Hip Dysplasia

Description and causes

Hip dysplasia develops with age and leads to instability or looseness of the joint. There is usually an underlying genetic cause but there are other factors that influence the development of the dysplasia. These include diet, growth rate, exercise, lifestyle and environmental factors. Certain breeds of dog are predisposed to the condition including Labradors, German Shepherds and Retrievers. Large breed dogs are more susceptible to showing clinical signs but this condition is also seen in smaller breeds.

Symptoms and diagnosis

The hip joint in an affected dog develops abnormally with laxity (looseness) in the joint, an overly shallow acetabulum “socket” within the pelvis and flattening of the femoral head “ball” preventing the hip from functioning normally. In severe cases this results in partial dislocation. As time goes on the joint tends to stabilise due to strengthening of the surrounding tissue. Osteoarthritis is likely to develop with time due to the abnormal loading through the joint. Lameness tends to increase when secondary inflammation occurs within the joints as a result of the arthritis. Hip dysplasia can present at any age, typically between 4-10 months. More severe cases tend to show at an earlier age with either exercise intolerance, lameness being worse after exercise, dogs crying out when turning sharply or jumping or a classic “bunny hop” gait.

Diagnosis is based on x-ray.


Hip dysplasia can be treated by both conservative and surgical means. Restricted exercise is usually required, hydrotherapy and/or physiotherapy will help to strengthen muscles and reduce laxity in the joint. Pain management /acupunture should be considered, Mc Timoney manipulative assessment and or treatment at regular intervals can help, especially in uni-lateral dysplasia (dysplasia of one hip), to maintain structural balance. Depending on the severity of the case, surgery may be necessary.

Surgical options

  • Total hip replacement
  • Femoral head and neck excision arthroplasty
  • Triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) – more rare

Rehabilitation after surgery is essential to good recovery. Hydrotherapy and physiotherapy work well in conjunction with each other while McTimoney manipulative treatment will counteract compensatory imbalance and acupuncture may aid post-operative pain relief and help dogs regain mobility.

There is a hip dyspalsia scheme in place to screen dogs of susceptible breeds before they are bred from. Before buying a puppy, check that both parents are scored and that the scores are low (at least below the breed average). Dogs cannot be scored before they are 12 months old, don't accept being told that a puppy has been scored and don't buy puppies from unscored parents. Hip scores are always registered with the Kennel Club so it is easy to check the score of a specific dog if you know their registered name. For further information, visit the British Veterinary Association's website here

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