Hip dysplasia is simply a term for a hip joint that doesn’t fit together well. That could be due to a hip socket that isn’t very deep or a ball that isn’t very round.

Hip Joint Anatomy

Hip dysplasia results in joint laxity, increased wearing of the joint and, often, pain but not always. Often hip dysplasia is found by accident on x-rays for something else. In other dogs it can be quite severe, painful and debilitating.

What breed are most affected?

Most commonly, hip dysplasia affects large breed dogs such as Newfoundlanders, German Shepherds, Saint Bernards and Labrador Retrievers. In one study, bulldogs were actually the most affected breed.

Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition but it is impacted by different factors including early puppyhood exposures and carrying extra weight. Some of the factors that can affect the onset and severity of hip dysplasia include:

  • Puppies born in the spring or summer, raised on a farm or with plenty of opportunity to exercise in their first 3 months have reduced risk of developing hip dysplasia.
    • The type of exercise thought to be beneficial is daily outdoor exercise on soft, moderately rough terrain.
  • Keeping puppies off of the stairs for the first 3 months of life is also believed to be protective against hip dysplasia.
  • Carrying extra weight can be detrimental for health and it does increase the risk of hip dysplasia.

Can hip dysplasia be prevented?

In some cases hip dysplasia can be prevented by taking steps as mentioned above. However, because there is a genetic predisposition to developing hip dysplasia, in some cases it may be inevitable BUT the strategies mentioned above can help lessen the severity. Strengthening of the hip muscles and maintaining a health weight throughout life can help prevent worsening of the condition as well as delay the onset of arthritis.

Will my dog with hip dysplasia get arthritis?

To our knowledge this has never been studied, but it is generally agreed that a dog with hip dysplasia will eventually develop arthritis. This is because of the increased wearing of the joint surfaces caused by the poor fit of the bones and also the often reduced muscular support. Again, proper weight management and strengthening can lessen the severity of hip dysplasia and delay the onset of arthritic changes and symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia?
  • Lameness/limping either constant or intermittent in back leg(s)
  • Noisy hip joints
  • Bunny hopping when running
  • Increased hip sway when walking (sometimes referred to as a “diaper” walk)
  • Reluctance to be active (jumping, running, playing, avoiding stairs, etc)
  • Pain signs

Millie had surgery for luxating patella but hip dysplasia was found on her x-ray.

I’m worried my dog has hip dysplasia…what should I do?

Hip dysplasia is often assessed by x-ray if there is reason (i.e. breeding, breed predisposition, symptoms). More specialized x-rays are available called the OFA and PennHIP, which are often used by breeders to try to prevent this condition being passed down. Hands on testing can also be done by a vet or other trained canine practitioner (like a canine rehab therapist) to feel for laxity in the hip joint. These tests are the Barlow, Ortolani and Barden. Once a diagnosis is made, your vet will then discuss a plan with you. This is likely to include medications for pain and inflammation, instructions about activity modifications and rest and a discussion about treatment options.

What are the treatment options for a hip dysplasia?

The recommended treatment for hip dysplasia depends on the severity of the condition. For more severe cases or younger dogs, your vet may recommend a visit with a vet orthopedic surgeon and potential surgery. The most common types of surgery for hip dysplasia are total hip replacement and femoral head ostectomy (FHO). For less severe cases, conservative management will be suggested.

If your dog is having pain your vet will likely recommend pain medications. Joint supplements are often appropriate to help support the joint. Therapies like laser, acupuncture and rehab can be very beneficial.

Rehabilitation would focus on reducing pain and increasing the strength of the muscles that support the hip joint. Rehabilitation is important to consider whether or not your dog has surgery as the muscle around the hip are often weak in a dog with hip dysplasia. Rehab is KEY is limiting the development of arthritis in the future!


Krontveit, Randi I et al. “Risk factors for hip-related clinical signs in a prospective cohort study of four large dog breeds in Norway.” Preventive veterinary medicine vol. 103,2-3 (2012): 219-27. doi:10.1016/j.prevetmed.2011.09.018

Krontveit, Randi I et al. “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 vol. 73,6 (2012): 838-46. doi:10.2460/ajvr.73.6.838

Loder, Randall T, and Rory J Todhunter. “The Demographics of Canine Hip Dysplasia in the United States and Canada.” Journal of veterinary medicine vol. 2017 (2017): 5723476. doi:10.1155/2017/5723476

Young dog after FHO

11 month old Hank had a femoral head and neck excision to treat his hip dysplasia. He has done amazing! He went from not using his surgical leg to running up hills!!

Newfoundlander with hip dysplasia

Percy has hip dysplasia AND bilateral cruciate tears. His owners chose rehab over surgery and he is thriving!!

Is your dog struggling with hip dysplasia or arthritis?