Ask a vet online: ‘ anything I can do to help hip dysplasia?’

Question from Erin Taylor:

Anything i can do to help my bm’s hip dysplasia? She’s only 1

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Erin and thank you for your question regarding your dogs hip dysplasia, to answer your question I will discuss what hip dysplasia is, how it is diagnosed and then treatment options.

So what is hip dysplasia?

The hip joint is made up of the head of the femur (the top part of the upper leg bone) and the acetabulum (the socket in the pelvis).  The hip joint also includes cartilage (smooth strong and cushioning substance), ligaments (strong fibrous tissue connections) and joint fluid (liquid which lubricates the joint).

Dysplasia means that this part of the body has not formed properly, in the case of hip dysplasia it can involve some or all parts of the hip joint not being the correct shape, size or working correctly.  Hip dysplasia is more common in certain breeds of dog such as the Labrador and the German shepherd dog but can be found in any breed or cross breed of dog.

Hip dysplasia is a congenital disease, which means it is present from birth; it can also be hereditary which means it can be passed on from parent dogs to their puppies.  The kennel club has a scheme for measuring and recording the extent of hip dysplasia in certain breeds of dog, this is to help people decide which dogs to use for breeding so as to try and reduce the risk of producing puppies with severe hip dysplasia.

In general when your vet talks about hip dysplasia they mean that the femoral head is either abnormal in shape and or not adequately covered by its socket, this results in extra wear and tear on the hip joints which in the long term can lead to arthritic changes plus or minus lameness/pain.

How can I find out if my dog has hip dysplasia?

Usually a pet owner would bring their dog in due to lameness or an unusual gait (way in which the dog moves).  Your vet will then ask you questions to help form a history of what has been going on with your dog.  The questions will include e.g.  when did you first notice the problem, how long has it been going on, how quickly has is progressed, has the condition improved with rest and or medication as well as general health questions regarding eating, drinking and toileting.

Your vet will want to observe your dog moving; usually this can be done on the lead in the vet practice building or carpark area.  It is always important to remember that when at the vets your pet may not show its lameness the same as at home or straight after rest.  It can sometimes be helpful to bring in a video clip of your dog’s movement.

The next step will be for your vet to perform a full clinical examination of your dog, all major body systems will be checked with extra attention being paid to the joints in this case specifically the hip joints.  Your vet will gently feel along your dog’s legs and move all the joints through a normal range of movements.  While doing this examination your vet will watch for any reactions suggesting that your dog is uncomfortable, decreases or increases in how much a joint moves and also any clicks or grating sensations.

All the above information will help your vet to decide what is the next step, which might include rest, further monitoring, use of pain relief or x-rays.

It is important to be aware that x-ray findings do not always match the signs that a dog is showing.  Some dog’s hips will appear almost normal in appearance on an x-ray yet they can be very lame and vice versa.  X-rays can be useful to make a diagnosis of hip dysplasia and also to monitor how the disease is progressing.  In the case of the kennel club scheme, very specifically positioned x-rays need t be taken, these are then sent off to be analysed and a number or hip score will be given for your pet.

What can be done to help/treat dogs with hip dysplasia?

Diet

Your vet may suggest putting your dog onto a specific diet; this may be a weight control diet or one that is designed to support joints.  The reason for weight control is to reduce the amount of strain put on your dog’s joints so as to allow the best function possible for the longest time possible.  Joint support diets are designed to contain specific ingredients which help keep your dog’s joints in good working condition (will go into more detail under joint supplements).

Exercise plan

This is to make sure that your dog is having enough exercise and of an appropriate type to keep their joints working at their best for as long as possible.  In cases of hip dysplasia where your pet has started to show arthritic signs it is important to do little and often exercise rather than sudden long bursts.  Exercise is important to keep your dog’s weight down, to maintain muscle strength and unsure your dog can move.

Some pets may be referred for physiotherapy, this is where a specially trained therapist will show you how to move your pets joints, in some cases his may be in water ( hydrotherapy) as this reduces the weight and strain on the joints.  Some physiotherapy exercises are ones that you will be asked to do with your dog at home.

Weight control

As already mentioned it is important that your dog does not become overweight, as this added weight will put more strain on your dog’s joints and lead to faster progression of any arthritic changes.  Diets and exercise as the main way to regulate your dog’s weight.  Many vet practices run weight clinics where your dog’s weight can be monitored and help given to choose the best diet and how much of this your dog should be fed.

Medications

There are a range of anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medications available for dogs which need them.  Your vet will advise you on which product or combination is best suited to your pet.  In generally we try to get you pet onto the lowest effective dose of any given medication.  At times a combination of medications may be necessary and the doses or specific medications used might be changed to meet your dog’s needs.

Anti inflammatories

These are available as injections, tablets and liquids and include carprofen, meloxicam and firocoxib.  These are usually administered with or after food, any your vet may advise monitoring your dog’s kidney function as this can be affected by some of these medications.

Opioids

These are strong pain relieving medications available in tablet, injectable and patch form.  They include morphine, buprenorphine and tramadol.  This type of drug is not usually sent home and strict licensing rules exist around their use.

Joint supplements

These tend to contain combinations of chondroitin, glucosamine (can be from green lipped mussel) and various minerals.  These chemicals are thought to help maintain a healthy joint.  Some of these chemicals are also used for human joint disease.  It is important to use products designed for dogs and at the correct dose.

Surgical interventions

There are a few surgical procedures which might be suggested for dogs with hip dysplasia.  Removal of damaged cartilage and or loose fragments can be performed.  Excision of the femoral head if it is very severely abnormal can sometimes be performed; this is more common in smaller dogs and cats.  Total hip replacement, this is something we are more used to hearing as a procedure to be carried out on elderly people.  Hip replacement s a specialist procedure, it can only be performed on certain dogs after careful consideration by a specialist vet.

I hope that my answer has helped to explain how complex a disease hip dysplasia is, how it is detected and that there are a wide variety of ways to help your dog.  It is definitely best to tackle the problem of hip dysplasia with the help of your veterinary team who can advise you on the best treatment plan specifically designed for your dog.  Your dog will need careful monitoring which may include regular checkups with your vet, veterinary nurse and or physiotherapist.  I hope that your dog has a comfortable good quality life.

Shanika Winter MRCVS (online vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

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4 thoughts on “Ask a vet online: ‘ anything I can do to help hip dysplasia?’

    1. Hi, increasing muscle mass in the hind limbs really has to come from exercise. This can be tricky where exercising has become difficult due to hip dysplasia. Hydrotherapy and swimming is a fantastic form of exercise as it is non-impact on the joint and strengthens many muscles. It is best done in a calm and controlled environment and under the instruction of a professional, rather than a splash and a dash in a pond somewhere which could have the opposite effect. A good diet with good quality proteins will assist with the growth and repair of muscle too. Speak with your vet about which diet is best for your dog, you must bear in mind that weight gain can be detrimental in these patients so your vet might deem a joint supporting, low calorie diet to be most appropriate, it does depend on the individual. Best wishes

    1. Hi, increasing muscle mass in the hind limbs really has to come from exercise. This can be tricky where exercising has become difficult due to hip dysplasia. Hydrotherapy and swimming is a fantastic form of exercise as it is non-impact on the joint and strengthens many muscles. It is best done in a calm and controlled environment and under the instruction of a professional, rather than a splash and a dash in a pond somewhere which could have the opposite effect. A good diet with good quality proteins will assist with the growth and repair of muscle too. Speak with your vet about which diet is best for your dog, you must bear in mind that weight gain can be detrimental in these patients so your vet might deem a joint supporting, low calorie diet to be most appropriate, it does depend on the individual. Best wishes

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