rather long rehabilitation period and the consequences in case of “unsuccessful” surgery make one lean more towards the first solution.