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Hip Dysplasia


If your Puppy has just been diagnosed with developmental joint disease such as hip dysplasia, you are most likely still shocked and upset. With all your good intentions of researching your breeder and checking the parents you never envisaged you would be in this situation. 

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is abnormal development of the hip joint, which has a strong genetic component but can also be influenced by environmental factors such as diet, weight and exercise. Affected puppies have normal hips at birth but by two weeks of age, changes have already begun to occur. The joints are predisposed to laxity and become unstable. As the bone remodels the shape of the hip joints become abnormal. The instability and abnormal loading through the joint causes tissue stretching and damage to joint cartilage. As a result osteoarthritis will occur leading to various degrees of dysfunction and pain.

Has my dog got hip dysplasia?

Larger pure breed dogs such as Labradors, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are typically affected but it can occur in any breed. Signs and symptoms are usually noticeable from 4 to 10 months of age. Definitive diagnosis will be made by your veterinary surgeon by manipulation the hips to assess for laxity and X-Rays to confirm the laxity and identify any signs of arthritis.

What are the signs and symptoms?

• Stiffness after exercise / Difficulty getting up

• Lameness

• Failure to build muscle over the hindquarters

• Reluctance to exercise or play (due to pain)

• Bunny hopping

• Occasional clicking of the joint(s)

• Lying down more than normal

• Swaying pelvis during gait with back legs close together

What can be done?

There is a natural tendency for puppies with mild hip dysplasia to overcome acute pain as they mature. This is due to progressive fibrosis and thickening of the joint capsule, which provides better stability. Although this sounds positive, please do not forget that this is the inevitable secondary arthritic phase of the disease process and can present problems in itself which need careful management. It may take 18 months for symptoms to subside. In some dogs with mild dysplasia, the disease may go undetected and they may go on to lead fairly normal active adult lives.

In more severe cases, pain and lameness will become evident and treatment of the condition is required. Conservative management is an option and needs to be discussed with your vet or vet physio. Physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, controlled exercise, joint supplements, diet and weight management and lifestyle all play an important part in the successful management of HD.

There are important changes you can make to your dog's lifestyle right now that may improve their situation.

Despite conservative management, in severe cases and if pain cannot be satisfactorily controlled surgical intervention may be appropriate. In this instance your vet may refer you to a specialist referral centre for orthopaedic cases. The veterinary surgeon will discuss with you the best surgical options based on the individual circumstances of your pet. Techniques may include total hip replacement or femoral head and neck excision.

Surgical management:

If surgery has been advised - please do not put this off. Often if the underlying joint disease is severe, prompt surgery by a specialist orthopaedic surgeon will provide the best chance of reducing pain and a better opportunity for your dog to lead a relatively "normal" active life in the future

How can physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapy aims to reduce pain and improve function and well being. Physical rehabilitation techniques are used to improve functional hip stability, range of motion, proprioception, muscle bulk and strength. Owner education, lifestyle modification, exercise advice and weight management are key for your pet to achieve optimum comfort, function and a good quality of life for the future.

Treatment will depend on the stage your dog is at and may include:

• Joint range of motion/stretches

• Joint mobilisation techniques

• Active strengthening exercises

• Balance/proprioceptive exercise

• Pain relief where necessary

• Prescription of home exercises

• Advice on controlled exercise

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