Hip dysplasia is a very painful disease that affects the hip joints of dogs, and it can occur in dogs as young as four months of age. The disease often develops in both hips, but sometimes only one hip is affected. Hip dysplasia is generally regarded as a genetic disease and usually develops due to the laxity of the connective tissue, ligaments, and muscles surrounding the joint. To fully understand the problem of hip dysplasia, however, it is important to know exactly how a dog’s hip joint works.
A dog’s hind leg is attached to the body by a ball-and-socket joint. The ball-and-socket joint consists of two basic parts: the ball, which is the head of the femur, and the acetabulum (the hip socket), which is part of the pelvis. In a normal, healthy joint, the socket surrounds the ball and the perfectly matched bones work in harmony with each other – thus enabling the ball to rotate freely within the socket. The two bones are then held together by ligaments that attach the femoral head directly to the acetabulum. The joint capsule then surrounds the bone to add further stability. The area where the bones meet is known as the articular surface, and this is smooth and cushioned by a layer of spongy cartilage. The articular surface is also well lubricated by a highly viscous fluid that is found in the joint.
Hip dysplasia occurs when the canine hip grows abnormally. This results in a loose and wobbly hip that has more movement than it should have. Eventually, the articular surfaces of the two bones lose contact with each other and this causes a change in the size and shape of the articular surfaces. If left untreated, this condition will eventually lead to arthritis and lameness. Hip dysplasia is a progressive condition, but can manifest in different levels of severity in different dogs. It is also possible for a dog to have hip dysplasia but show no symptoms of the disease. Most dysplastic dogs are not actually born with abnormal hips, as it is a condition that develops over a period of time.
In many cases, the symptoms of hip dysplasia do not begin to show until the dog reaches the middle or later years of its life. A variety of symptoms may then be present, and these include lameness, stiffness, behavioural changes, difficulty in climbing stairs, whining, and a reluctance to jump and play. A faint popping sound may also be heard from the back legs as the dog moves around. As the condition progresses, animals with the condition will also begin to lose muscle tone.
Hip dysplasia can be caused by a number of different things, and it tends to affect larger dog breeds rather than smaller ones - sight hounds, on the other hand, appear to have a low incidence of the disease. Hip dysplasia is mainly a disease of purebreds and can be genetic. If a dog already has hip dysplasia, there is a greater risk of its offspring developing the disease. Selective breeding can therefore help to reduce the incidence of the condition.
A poor diet or overfeeding can also contribute to a dog contracting hip dysplasia. If an animal is genetically susceptible to the disease, extra body weight can obviously exacerbate the situation. Feeding a diet that is too rich or too low in calcium or minerals can have a detrimental effect on the development of the hip joint. Thankfully, though, most complete and balanced dog foods these days have all the necessary ingredients to provide dogs with everything they need to stay healthy, and this has helped to eradicate most nutritional problems.
Exercise is another thing that can cause problems if a dog is genetically susceptible to hip dysplasia, as too much exercise at a young age can do more harm than good. Running and swimming are particularly good exercises, as these exercises put less strain on the animal and help to strengthen the gluteal muscles. Hip dysplasia is not a condition that is restricted to dogs, either, as cats and humans can also suffer from the disease.
There are many ways of determining the presence of hip dysplasia, including having the dog thoroughly examined by a veterinary surgeon, taking x-rays, and looking for clinical signs of arthritis - arthritis can easily be determined by looking for changes in the joints. Hip dysplasia can also be treated surgically, and there are a number of procedures available that range from fusing bones together to replacing the hip altogether. As the disease is primarily an inherited condition, there are unfortunately no drugs available to prevent the development of the disease. There are, however, good anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers available that can help to alleviate unpleasant symptoms and help to slow down the progression of the disease. Regular, gentle exercise, a good diet, and the use of supplements can also help to increase mobility.
Cold and damp conditions can also have a negative effect on arthritis, and it is therefore very important to make sure that the dog is kept warm and comfortable at all times. A good quality dog bed may help to relieve pressure on the joints while the animal is resting.
Pet ramps are also very useful for dogs that find it difficult to climb stairs or get in and out of the car. Physical therapy and massage may help to relax a dog suffering from the disease, as well as helping to relieve muscle stiffness.
It is obviously impossible to know whether or not a particular dog is going to suffer from hip dysplasia. The best way to avoid the disease is by being selective when choosing a new dog. It is also important to make sure that the parents and grandparents of the animal have no history of hip dysplasia. If a dog ever shows any signs of the disease, it should be taken to see a veterinary surgeon as soon as possible.