Hip dysplasia, also known as Degenerative Joint Disease, is a painful and chronic joint disease. While it is not life-threatening, it can dramatically affect the quality of life of the dog and can lead to arthritis in the joints. If diagnosed early, measures can be taken to ease the suffering of the dog and slow down the progression of the disease so the animal can lead a reasonably normal life.
Hip dysplasia occurs in the hip joints and is defined by a shallow "cup" (acetabulum) and a change in the shape of the "ball" (femoral head). According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, the top three breeds affected are the Bulldog, Pug, and French Mastiff but the condition has been seen in almost all breeds. Larger breeds are affected much more often than smaller breeds, which researchers believe is due to the larger mass and more stress placed on their joints. Hip dysplasia is strictly a hereditary condition; if the trait is not carried in an animal's parentage, they cannot get the condition. Selective breeding practices are being stressed to reduce the occurrences of hip dysplasia and owners of large breeds should be aware of the presence of the trait in their animal's ancestry. Trauma to the joints can cause similar symptoms and conditions, or may accelerate the progression of the dysplasia. Rapid weight gain or growth can also accelerate the effects of the disease, as well as overexercising, too much calcium, or too much protein in young puppies.
Symptoms can begin to appear in dogs as young as five to six months old. The first symptom usually seen is a change in the gait of the animal. Dogs starting to show signs of dysplasia often "bunny-hop" while running, moving both back legs together instead of independently. The dog may also be reluctant to use stairs, may have trouble standing up after lying down, or show other changes in its physical movement. These signs may disappear when the dog's growth rate slows but can come back later in life. Some dogs will never show outward signs of the condition. Veterinarians will usually use an x-ray to monitor the state of the joints.
If diagnosed very early, a surgery known as a triple pelvic osteotomy can be performed. The most successful surgical procedure for older dogs is a total hip replacement to eliminate the dysplasia completely. A femoral head osteotomy is another effective surgery that removes the "ball" from the affected joint. Although these operations can drastically reduce or eliminate the condition, they are very expensive and are usually only used if medications are unsuccessful to control the condition.
Aspirin or codeine medications are the most commonly prescribed pain medications, but other supplements may be recommended depending on the individual situation. Supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin are growing in popularity, not only among veterinary treatments but in human medications as well. Glucosamine and chondroitin both work to delay or even help repair the damage done to cartilage due to arthritis or a similar condition.
Some simple modifications can also help to make the dog's life more comfortable. A warmed bed or area to rest may ease the pain in older dogs. A firm orthopedic bed will help to support the dog's body and will make it easier for the dog to stand. In colder weather, you may have the dog wear a sweater or coat to keep its joints warm. Pet ramps can be bought or built over stairs, especially those leading outside or into the car, and elevated feeding dishes reduce stress on their necks and vertebrae.
If you own or are considering owning a large breed dog, have it checked early and often for hip dysplasia. Early treatments can prevent severe problems later in life. With careful maintenance, you and your dog can enjoy many healthy and happy years together.