A few definitions and comments to avoid confusion

Arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints.

We are being taught now that most diseases of the different joints... such as bursitis for the shoulder, stenosis for the spine, hip dysplasia for the hips, arthritis of the hand, fingers, knees and so forth are really localized versions of the same disease.... what is now known as degeneraive joint disease.

Underlying factors or causes include genetics ... this is a big factor in hip dysplasia, truama, excessive weight, hormones, nutrition,  immune system problems, and infection.

Hip Dysplasia is simply another  name for arthritis of the hip joint due to a poorly formed (or dysplastic) hip socket.  Inflammation or arthritis of dysplastic or poorly formed hips develop over time because the socket in the hip is not quite the right shape to keep the ball shaped femur head from sliding and grinding the joint down.

The main cause of this malformation is genetics.

A good example in humans... now that everyone seems to be wearing sandals ... are pinky toes; a lot of people have weird looking little toes because their parents or grand parents had weird looking little toes ... it's a genetic thing. 
Well hip sockets in dogs... especially large breed dogs, are a little like small toes in humans.  Certain breeds and some individual dogs of other breeds are prone to having less than perfectly formed hip sockets... because the parents or grandparents passed on their genetic code for this.... For better or for worse.

Unfortunately, little toes are pretty insignificant whereas hips are the biggest load bearing joint in the body.

What To Expect When You Go To The Vet
For Hip Dysplasia
(Of course, your vet may do things a little differently)

If we're talking about hip dysplasia (and we are), you'll be going to the vet for 1 of 3 reasons:

1.  Your dog is often lame, stiff, sore, reluctant to get up and down, has trouble getting up or down steps, "bunny hopping" and so forth.  In other words, it's becoming obvious to you that something's wrong with the rear end of your dog.

2.  Your dog seems fine, but you're a concerned, aware, and super responsible pet owner or breeder who wants to know if your dog has hip dysplasia and you want to know this early enough to prevent breeding this pet and/or to manage this disease in the early stages to minimize future problems.

3.  You, the responsible and caring pet lover will be seeing your vet for some other problem or for your pet's annual exam and your astute and wonderful veterinarian will detect or suspect hip dysplasia and offer you advice and options

Our Diagnostic Options:

Unfortunately, as I indicated in the introduction, it's quite difficult to determine if a young dog is a genetic carrier of hip dysplasia or is likely to suffer from the disease in latter life.  There aren't as yet, any blood tests, genetic tests, etc that detect the disease.  Perhaps such tests will be available soon, which would be great, because then we could avoid breeding carriers of the disease and maybe in one or two decades hip dysplasia would be a rare disease instead of the the most common crippling disease we vets see after car accidents.

So, here's what we do have:

1.  Use our skills and experience to recognize the disease with a good exam and history.  Detecting hip dysplasia in this manner is usually too late for making breeding decisions...but it's often early enough to make some changes that will greatly minimize future suffering of the pet involved.

2.  Radiographs.  This is our main diagnostic tool.  High Quality radiographs can detect the poorly shaped hip socket long before the pet exhibits lameness. 

By two years of age, a pet's pelvic bones are fully developed and by convention, we recommend taking x-rays of large breed dogs at 2 years of age prior to breeding in hopes of breeding only those individuals without obvious problems.  The success of this world-wide endeavor...trying to avoid breeding of hip dysplastic dogs...has been limited by various hurdles, non-compliance, and the inability of radiographs to detect non-symptomatic carriers of the disease.  I'm going to skip over this topic and get back to what to expect at the vet for your individual pet except to say that we strongly encourage you to avoid having puppies with breeds prone to hip dysplasia until after having radiographs that rule out obvious hip dysplasia.  You don't necessarily have to wait until the dogs are 2 years old for the x-rays to pick up bad cases of dysplasia, so if you're anxious to breed, talk to your vet about pre-breeding radiographs.  (There is a  2 year old requirement for official certification and it's true that x-rays taken before physical maturity of the pelvis aren't as accurate)

If you take your pet to the vet for lameness etc and hip dysplasia is suspected, your vet will encourage you to take radiographs for a couple of reasons:

1.  To confirm the disease and to make sure there isn't some other explanation or problem that needs to be tackled.  Quite a few times in my experience what I suspected was hip dysplasia turned out to be an old fracture, a pellet or bullet, disc disease, bone cancer, an abdominal tumor, or a prostatic cyst.  One time it turned out to be from a bone pin that was put in years ago when the young dog fractured it's femur; the pin had migrated up into the socket.  You never know unless you look.

2.  To see how bad the condition is (staging), to see if one side is much worse than the other (making a femoral head removal a possible option), and so that we compare to future radiographs which allows us to determine if our treatment plan is working well or not.


I'll tell you up front, we don't have a cure or super great treatment for hip dysplasia yet.  Whenever this is the case...where we can't all agree on which treatment is best...you'll find some vets enthusiastic about one type of treatment and others all for another type or method of treatment.  And often it depends on what you can afford or are willing to spend.  Here the more common options:

Medical Treatment and Relief of Symptoms

1.  Weight Loss   I mention this first for no special reason, but if your dysplastic pet is overweight, it's well worth the trouble and effort to get that weight off.

2.  Pain and Inflammation Relief.  Newer medications available (I like Rimadyl, Previcox, Adequan, & Duralactin) have been wonderful, giving a lot of suffering pets the relief needed to live a fairly normal life.  Prior to the availability of these new meds, we used aspirin, bute, motrin, and steroids with varying degrees of success, but these newer medications are much better and safer.

3.  Joint Lubrication and medications that promote joint health: This group of medications includes glucosamine, vitamin C, injections into the joint, anti-oxidants, MSM, and probably other supplements and medications I'm not familiar with yet.   Some of these treatments are still somewhat controversial or at least unproven.

There's little doubt left that these treatments are often beneficial; they are.  The remaining controversy centers on how beneficial, which brands are the best, which combinations are the best and so forth.  I personally am a big fan of the Glucosamine-MSM-VitaminC product made by VetriScience and the products made by Nutrimax.

At any rate, such products help to increase joint lubrication, reduce damage to the cartilage, and to some degree help repair cartilage damage.  To put a finer point on the topic; if your pet is stiff, sore, or limping due to dysplasia, you have about a 30% chance of noticing great improvement after using high quality glucosamine combinations (it takes 1- 3 weeks to see the improvement).  You have about a 30% chance of seeing some improvement, and about a 30% chance that no obvious improvement will be noted.  

Even if the benefits aren't obvious, these neutriceuticals are probably at least slowing down this progressive disease.

3.  Laser Therapy.  At our practice, we've been having good success making arthritic patients feel better and move around better using our class 4 laser.  Laser energy increases blood flow to the area, reduces swelling and inflammation, and stimulates tissue healing.

4.  Acupuncture.  I just don't know enough about the pros and cons of this treatment modality to advise you.  It's got a lot of popular press and mystique, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good choice.

5.  Chiropractic.  I'm impressed with the benefits of chiropractic treatment for some spinal injuries...and arthritis of the lower spine is often present in dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, in which case I think chiropractic treatment might be very helpful.   But:  I don't see how spinal adjustments are likely to help the wear and tear  pain associated with a bad hip joint.

Surgical Treatment Options

Medical treatment and acupuncture can be used to alleviate arthritis pain and promote joint health, but these treatments do not correct the underlying cause of the hip pain which is a malformed joint.  Because of this, the primary treatment for hip dysplasia is surgery and it can be very successful.

Removal of the Femur Head and Neck so it doesn't rub against the pelvis:  More about this treatment on our page about femoral head removal

This is the surgery I do most often, mainly because it's relatively inexpensive, usually works fairly well, and just so you know; it's the only procedure for hip dysplasia I know how to do well.  We simply remove the top of the femor and that solves the painful problem of grinding away at the hip joint.  Of course, without the leg bone attaching to the hip bone, you might think that the poor animal would be unable to stand on that leg...and it's true...at first, but after a few weeks a false joint is formed by the muscle being scarred around the top of the cut off femor and most patients are soon weight bearing and get along quite well.  This is not a perfect solution by any means, but it does allow most pets to get around without a lot of pain.  This is an especially good choice if only one leg is bad or you simply can't afford other methods of repair.  Some vets do both legs at the same time, others, like me, usually do one leg at a time.

Total Hip Replacement

Total hip replacement is used primarily for larger dogs and is very similar to the procedure performed on people.

The entire hip is replaced using high density, medical grade plastic for the socket and a high quality, non-corrosive alloy for the ball.

This is probably the very best solution for many patients and has a high degree of success, pain elimination, and nearly complete resumption of activity.  This type of surgery is done by specialists and is quite expensive.

Triple Pelvic Osteotomy

This special surgery is different in that it must be done BEFORE the joint is damaged and is done on dogs under a year old in order to prevent future dysplastic problems.

We perform this surgery on young dogs with early symptoms or radiographs indicating malformed joints.   Some owners with breeds prone to hip dysplasia...or with puppies from a line of hip dysplastic dogs...will sometimes have x-rays done as early as 6 months old that can detect an obviously malformed hip joint.  In these cases, this surgery works well at preventing future pain and problems.

The surgery basically involves cutting the pelvis in 3 places which allows the surgeon to rotate the hip sockets to better fit over the femur heads.  The pelvis then heals into this new and better position.  This is another surgery done by specialists and is quite expensive.

Other Surgical Methods for this problem:
There are a few other methods in the "surgical literature" .

Stem Cell Therapy:
It seems incredible to me, but some vets now offer stem cell therapy.  Results are apparently fantastic but for most people the cost (2014 prices are about $4-6 thousand dollars) is too prohibitive.
On This Page:

What To Expect When You Go To The Vet When Your Dog Has Hip Dysplasia

Treatment Choices for Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia
What To Expect When You
Go To The Vet
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"What To Expect When You Go To The Vet"
if your pet should have a problem with ...

Abscesses, wounds, and injuries

Arthritis, Lameness, Fractures, and Ligament Injuries
To include Femoral Head Removal, Hip Dysplasia, Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries, Panosteitis, Radiographic Demonstrations, Disc Disease, and Bone Surgery

Bladder, Urinary Tract, & Kidney Problems

Blood Diseases, Anemias etc
Strokes, Vascular Diseases, Anemias, DVT, DIC, Blood Parasites, Rat Poison, & Bleeding disorders

Cancer, Masses, Lumps and Bumps

Cardiology  Heart disease in Cats, Cardiac Hypertrophy, Valvular disease, Cardiac Insufficiency, Congestive Heart Failure, Heartworm Disease, and a little history about the milestones in treating heart disease

Cats: general information page and directory of diseases and problems specific to cats including vaccine recommendations, leukemia, feline viral infections, feline upper respiratory disease and cats that just aren't feeling well.

Dentistry and problems of the mouth and throat

Dermatology: Skin problems including allergies, rashes, bacterial infections, and itching. Hair Loss, Yeast Infections, Hormonal Problems


Ear Infections and Other Ear Problems

Eye Problems  and Ophthalmic Diseases

Exotics:  Pocket Pets, Rabbits, Hamsters etc

Fleas, Ticks, and other parasite problems

Heart disease; Cardiac diseases, vascular diseases, stroke, & heartworms

Hormone Diseases: Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Cushing's Disease or Hypercortisolism, Addison's disease or Hypocortisolism, Pancreatitis, obesity as a disease

Infectious Diseases  Colds, Distemper, Parvo, Leptospirosis, Bruceellosis, Panleukopenia, Feline AIDS, Leukemia, Hepatitis, Kennel Cough, Ringworm, Rabies, FIP, Canine Herpes, Toxic Shock Syndrome, & More

Intestinal problems: diarrhea, constipation, torsion, indigestion, and gas. Also pancreatitis, vomiting, esophagitis, colitis, parvo and other types of dysentery

Kidney Disease

Liver Diseases     

Metabolic Diseases: Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Cushing's Disease or Hypercortisolism, Addison's disease or Hypocortisolism, Pancreatitis, obesity as a disease

Neural Problems and Diseases: Epilepsy, Rabies, Distemper, FIP, Paralysis, Tetanus, Seizures, Disc Disease, Toxoplasmosis & others

Obesity; new information and about Pfizer's new FDA approved treatment


Parasite Problems; Fleas, Ticks, Heartworms, Intestinal Worms, Mosquitos, Lice, Mites, and other welfare recipients

Poisons  Snakes, Insects, household chemicals, plants, and foods that might poison your pet

Respiratory Diseases

Senior Pet Page: Geriatric Medicine

Skeletal-Muscular Problems Arthritis, Fractures, ACL, Ligament Injuries, Disc Disease, Pannus, and many other problems of the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments

Skin Problems: allergies, rashes, bacterial infections, and itching. Hair Loss, Yeast Infections, Hormonal Problems

Surgery: Spays, Castrations, Testicle Recipes, Soft Tissue Surgery, Hard Tissue Surgery (Bones), C- Sections, Declawing, Tumor Removal and Cancer Surgery

Wounds, punctures, injuries, and abscesses

Urinary Tract Diseases and Problems

Other Topics on This Site

The Human-Animal Bond

History of Veterinary Medicine; lots of interesting stuff    

Zoonotics: Diseases, worms, and parasites people get from pets.

Lab Tests and what they tell us

Medications/Pharmacy Page

Nutrition & Diets
Includes information about Prescription diets used to treat disease, and a discussion about the pet food industry

Reproduction, breeding, & rearing information
Includes information about feline and canine heat or estrus, breeding, C-Sections, pyometra or Infected Uterus, dystocia, no milk, mastitis, & brucellosis
Also newborn care, undescended testicles, and alternative to spaying and castration

Vaccine and other preventive health recommendations

WildLife Page:  Taking care of baby bunnies, squirrels, and birds.  A very funny story about beavers, and other misc information

Our Dog Page:  a directory of problems of concern in dogs including parvovirus, distemper, canine herpes, and other diseases

Veterinary Pet Insurance

On Other Pages:

Introduction page to Diseases of the Bones & Joints  


Femoral Head Removal   

Knee Problems or Anterior Cruciate Ligament Repair       


Radiographic Demonstrations      
Disc Disease      

Bone Surgery

Breeds prone to Hip Dysplasia:

Any dog can have hip dysplasia but the problem is most common in larger breeds of dogs Especially the following breeds:

German Shepherd Dogs
Golden Retrievers
Labrador Retrievers
Great Danes
Saint Bernards

Symptoms include:

Swaying gait where the rear end moves back and forth in pronounced fashion.  (like my wife before we got married)


Bunny hopping like gait

Difficulty getting up from lying or sitting positions

Sitting in "frog" position (one hip splays out)

Reluctance to run, jump, or climb stairs ... especially going down

Tender when hips are touched

Hind-limb lameness, often worse after exercise

Narrow stance (Back legs more close together than front legs)

Muscle wasting of the hip and thigh muscles

Reluctant to jump into the car or truck

Snappish... probably because it hurts.

Another clue is a big positive response to a trial of pain medication.

A sampling from our other pages on this website:

History of Veterinary Medicine in the United States.  This includes my articles about the "Pig Wars", Women in veterinary medicine, and veterinary medicine in South Carolina.

Tuberculosis, Plague, and Brucellosis. Pasteurella, Encephalitis, Samonella, e-coli, and Cryptosporidium: a brief review of these zoonotic diseases that you can get from pets

Cat Scratch Fever

Diseases people get from pets from mosquitos, fleas, ticks, and lice
malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis, plague, heartworms, Rift Valley Fever, Lymes Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tick Paralysis, Monkey Pox, etc

Diseases people get from pets through worms