Causes of Hip Dysplasia

BY | September 21 | COMMENTS PUBLISHED BY
Causes of Hip Dysplasia
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While the direct cause of hip dysplasia is not entirely understood, environmental conditions and lifestyle can contribute to the problem. Learn more here.

While there are some definite factors that put a pet at risk for developing hip dysplasia, there isnโ€™t a clear known cause. What is definitively understood, however, is that environmental conditions and lifestyle can accelerate the wear and tear on the joints affected by hip dysplasia. This in turn can cause further deterioration and lead to more pain and less mobility. Knowing what might impact your petโ€™s condition can help you avoid complications associated with hip dysplasia and slow down the erosion of the joints and other problems.

Pets That Are Predisposed To Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is considered a moderately heritable condition. Pets with a parent that had the condition may be twice as likely to develop hip dysplasia themselves. This has led veterinarians and breeders to recommend screening dogs and cats for hip dysplasia before breeding.

Size seems to be a very important risk factor for hip dysplasia. Large breed cats such as the Maine Coon are more likely to develop it. Giant and large breed dogs are at significant risk. In fact,  the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals estimated that 20 to 40 percent of large breed dogs presented for certification were at risk for hip dysplasia. These include breeds such as Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. Smaller pets do still develop hip dysplasia, but these animals may actually have no obvious symptoms or pain from the disorder.

Causes of Further Complications

If your pet is at risk for the disorder or you have noticed symptoms of hip dysplasia (such as limping, bunny hopping, or pain when a hip joint is touched), itโ€™s time to consider what you can do to help your pet and slow down the degeneration that will cause arthritis.
Watch your petโ€™s weight. If your pet is obese or overweight, you should switch to a low-calorie diet and increase the amount of exercise your pet gets (as long as the veterinarian approves it) since excessive weight increases pressure on the hip and bring on more severe symptoms.

Use anti-inflammatory and pain-relief medication as needed to reduce inflammation and help pets enjoy normal activities.Use nontraditional techniques to reduce pain: massage therapy and acupuncture or acupressure may lessen your petโ€™s discomfort.
Add a supplement if your veterinarian says it okay. Glucosamine or chondroitin supplements may improve joint mobility and promote the rebuilding of cartilage.

The other step you can take is to not breed a pet that has hip dysplasia. When looking for a pet that can be bred, you can check with the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals to find a pet that has been certified and does not have hip dysplasia.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia was once thought to be a fairly rare condition, but now veterinarians identify it as leading cause of orthopedic disease and rear-end lameness in dogs. While it is significantly less common in cats, it is a serious condition when it does occur, limiting a catโ€™s ability to move freely and becoming a source of severe pain. Recognizing the early signs of hip dysplasia may help you slow down the degeneration of the joint and reduce your petโ€™s discomfort.

Avoiding Activities

The first signs of hip dysplasia can begin during the early periods of rapid growth (from four to nine months of age). In the earliest stage, your dog or cat may be unwilling to go out in the cold. Dogs and cats may not want to rise on their hind legs and may struggle when going up the stairs. In general, you may see your pet avoiding or hesitating to run, climb, or engage in any unnecessary exercise.

Changes in Mobility

Abnormal wear and tear in the hip joints lead to arthritic symptoms. Thus, a pet may suffer from stiffness when rising or trying to lay down.  Pets will limp or bunny hop in an effort to shift weight off their hind quarters where there is severe pain in the hip joints. Eventually, your dog or cat may intermittently suffer from lameness that can become chronic after age four.

Signs Evident in a Physical Examination

When examining young puppies or older dogs, veterinarians look for looseness in the joints. Diagnostic methods may include:

  • pushing down the rump of puppies or kittens, which causes those with hip dysplasia to drop the pelvis down
  • rolling pets onto their backs and then trying to spread their legs into a frog-like position โ€“ cats and dogs with hip dysplasia will resist
  • manipulating the hips in a way that will allow the veterinarian to determine the degree of joint laxity or looseness (your pet may need to be sedated for this examination)

For a definitive diagnosis, a veterinarian needs to take X-rays. These will show the severity of any hip dysplasia. Minor conditions will be evident by some laxity in the joint. Moderate hip dysplasia will be apparent by erosion of the joints and dislocation. In severe cases, there will be clear arthritic changes in the hips.


This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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