HOW TO Prevent Hip Dysplasia in Your Dog

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Are you considering adding a purebred German Shepherd, Saint Bernard or other large-breed dog to your family? Perhaps a little Pug? Or are you already a big dog mom or dad?

german-shepherd-hip-dysplasia1Larger breeds of dogs – as well as smaller ones like Pugs and Bulldogs – are more susceptible to acquiring hip dysplasia, a painful, degenerative disease that causes dogs’ hips to weaken, deteriorate and become arthritic.

Hip dysplasia literally means improper growth of the hip, making it loose and wobbly. This can lead to increased movement that, if left untreated, can develop into arthritis or hip dysplasia. Most dogs don’t show symptoms until they’re older, but the disease has been diagnosed in 5-month-old puppies, according to

Symptoms of hip dysplasia in your dog include difficulty or slowness in sitting and standing up; reluctance to climb stairs; “bunny hopping” (running with both hind legs together); and limping. When you press down on your dog’s rump, you may see his pelvis drop.

An estimated 20 to 40 percent of all large dogs are afflicted with hip dysplasia. According to, 47 percent of Saint Bernards have the disease, 26 percent of Bloodhounds, 25 percent of Bullmastiffs, and 22 percent of Newfoundlands and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Other large breeds including German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are also prone to the disease.

dog-hip-dysplasia-diagram1While hip dysplasia is not as common in medium and small breeds, it is prevalent in Bulldogs (73 percent) and Pugs (60 percent).

Purebred dogs have a higher incidence of hip dysplasia than mixed breeds, but dilligent breeders are working to eradicate this with the help of the non-profit Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). To determine if a dog has hip dysplasia, breeders can have x-rays taken of the dog’s hips and then submit the x-rays to OFA. Based on a review by three veterinary radiologists, the condition of the dog’s hips are rated in one of seven classifications, from excellent to severe dysplasia. Dogs that rate severe, moderate or even mild should not be bred. (Anyone can have their dog’s x-rays reviewed by OFA for a fee of $35. It is recommended to wait until your dog is at least two years old. For more information, contact OFA.)

If you are considering buying a purebred, large-breed dog, ask the breeder what OFA score the parents received. If the parents have not been tested, you should seriously consider finding another breeder. But be aware that even an excellent score doesn’t guarantee the pup will be free from hip dysplasia, since it can still be inherited.

german-shepherd-cart1While genetics play a significant part in the disease, other major factors such as obesity can contribute to its development, according to Hip Dysplasia in Dogs. To prevent or slow down the progression of the disease, it is extremely important to keep your dog at a normal weight. Among other health problems, obesity can cause a dog’s legs to deform. With the extra body weight to support, the hip ball and socket joints can grow apart, resulting in the disease.

The only sure-fire way to prevent hip dysplasia is to use selective breeding. However, there are still several things you can do to help delay its onset, slow its progression and, ideally, eliminate any of its symptoms. Here are some prevention tips from Hip Dysplasia in Dogs and

  • Ask your vet about the ideal weight for your dog, and keep your dog at that weight.
  • Exercise your dog regularly to help build his muscles and limit irregular wear and tear on his hip joints. Simply going for a daily walk can reduce your dog’s risk of acquiring severe hip dysplasia. If your dog is showing any symptoms of the disease, refrain from strenuous exercise such as chasing tennis balls.
  • Give your dog a good massage. Your vet can show you how to massage and perform physical therapy on your dog’s hip and legs. This will relax his sore muscles and encourage a range of motion in his joints. Since your dog may already be in pain, you need to start out slowly and build his trust.
  • Keep your dog warm. Like arthritis, hip dysplasia worsens in cold, damp weather. Consider getting a sweater for your dog, or turning up the thermostat to keep him comfortable.
  • Provide comfortable bedding for your dog. Orthopedic-foam beds distribute your dog’s weight evenly and reduce pressure on his achy joints. Put the bed in a warm spot away from drafts.
  • Add oral supplements to your dog’s diet. The combination of chondroitin and glucosamine (available in i Love Dogs Glucosamine & Chondroitin with Green Tea and Reishi) has been proven to heal damaged cartilage and support joint function.

Although your dog may be genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia, following these tips may delay the disease or reduce its severity, so he’ll be running and jumping beside you for many dog years to come.

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

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Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman is senior social media writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. She does love dogs. And elephants and turtles. Along with writing about the loves of her life, Laura likes to play with her two pound pups and tell anyone who'll listen just how awesome Pit Bulls are.

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