Canine hip dysplasia is an inherited, degenerative disease that leads to painful arthritis and diminishes the quality of life of dogs. The cause, predisposition, severity, and treatments all involve multiple factors.

Hip Dysplasia 

As puppies grow, the ball (femoral head) and the socket (acetabulum in the pelvis) of the hip joints normally grow at an equal rate, creating a snug fit and smooth movement. In cases of canine hip dysplasia (CHD), the ball and the socket grow unequally, creating a deformed pairing and fit. This creates abnormal rubbing and wear of cartilage and bone. As the body adjusts and responds to the loose fit, degenerative joint disease (DJD) or arthritis develop.   


Any dog can have hip dysplasia. Some breeds, especially large and giant breeds, are more prone. Some of the most affected breeds are the Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Labrador retriever, New Foundland, pug, French bulldog, and German Shepherd Dog.


Hip dysplasia begins in puppyhood, and though they can occur earlier, symptoms usually present at ages one year and older. Symptoms also depend on the severity of the DJD or arthritis. They include hind-end lameness/limping, pain, or weakness; reluctance to rise from sitting or lying; or a reluctance to play, jump, or climb. Some dogs may bunny-hop with hind legs when running.


Hip dysplasia is a multifactorial disease, caused by many contributors. Genetics and nutrition are major role players. Weight is a contributing factor, as it puts pressure on joints. Although there are various opinions about the contribution of exercise to CHD, studies have shown that certain types of exercise (such as climbing stairs, prolonged full-speed chasing, and other high-impact activities) during puppyhood can contribute to hip dysplasia development [1,2]. However, appropriate exercise is important for proper growth, muscle conditioning, and weight management. 

Proper nutrition in both quality and quantity is also vital. Food formulated for age and breed size ensures dogs receive the appropriate nutrients in the optimal ratios that support overall growth and skeletal maturation while helping to maintain a healthy weight. Overfeeding can cause excess weight or a too-fast growth rate.  

It’s best to speak with your pet’s veterinarian for specific diet and exercise recommendations for individual dogs.  

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing CHD begins with a conversation covering history, lifestyle (including nutrition and exercise), and symptoms. A physical exam that may include palpating and moving legs and hips can provide more information. The preferred method of diagnosis is taking and viewing radiographs.  

Several treatment options are available for CHD, and which ones are appropriate depends on the severity of the disease, the symptoms, the age, and the health condition of the dog. Veterinarians cater treatment plans to meet the needs of individual dogs. Treatments can include the use of joint supplements, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), polysulfated glycosaminoglycan injections, and physical therapy. Surgical repair can include a total hip replacement, femoral head ostectomy (removing the femoral head), or a double or triple pelvic osteotomy (cutting the pelvic bone and rotating segments).

Consulting with a veterinarian about CHD and measures you can take to lessen its impact is important in keeping dogs as healthy and comfortable as possible. Appropriate diet and exercise, regular wellness exams, early intervention, and individualized treatment plans all have vital roles in addressing this condition.

Canine hip dysplasia is a condition we see and treat often at Sandia Animal Clinic. If you have concerns about CHD and your dog, please schedule an appointment by calling us at (505) 299-9533 or booking online.



  1. Sallander MH, Hedhammar A, Trogen ME. Diet, exercise, and weight as risk factors in hip dysplasia and elbow arthrosis in Labrador Retrievers. The Journal of Nutrition 2006; 136:2050S–2052S.
  2. Krontveit R, Nødtvedt A, Sævik BK, Ropstad E, Trangerud C. Housing- and exercise-related risk factors associated with the development of hip dysplasia as determined by radiographic evaluation in a prospective cohort of Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Leonbergers, and Irish Wolfhounds in Norway. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 2012;73(6):838-846. doi:10.2460/ajvr.73.6.838
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