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Every year millions of dogs are plagued with the painful symptoms of hip dysplasia...

Every year millions of dogs are diagnosed with a painful condition called hip dysplasia. Canine hip dysplasia is a degenerative disease of the hip in which the ball and socket components of the joint no longer fit tightly. The result is progressive deterioration of the joint. It is the most frequently encountered orthopedic disease in veterinary medicine. Hip dysplasia usually strikes large breeds, like Labrador retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, and Saint Bernard’s. It is primarily a disease of purebreds but it can occur in mixed breed of all types.

Hip dysplasia results from the abnormal development of the hip joint in the young dog. Most dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips but due to genetic and other factors, abnormal joint development results as the puppy grows. The disease can involve one or both hips. It is caused by the laxity of the muscles, connective tissue and ligaments that support the joint. The bones of the joint actually move apart. This separation of the bones within the joint creates abnormal wear and erosion of the joint resulting in pain and arthritis.

Dogs of all ages are subject to the symptoms of hip dysplasia and the resultant arthritis. In severe cases, puppies as young as five months will begin to show pain and discomfort during and after vigorous exercise. The most common scenario is that symptoms do not begin until the middle or later years in a dog’s life. The symptoms include walking or running with an altered gait. The dog will show stiffness and pain in the rear legs after exercise or first thing in the morning. They will often resist movements that require full extension of flexion of the rear legs. As the condition progresses, the dogs will lose muscle tone and may even need assistance in getting up.

Researchers are almost all in agreement that there is a genetic link to this disease. If a parent has hip dysplasia then the offspring are at a greater risk for developing the disease. The incidence of hip dysplasia can be greatly reduced through selective breeding. The other factors that contribute to hip dysplasia in genetically susceptible dogs include nutrition and exercise.

The diagnosis of canine hip dysplasia is usually made through a combination of physical exam and radiographs (x-rays). The veterinarian is usually able to feel looseness in the joint or may be able to elicit pain through extension and flexion of the rear legs. The x-rays then confirm the joint abnormality is present. The final diagnosis is typically very straightforward.

The treatment of canine hip dysplasia depends on the age and severity of the joint degeneration. There are a number of surgical procedures that can be performed. Surgery is not inexpensive but it represents the only option to “cure” the disease. The results are a stable joint or even possibly a total joint replacement.

Hip dysplasia can also be treated medically. While the looseness in the joint will not change, medications are now available that can significantly reduce pain and decrease the progression of the joint damage. Because of the high cost involved with surgery, medical management is many times the only realistic option for pet owners.

Pet owners that chose medical management for their dogs need to investigate the alternative treatment options also available. Disease- modifying supplements such as Chondro and  Synovial-Flex are very useful. Nutrients, such as vitamin C and Omega-3 fatty acids, have beneficial effects on symptom control and disease slowdown. Weight management, proper exercise and physical therapy, such as hydrotherapy, are important. There are also very valuable joint stabilizing products available that reduce stress on damaged hip joints and contribute greatly to better quality of life.

Future articles will provide more detailed analysis of how these alternative treatment options are becoming more and more an integral part of dealing with the hip dysplasia threat.

Written By:  Staff at

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