Skip to content

Hip Dysplasia – Symptoms, Causes, Prevention & Treatments

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Hip dysplasia is a common skeletal disorder in dogs that affects medium to large breeds, but can occur in any breed.
  • Symptoms of hip dysplasia include a lack of physical activity, difficulty laying down and standing, a bunny hop-like gait, and muscle loss.
  • Diagnosis of hip dysplasia involves a physical exam, checking for joint looseness and reduced range of motion, and imaging tests such as radiographs.
  • Treatment options for hip dysplasia include surgery (such as triple pelvic osteotomy, total hip replacement, or femoral head osteotomy), conservative medical therapy, and physiotherapy.
  • Prevention of hip dysplasia involves selective breeding with OFA testing, avoiding over-exercising puppies, and preventing stair-climbing in puppies.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Wednesday 8 September 2021
Last updated on
Thursday 13 July 2023
dog hip dysplasia
This page may contain affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.

There’s nothing quite like an adorable, chubby puppy to warm your heart. However, it’s important to know that extra weight and breeding without OFA testing can put puppies like yours at risk of painful conditions such as hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a common skeletal disorder in dogs that was first identified in 1935. It primarily affects medium to large breeds like the German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Golden Retriever, and Newfoundland, among others. Nevertheless, hip dysplasia can develop in any dog breed, which is why regular testing is crucial.

Hip dysplasia in dogs is characterized by hip joint pain, limited mobility, and an abnormal walking pattern. As the condition progresses, it can lead to the development of osteoarthritis, causing additional discomfort in and around the joint. So, what are the other symptoms? How can it be prevented? What treatment options are available? And how will a veterinarian diagnose hip dysplasia in your dog? To find out more, continue reading with us.

What is Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a condition where the hip socket doesn’t form properly. Normally, during growth, the femur (thigh bone) and the pelvis socket should grow at the same rate. However, in hip dysplasia, this balanced growth doesn’t happen. The muscles in the pelvic area may also be underdeveloped. As a result, the joint becomes loose, which can cause partial dislocations and tiny fractures. This problem can worsen over time. The more damage the joint experiences, the more inflammation it causes in the surrounding tissues. This creates a cycle of cartilage damage, inflammation, and pain. Ultimately, hip dysplasia often leads to osteoarthritis in dogs.

Both genetics and environmental factors contribute to hip dysplasia. Environmental factors include obesity, injuries at a young age, excessive exercise during growth, ligament tears, and possibly early neutering. It’s worth noting that some of these factors are common occurrences in a puppy’s new home. Overfeeding, sudden changes in diet, inappropriate exercise, and climbing stairs can aggravate even a slight hip joint instability and increase the risk of hip dysplasia.

Risk factors for hip dysplasia include:

  1. Obesity
  2. Injuries during puppyhood
  3. Excessive exercise during puppyhood
  4. Ligament tears during puppyhood
  5. Early neutering
  6. Breed predisposition
what hip dysplasia is
Bigger breeds are prone to hip dysplasia especially when they are overfed.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

There are many symptoms of hip dysplasia, but some might not be as obvious as others. Unfortunately, most dogs do not develop clinical signs until they are older, despite HD beginning in puppyhood. This leads to extensive damage to the joint before it is caught. So, it is essential to know the signs of HD when owning or breeding dogs so that they can be spotted as early as possible.

Perhaps the first sign of hip dysplasia is a lack of physical activity. With hip dysplasia, your dog might be reluctant to do things they used to enjoy, like chasing after their favorite ball or going for a jog with you in the morning. Your previously energetic dog might prefer to lay in bed, or not rush to the door as quickly to go outside. Some dogs become reluctant to climb stairs, too. This ties in with a decreased range of motion. Your dog might seem to have difficulty laying down, standing, jumping, and climbing due to the lack of motion and pain of HD. You may notice this when your dog stops jumping up onto your sofa or walking up the stairs.

Some dogs develop a swaying, “bunny hop” like gait with HD. This refers to the movement wherein your dog lifts both hind legs at the same time like a jumping rabbit when walking, running, or climbing. Your dog should use one hind leg at a time when active, rather than using this “bunny hop” like gait. This gait comes with a loss of thigh muscle mass, especially around the hips. As this symptom progresses, you might notice your dog’s shoulder muscles growing to compensate for the loss of strength in the hind end.

Hip Dysplasia Diagnosis

If you spot signs of hip dysplasia in your dog, be sure to check in with your vet as soon as possible! The sooner treatment starts, the better your dog’s prognosis is. Be sure to tell your vet about all of your dog’s symptoms, and when they started. Your vet will manipulate your dog’s hind legs to check for looseness of the joint, pain, and a reduced range of motion. A lack of motion also indicates early osteoarthritis of the hip. During the physical exam, your vet will check for your dog’s pelvic muscle mass. Dogs with greater muscle mass are less likely to develop hip dysplasia.

Other tests may be done to assess how severe your dog’s hip dysplasia is. A hip lift test (Bardens test) is done under general anesthesia, for example, to attempt to luxate the femur head out of its socket. Similarly, the Ortolani Sign is done under anesthetic for clinically affected dogs to check for joint laxity. This test can tell your vet about the damage already done to your dog’s joint, caused by repeated subluxations and weight-bearing. These physical techniques help your vet determine the best treatment for your pup.

Diagnostic imaging is particularly important in assessing HD in dogs. Radiographs are helpful for diagnosing severe OA in dogs. However, they are not always beneficial for diagnosing mild or moderate disease, as there is no direct correlation between radiographic changes and the severity of joint pain. If your dog has HD, a radiograph might show hip subluxation, a triangle or wedge-like shape of the hip socket, increased width of the joint space, thickening of the femoral neck, and flattening of the socket.


Despite the prevalence of HD in dogs, a gold standard surgical procedure has yet to be identified. As such, there are multiple surgeries that can be done to manage and prevent the progression of HD in dogs. It’s important that you talk to your vet as soon as possible so that treatment can begin early.

The treatment for HD depends on your pet’s age, condition, and degree of hip pain. For example, a young dog without osteoarthritis may benefit from a triple pelvic osteotomy. At this stage, a vet may be able to correct the laxity of the hip joint. In contrast, an older dog with osteoarthritis and HD may benefit from a total hip replacement or a femoral head osteotomy. These surgeries are normally successful and have a quick recovery time, as long as your dog is a suitable candidate for the surgery of choice. For example, a femoral head osteotomy is best for small, active dogs weighing less than 50 lbs.

Many dogs with HD and osteoarthritis benefit from conservative medical therapy. While conservative therapy does not eliminate the problem, it can control your dog’s clinical signs. The main aim of these treatments is to provide effective pain relief, usually through a combination of NSAIDs and chondroprotective agents. Carprofen and meloxicam both offer long-term medical management of osteoarthritis associated with HD. Hydrotherapy and physiotherapy are also beneficial for some dogs. Not all dogs respond to conservative treatment and may need surgery later on.

dogs with hip dysplasia lifespan
Hip dysplasia is a relatively manageable health issue as long as the dog’s handler is consistent with their dog’s maintenance and supplements.

Hip Dysplasia Prevention

Prevention through selective breeding is crucial! Researchers have made significant efforts to identify the specific genes responsible for hip dysplasia (HD) and use them in combination with imaging techniques. These resources are invaluable for breeders. Therefore, it is essential for any dog breeder to have their dogs tested by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). To obtain OFA certification, your dog must be at least 2 years old. It is especially important for breeds prone to hip dysplasia to undergo OFA testing before breeding. Dogs with unhealthy or abnormal hips should not be bred.

Excessive exercise during puppyhood can contribute to hip dysplasia later in life. This is because intense physical activity can negatively affect their musculoskeletal development. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid running with your puppy until they are at least six months old. Some larger and giant breeds may require even more time before they can safely start running. Similarly, climbing stairs as a puppy can be a risk factor for hip dysplasia. Consequently, some pet parents choose to carry their puppies up and down stairs until they are stronger.

Hip Dysplasia: FAQ

Have any more questions about hip dysplasia in dogs? Feel free to check out our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt about your pup’s joint health, always ask your vet for advice.

Is hip dysplasia hereditary?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is polygenic, meaning that it’s influenced by more than one gene. However, it is also influenced by environmental factors. Because there is a clear genetic link, OFA testing is paramount for any dog breeder. Only dogs with normal hips should breed to prevent puppies from developing this disease. Also, any dog breed can get hip dysplasia, but certain breeds appear more prone than others. These breeds are often medium to large in size. Such breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, and German Shepherds.

Do I have to lessen my dog’s exercise time?

When you know your dog has a painful joint condition, it might be tempting to stop exercise altogether to protect them from pain. However, no exercise at all is just as bad as giving too much exercise! This is because dogs who don’t exercise gain weight, putting extra pressure on the joints. Your vet should advise you about the intensity of your dog’s exercise, but shorter, frequent walks are usually best during your dog’s recovery. It’s best to talk to your vet about the best treatment plan for your pooch.

Should I prevent my puppy from climbing stairs?

Stair-climbing in puppies is a risk factor for hip dysplasia, according to one study on the matter and anecdotal evidence. This is because repeatedly climbing up and downstairs can gradually cause injury to the joints, leading to hip dysplasia in dogs who are already susceptible. The negative impact of this activity is especially pronounced for puppies whose joints are still forming. As a precaution, some owners carry their puppies up and down stairs until their joints and muscles are better equipped for climbing.

Is hip dysplasia fatal?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is not fatal. In fact, dogs with hip dysplasia can still lead long and full lives with treatment! However, this condition is not curable, and your dog will need life-long treatment to manage their symptoms. Unfortunately, the osteoarthritis that comes with HD is progressive and can become aggressive when not managed by a vet. When osteoarthritis progresses to the final stage, pain can become severe for a dog. At this stage, a dog might resist, cry, or scream when their joint range of motion is assessed. A lack of mobility is life-threatening for dogs, and an inability to stand up or walk comes with a poor quality of life. Where high doses of NSAIDs are no longer effective, your vet may suggest euthanasia.

Is hip dysplasia painful?

Hip dysplasia is a painful condition for dogs. In the beginning, it’s rare for dogs to show signs of pain at home, but clinically affected dogs often show signs of pain when their hips are extended by a vet. When HD becomes painful, many dogs will be slow to stand, less able to jump, and reluctant to exercise. Unfortunately, many dogs hide their pain well. The signs of pain may be subtle or mistaken for other problems, like anxiety or depression.

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a painful but manageable condition. When caught early, the progression of concurrent arthritis can be slowed with surgical or conservative treatments. Later treatment, however, can also be effective at managing the pain and laxity of hip dysplasia. All dogs should be tested for hip dysplasia before breeding. This helps to prevent hip dysplasia in puppies. This is especially important for breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia, like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Newounflands. Be sure to talk to your vet if you suspect that your pup has hip dysplasia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *