Canine Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia in Animals

Have you noticed your pup slowing down in their hind quarters, having difficulty transitioning from laying to standing, or showing signs of discomfort with mobility and regular movements? Are they hesitant to do things they used to love like long walks, running in the park, or playing with other pups? If so, it is possible they may be dealing with hip dysplasia.

What is Hip Dysplasia? A developmental condition of the hip joint (imagine a ball-and-socket joint) in which the head of the femur (the “ball”) does not fit properly into the too-shallow acetabulum (the “socket”).

Additionally, the ligaments connecting these two bony surfaces to one another are not strong enough to keep them together. Over time, the continuous abnormal movement at the unstable hip joint can result in a loss of cartilage, formation of bone spurs, pain, loss of mobility, and general discomfort.

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary and developmental condition that can create a disability in all breeds. It can often be exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle and excess weight, both of which are common as dogs get older. Breeds commonly affected include Bulldogs, Pugs, Neapolitan Mastiffs, Otterhounds, and Saint Bernards. Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers frequently experience it also, unfortunately.

Developmental Disabilities: Canine Hip Dysplasia.

Did you know that hip dysplasia is the most common developmental orthopedic condition in dogs?

X-Ray images (radiographs showing diagnostic images of hip joint laxity and reduced acetabular rim coverage compared to the head of the femur.)

Brown lab retriever with shocked expression on face- ears up, eyes wide with pupils dilated, bit front lip.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of hip dysplasia often show up as mild at first and progress over time. More often than not, symptoms don’t even show up until middle age or later. If possible, it is helpful to know your dog’s family history so you can be prepared to notice the early signs and symptoms that might show up. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Stiffness in the hips when standing from sitting or laying position
  • Stiffness in the hips when walking, running, or playing
  • Lameness (limping) on hind legs
  • Loss of muscle tone in the hind legs
  • Running with a “bunny hop” gait… Even though it looks cute =(

Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia

A qualified healthcare professional can make the diagnosis of hip dysplasia based on specific palpation methods and specially positioned hip x-rays. In puppies, the PennHIP distraction method with x-ray is most often recommended in order to make a proper diagnosis. By recognizing joint laxity early on, cartilage damage from progressive joint laxity can be prevented. Most often, dogs with hip dysplasia are separated into two categories:

Younger dogs with significant hip laxity but no arthritis development yet

Older dogs that have developed hip arthritis as a result of hip dysplasia.

Selecting The Proper Treatment:

Surgery vs. Conservative Management

Whether hip dysplasia can be treated best conservatively or with surgery depends on the severity of the condition as well as the dog’s age. Regardless of the treatment you choose, a certified canine rehabilitation therapist can make a meaningful difference in the recovery.

A certified canine rehabilitation therapist can evaluate your dog’s strength, flexibility, gait pattern, and daily functions to develop a treatment plan that will get them moving with more ease. They will utilize hands-on manual therapy techniques to ease pain and create a customized therapeutic exercise program to help build stability in the joints and make functional movements easier and less painful.

In some cases, surgery may be needed to provide the best possible outcome for a dog with hip dysplasia. The most common surgery to correct hip dysplasia is Femoral Head Ostectomy, or FHO. Reach out to a boarded veterinary orthopedic surgeon to find all the current best surgical recommendations. Before deciding on surgery, it is important know more about the alternatives available that may help to manage the condition more conservatively.

A healthy diet and weight, joint supplements, daily exercise, and pain medication when necessary can help with managing this common condition. A certified canine rehabilitation therapist (CCRT) can help improve your dog’s quality of life through education, manual therapy, and exercises specific to your dog’s condition.

What to Expect During Recovery From FHO:

-Setbacks. Recovery is rarely a linear process, so
expect some ups and downs along the way!
-Home Modifications. Simple and safe changes
around the house can help minimize further injury.
-A Bored Pup. Set up engaging games and puzzles to
keep your pup occupied while their mobility is limited!
-Daily Exercise. Rehab programs require a little work
each day to properly progress your pup's strength.

Canine Physical Rehabilitation Therapy is the Best Route:

Regardless of choosing surgical or conservative management, canine rehab is a vital part of achieving the best outcomes for your dog. Dr. Emily, a physical rehabilitation veterinarian, has developed a successful and proven framework for rehabilitation: The Tulsa Animal Rehab & Wellness Route to Recovery

This framework is applied to each patient and outlines four phases to plan their individualized route to recovery.

In Phase I (Survivor Dog), we want patients to feel better and move more easily.

Phase II (Basecamp Dog) is focused on building strength and is the most important part of every patient’s recovery. It is an intensive and progressive home exercise program that empowers pet parents by giving them tools to maintain their dog’s health as they age.

Phase III (Resilient Dog) is achieved as patients continue with a regular workout and activity routine, and ultimately regain their strength and independence through our Phase IV (Adventure Dog) program.

How Tulsa Animal Rehab & Wellness Can Help:

  • We work with your regular veterinarian to create a successful rehabilitation program specifically for your pup regardless of needing post surgical care or if you elected the conservative management approach
  • Dr. Emily will educate you on proper mechanics of exercises so you can work with your pup to maximize the results of treatments
  • Dr. Emily provides information on how to create a safe home environment during the recovery period to minimize risk of reinjury


Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation by Chris Zink & Janet B. Van Dyke


All information on this website is intended for instruction and informational purposes only. The authors are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result. Every animal is different and deserves individualized consideration for care. Significant injury risk is possible if you do not follow due diligence and seek suitable professional advice about your injury or concern. No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied on this website.