Could Your Dog Have a Hip Problem?

Google Maps location for Riverport Veterinary Hospital

Riverport Veterinary Hospital
1 Avoca Street
SA 5214

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08 8555 5690

Victor Central Veterinary Clinic
35 Crozier Road
Victor Harbor
SA 5211

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08 7522 4300

Most of you will have heard the term HIP DYSPLASIA.  But do you actually know what it means?

Well lucky for you I’m here to tell you…

In simple terms, hip dysplasia means that a dog’s hips have not formed perfectly.  This leads to pain at varying stages of their lives.  We see two relatively distinct “versions” of hip dysplasia in our patients; young puppies with sore hips and older patients with hip arthritis.  Believe it or not, the vast majority of these cases are actually different manifestations of the same disease.

OK so here’s my attempt to explain a very complicated disease process in terms that hopefully make sense to all of you…including those without medical training.

What we now know is that hip dysplasia is a genetic condition that can be tracked down to a single cause – LOOSE HIPS.

This may sound simple but the science is there.  Each puppy is born with relatively loose hips (the hip is a ball-socket joint that should end up nice and tight), but by the age of 16 weeks the structures in and around the joint tighten it up nicely creating a well-oiled, multi-dimensional joint.

In pups with hip dysplasia, for some reason by 16 weeks the hip joints have not tightened up properly and are still a little (or in some cases a lot) loose.  This results in a whole range of problems throughout that puppy’s life.  To cut a long story short they tend to have sore hips as they grow, then settle down for a while until the arthritis kicks in giving them a double whammy of pain that gets progressively worse. 

Is it really that simple?

To be honest, there are plenty of factors affecting the development of hip dysplasia (diet, growth rate, exercise etc) but the fact remains that the underlying problem is a genetic one, and that is loose hips.  Sure, if your puppy has an issue we may recommend some diet and lifestyle changes to help them cope better but you can not cause hip dysplasia by over-exercising or feeding the wrong food.  There has to be an underlying problem there for your pup to develop significant hip problems.

So what can I do about it?

This question really has to be answered in 2 parts:

  1. SCREENING/PREVENTION – For the past 5 or so years we have run a screening program for puppies that may be at risk of hip dysplasia.  This involves testing the laxity (“looseness”) of the puppy’s hips at 16 weeks of age.  Those puppies that have loose hips can then have a relatively minor procedure (Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis – long words, simple surgery…email me if you want more information) which can significantly reduce the impact of hip dysplasia on that puppy’s life.
  2.  TREATMENT – For puppies or adult dogs with clinical hip dysplasia (sore hips) there are a range of treatment options available, from simple medical management (many of you will have heard of cartrophen injections and glucosamine supplements), through lifestyle management, pain relief medications, surgery and even stem cell therapy.  Thankfully as this is such a common disease lots of research has been done and we have some great treatment options available.  Of course each individual case needs a tailored treatment plan.

What breeds are at risk?

While most people are aware of the risk of hip dysplasia in breeds such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, we see significant hip problems in almost every breed, right down to Cairn Terriers and Miniature Daschunds. 

We do our best to evaluate every pup’s hips as they go through their puppy vaccinations and we recommend that every breed whose adult bodyweight is likely to be more than 20kg (and smaller breeds if considered "at risk") go through our hip screening program.  Remember prevention (or more accurately – early detection and intervention)  -  is better than cure.

My Pup’s parents had good hip scores…Am I in the clear?

At the risk of upsetting some breeders I would still advise getting your pup’s hips tested.  To be clear, the vast majority of breeders absolutely do the right thing but the current hip scoring system for adult dogs is a flawed one, so even if both parents had a good hip score your pup may still be at risk of hip dysplasia.  Feel free to contact me if you want any more information on the hip testing programs and how to interpret any results.

Please, if you have any concerns about your dog’s hips, give one of the clinics a call and ask to speak to Dr Rhys (myself) about the options available to you.  I am very passionate about both reducing problems associated with hip dysplasia and also giving affected patients the best possible quality of life.

I’m off to go check some hips so until next time…

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