What is hip dysplasia?

(Q) I know that some breeds are more susceptible to hip dysplasia than others but is it really that bad?

(A) Vet Roberta Baxter says: Hip dysplasia is a relatively common disease in dogs. It involves abnormal development of the hip joints and can result in lameness, pain, and poor mobility of the hind legs. Hip dysplasia occurs when there is insufficient stability to keep the head (ball) of the femur within the socket of the hip joint and it causes mobility issues of varying severity.

It's most commonly seen in large and giant breeds, such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Mastiffs, but can also be seen in some smaller breeds, such as Tibetan Terriers, Bulldogs, and Miniature Poodles. Diagnosis generally requires a mobility assessment and thorough examination by a vet, together with radiographs which may confirm the condition.

It is important to understand that the severity of a dog's pain doesn't always correlate exactly with the severity of the hip malformation, and even mildly abnormal hips can be associated with significant pain in some dogs. Many dogs manage controlled exercise (especially during development) allowing an affected limb's strength to build up gradually. It is important to avoid excessive exercise, which can be associated with further damage of affected joints.

It is also important to feed affected dogs appropriately to avoid over-fast growth of young pups, and to prevent obesity. When necessary, this approach can be combined with the judicious use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines to provide pain relief and to reduce inflammation in affected joints.

Extra treatments include giving glucosamine supplements which may benefit affected joints, hydrotherapy to build up muscle in the hindquarters which helps to support the hip joints, and the use of acupuncture for pain relief. Surgical treatment to change the alignment of the hip joints, or even hip replacement surgery, may be appropriate in some cases. For many affected breeds, it is advisable to carry out radiography of the hips of dogs intended for breeding.

Hip radiographs are scored by an independent panel of vets, and only dogs with hip scores less than the average for their breed should be bred from. Parents with good hips can still give birth to affected pups, but this is the best way to reduce the chance of breeding pups with hip dysplasia.