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What is hip dysplasia in dogs?

Hip dysplasia, dysplasia meaning disordered growth or development, is a common inherited condition and occurs when a dog’s hip joint doesn’t develop correctly, meaning the bones that form the joint do not fit together as they should.

Over time, as the joint is used, it wears abnormally and this can cause the animal to experience pain and discomfort. Hip dysplasia can be seen in species other than dogs and the reported incidence of hip dysplasia in dogs is variable, although some breeds are certainly more prone to the problem.

Dog breeds prone to hip problems:

  • Labrador (12%* of dogs affected)
  • Rottweiler (21%* of dogs affected)
  • German Shepherd (20%* of dogs affected)
  • Pug (69%* of dogs affected)

What causes hip dysplasia in dogs?

It is not completely known specifically what causes hip dysplasia in dogs but genetics are known to be the main cause, with many different genes being involved. Other risk factors include diet, exercise and weight.

Dogs who suffer from hip dysplasia develop the condition as they grow, with the joint between the femur (thigh bone) and the pelvis developing abnormally. In early life, the ligaments surrounding the joint have excessive laxity and/or the genetically determined shape of the acetabulum (the hip socket) and the head of the femur are such that they do not run smoothly and allow the joint to be looser than it should be. This results in the hip becoming unstable and allowing abnormal movement of the ball of the femur relative to the hip socket.

Because of the abnormal movement that is present, the hip socket (acetabulum) is impacted further and is less able to cup the femoral head. In addition, the femoral head becomes flattened and in some cases ‘mushroom’ like.

Instead of the femoral head swivelling inside the socket, the whole femur can move around relative to the pelvis. This causes discomfort as the soft tissues are stretched and the cartilage which covers the surface of the bone is worn down.

This stretching and rubbing of the soft tissues and joint surface are what tends to cause discomfort in the initial stages. However, as patients get older, the joint undergoes a process of degenerative change and osteoarthritis will set in, which will cause further discomfort as this progresses.


Signs of hip dysplasia in dogs 

Development signs of hip dysplasia in dogs are very variable. Some will be more severely affected than others and the age they may show these signs can be quite variable too. In some cases, if the disease is quite mild it may not be diagnosed until later in life when arthritis sets in.

In other cases with significant laxity in the joint, it may be diagnosed in puppies, generally when they are around six to 12 months old. Signs of hip dysplasia in puppies include;

  • Limping on the back legs (one or both)
  • Stiffness
  • Bunny hopping
  • Difficulty in getting up or lying down
  • Reduced willingness to exercise
  • Difficulty climbing stairs or jumping up
  • Standing with the back legs tucked under the body and leaning forward on to the front legs
  • Swinging the hindlimb to the side when walking/running
  • Overt signs of pain including; whimpering/crying

How is hip dysplasia diagnosed?

The first step in the diagnosis of hip dysplasia is for a vet to examine the dog. The vet will listen and take note of the dog’s history and the description of the problems they have been experiencing. During the examination, the vet may require your dog to walk. This enables the vet to visualise their gait.

In most cases, a diagnosis of hip dysplasia is made definitively by taking X-rays of the hips and pelvis under general anaesthetic to assess the depth and coverage of the hip socket. The vet will also manipulate and palpate the hips under the same investigation to assess the degree of instability in the joint.


How is hip dysplasia treated?

Unfortunately, once a dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia it cannot be reversed or cured. In all cases, there are two options for the management of the condition — non-surgical and surgical. It is the extent of the disease’s severity that determines the level of treatment required.

Non-surgical Treatment for Hip Dysplasia

In most cases, an important aspect in the management of hip dysplasia in dogs is weight control. By maintaining a healthy weight and slim body condition the dog will experience less strain on the affected joints and in some cases no other treatment will be required.


The main way a dog’s weight can be managed is by exercise. The specific level of exercise a dog requires depends on their age and breed, although for dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia it is recommended for them to achieve regular low-impact exercises. This can include;

  • Low-risk lead walking: Regular short close lead walks in a secure area will provide your dog with the level of exercise they need while ensuring minimal risk to their joints.
  • Limited amounts of jumping: This includes jumping on and off sofas, in and out of cars and jumping to catch objects as abnormalities can be heightened following such activities.

In cases where exercise solely doesn’t have a positive impact on the management of a dogs condition, other options, including the following may be considered;

  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers
  • Exercise modification
  • Hydrotherapy

Surgical Treatment for Hip Dysplasia 

For some cases, typically where non-surgical management has been tried and there is little to no improvement in the dog’s condition, surgical options can be explored.

At Animal Trust we offer two of these surgical options, which may or may not be appropriate in all cases.

Total hip replacement treatment (THR)

The gold standard treatment for dogs with advanced hip dysplasia and a service that is provided directly from our Shrewsbury surgery is total hip replacement. This procedure will be explored as an option when a dog has not responded to non-surgical management methods.

There is also a specific criteria that a dog must meet prior to being considered for this surgery. Learn more about total hip replacement surgery.

Learn how Phoebe recovery from total hip replacement surgery.

Femoral Head and Neck Excision

This is a salvage procedure for cases where THR is not an option but medical management is not working adequately. This procedure is usually recommended for smaller dogs and those who are more active generally experience better results.

In this procedure, the femoral head (ball) is surgically removed, this prevents the bones from grinding together and causing pain. Over time a false, fibrous joint forms between the femur and the pelvis.

Generally, in most cases, this results in an improvement in comfort levels but will usually result in some restriction in flexibility in the hip. In most cases, this is manageable for the patient although in larger breed dogs the outcome may be somewhat less predictable.


Hip dysplasia prognosis

While the prognosis of hip dysplasia in many dogs who have been managed with non-surgical methods can be good it is a judged on a case by case basis and depends entirely on how well a dog reacts to their treatment. If a dog responds well to being managed they can go on to live a comfortable and active life with no need for surgery.

For dogs who undergo total hip replacement surgery, the majority of procedures will produce an excellent result and see the animal go on to lead a fully active and healthy life. However, as with all surgeries it is not without its complications.

If you’re concerned about your pet’s health or are worried they may be experiencing symptoms of hip dysplasia, book a free consultation with your local Animal Trust surgery.

*These incidences are based on figures provided by the Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals in the United States. Figures in the UK may be slightly different.

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