Hip Dysplasia

What Is Hip Dysplasia In Dogs?

Hip dysplasia (HD) refers to the malformation of the hip joint: instead of a round femoral head fitting smoothly into a deep acetabulum, the joint contains a shallow socket and irregularly shaped ball. These malformations cause uneven contact between the joint surfaces compromising the joint stability and eventually deforming the bone and causing pain. This laxity in the joint also erodes the joint and causes inflammation and bone remodelling to occur, which in turn leads to arthritis or degenerative joint disease. HD can be unilateral or bilateral.

shutterstock_163247324A vast majority of dogs with hip dysplasia can lead active lives with non-surgical therapy but for others it can result in pain and discomfort with the hip joint gradually deteriorating and leading to loss of function. Owners should be aware of the signs of pain that are more likely to develop with the condition and to take action when necessary. The condition can cause a gradual deterioration of the joint and may mean that an owner will need to adjust feeding, exercise and the dog’s home living environment by doing things such as putting rubber backed mats on laminated, wooden or slippy flooring – the latter should be a permanent feature for all dogs anyway as slippy floors are the most common cause of muscular injury within the home. These changes can make a big difference.


dog_massage_for_hip_dysplasia_1The cause of hip dysplasia is usually genetic, but environmental factors can contribute. Dogs can develop HD when they are young and physically immature as their bones are still soft and so can very easily become malformed with activities of daily living. Early onset usually develops after four months of age in their initial growth phase (up to 2 years). However a later onset can occur if arthritis in the joint has caused the hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia can also occur at any age as a result of an injury e.g. bad collision with another dog, a fall etc.

There are also cases of later onset, where hip dysplasia develops due to osteoarthritis.

Sports injury or inappropriate exercising routine, causing muscle imbalances during the puppy’s crucial developmental can cause unilateral hip dysplasia.

Activities Detrimental To Young Hips Include:

  • Jumping in and out of the car
  • Jumping on/off sofa
  • Going up/down stairs
  • Living on laminate/wooden/slippy /flooring
  • Either over or under exercising (repetitive strain injury)
  • Starting sports too early with them e.g. getting a puppy to jump full height at agility
  • Improper balance exercises e.g. wobble cushions are a no no
  • Nutrition

Dogs at risk

hip_full_flexionHip dysplasia is one of the most common skeletal diseases seen in dogs. Gender does not seem to be a factor, but some breeds are more likely to have the genetic predisposition for hip dysplasia. Large and giant breeds are most commonly affected, including the Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Labrador, Rottweiler and German Shepherd.

Rarely, small breed dogs can also be affected, but are less likely to show clinical signs.

Signs / Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the degree of HD and to the extent of joint laxity, inflammation or arthritic changes within the joint. Early disease signs are usually related to joint laxity, whilst later disease signs are usually related to joint degeneration and osteoarthritis. Common signs of hip dysplasia include:

  • Difficulty rising from lying or sitting positions
  • Sitting in “frog” position (one hip splays out)
  • Reluctance to run, jump, climb stairs
  • Pain when touched or trying to nibble or lick your fingers when you touch around the hips
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Bunny hopping (especially up stairs)
  • Swaying gait (rear end moves back and forth in pronounced fashion)
  • Stiffness
  • Hind-limb lameness, often worse after exercise
  • Back legs more close together than front legs (e.g. narrow stance)
  • Intermittent or persistent hind-limb lameness, often worse after exercise
  • Pain in hip joints
  • Joint laxity – characteristic of early disease
  • Grating detected with joint movement (crepitus)
  • Decreased range of motion in the hip joints
  • Enlargement of shoulder muscles due to more weight being exerted on front legs as the dog tries to avoid weight bearing on its hind legs

As hip dysplasia progresses the following symptoms may appear:

  • Muscle waste in the hind quarters
  • Very reluctant to be touched
  • Unexplained aggressive behaviour

Arthritis (especially in later onset)

Benefits Of Massage

Secondary sources of pain such as myofascial trigger points, sacro-iliac and/or low back pain, pinched nerves are factors that can dramatically limit the dog’s quality of life. Treating these secondary sources of pain is as important as treating the hip joint itself.

Massage can help to:

  • Improve mobility and flexibility
  • Relieve the effects of stiffness and joint discomfort
  • Develop and maintain muscles tone
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Relieve soreness and stiffness
  • Correct muscle balance and posture
  • Relieve tension
  • Assist in pain relief
  • Improve quality of life
  • Relieve tension build up
  • Help strengthen muscles
  • Help the compensating limb tension and correct muscle balance
  • Improve the dog’s disposition
  • Enable the dog to enjoy normal exercise
  • Reduce inflammation around the coxofemoral joint due to the lymphatic drainage achieved during massage

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