Dogs that walk, run, or move by stepping with their front legs and hopping with their two hind legs are most likely suffering from hip dysplasia. Hopping is one sign of this joint problem. Other signs include a noticeable limp, a decrease in your dog’s active lifestyle, and a pet that is slow to get up (especially after extended periods of laying or sitting). It is crucial for dog owners to be aware that most times their dog will not verbally express their pain. Dogs can not tell you they are in pain, and if they have grown up with it, they are often times used to moving and living in pain.

Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but can also occur in very active dogs. Cases of hip dysplasia in cats have been recorded, but it is more commonly a problem in dogs. Hip dysplasia can be diagnosed in a pet as young as six to ten months of age. Genetics, diet, and exercise all contribute to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs. Puppies who are fed too much protein and calcium are more likely to develop hip disease. It is important to keep your puppy lean so it grows at a steady, constant rate. Also, until a puppy is at least 6 months of age, you want to keep hard impact exercise like running on pavement to a minimum; instead try activities such as playing in the grass or swimming. The lower impact will help build up the muscles without putting so much stress on the joints.

When looking at an x-ray of your dog’s hind legs, you will notice that the “ball”, or head, of the femur bone fits incorrectly into the hip “socket”. A healthy hip should show the ball and socket fitting together like two puzzle pieces. Notice the difference in the two x-rays (right). The healthy joint is fully formed, has a clearly defined “ball”, and fits into the hip solidly. However, in the hip dysplasia picture, the bone appears mauled and deformed. Also, notice how rough the edges bones appear compared to the health picture above. Hip dysplasia results in both inflammation of the joint and weakness in leg use.

Although your vet can perform surgery to fix hip dysplasia, you can also help to improve your dog’s hip. Supplementing your pet’s diet with glucosamine pills will help significantly. Glucosamine works to lubricate the joint, repair cartilage, and decrease inflammation. By controlling your pet’s diet to prevent obesity, your dog has less weight to carry around on his weak joints. Also, a healthy diet keeps the rest of the body healthy and working well. Exercise is another element in strengthening your dog’s hip. Always begin with a short ten to fifteen minute walk, and over time build up to longer walks. For dogs limping or refusing to walk, swimming is a viable alternative that is easy on the joints while still building muscles and working the heart. Buffered aspirin can help relieve pain in joints tired from exercise. In addition to the aspirin, warmth also reduces pain. Consider putting a warm blanket or heating pad in your dog’s bed, or putting his bed in direct sunlight. And, as with anyone in pain, your love and attention can boost you dog’s spirit.