Like all large breed dogs, German Shepherds are at serious risk of hip dysplasia. According to the Orthopedic Foundationfor Animals, 19% of German Shepherds will develop hip dysplasia, but some cases are worse than others.
Hip dysplasia is a congenital disorder wherein the hip sockets are too loose, and the femur causes damage. Dogs inherit the condition from their parents, but it can be made better or worse through training and activity levels. Usually, hip problems have already developed by 4 months and worsen over time. In some cases, a hip injury can also start the process of dysplasia, even if the dog doesn't have the hereditary predisposition. Because they are such active dogs, German Shepherds are at particular risk of incurring these injuries.
Warning Signs of Hip Dysplasia
There are several signs you can look for in your German Shepherd to see if they may be experiencing pain or joint laxity. They are very active and playful dogs, so being uninterested in play may mean they are in pain. Warning signs include:
- Rapid weight gain
- Hip injury
- Trouble standing up
- Favoring one leg
- Running or walking with a “bunny hop,” using both legs together
- Trouble or hesitation running
- Reduced activity
- Hesitation on stairs
- Aggression, especially if the hip area is touched
If you see one or more of these symptoms, contact your vet for an x-ray to examine your dog's hips. Your dog will likely have to be sedated for the procedure, but an x-ray is the best way to diagnose dysplasia.
Prevention of German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia
If you have a German Shepherd, especially a puppy, there are steps you can take to reduce their risk of hip dysplasia, or at least the severity. Taking good care of a puppy's joints can make a tremendous difference.
The first step is finding a responsible or certified breeder. German Shepherds with hip dysplasia should never be bred, so hip certification is available through OFA and PennHip. These certifications are based on x-rays of dogs' hips to determine if they are viable to breed. Trainers of police dogs, for example, are always very careful to select lineages without dysplasia.
When puppies grow very fast, often by eating too many calories, their hips are less likely to grow at the same rate as everything else, leading to dysplasia. It's important to always control portions, and your vet may recommend using adult food instead of high-calorie puppy food. Throughout their life, be sure to keep your dog’s weight in a healthy range since obesity complicates joint issues.
There are also some behaviors you can control to avoid joint damage. German Shepherd puppies need a lot of moderate exercise, but most people only have time to for one strenuous outing per day. Try to limit puppy activity to several short walks and avoid rough play or long periods of running. Jumping can also cause problems, so don't let puppies jump directly up and down for a treat or in and out of the car. You may even want to carry your puppy up and down stairs (until they are too big), to avoid joint damage.
Since dysplasia gets worse over time, treatments try to slow development, ease pain, or improve mobility.
- The best first step is to help your German Shepherd lose weight with a low calorie diet — this puts less strain on joints.
- Moderate exercise is best for dogs with dysplasia. Short walks and swimming are great ways to develop muscles to support loose joints. Since German Shepherds are so intelligent, don't forget training to keep their minds active.
- Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medication.
- A special diet with supplements to support joint health can make a big difference.
- A heated bed may help your dog sleep and relieve pain.
- If you have slippery floors, you may need to provide some traction so that your dog doesn't slip and re-injure their hip.
- In some cases, surgery is the best option. Some puppies with severe dysplasia may be recommended for less-intensive corrective surgery. In other cases, adults with severe arthritis and joint damage may need a hip replacement or surgery to remove the top of the femur.
German Shepherds are wonderful, active dogs and often have a great quality of life, even with hip dysplasia. If you watch for warning signs and use some preventive strategies, you should be able to avoid the worst symptoms of dysplasia.
Hip Dysplasia in Puppies? It Happens; here's What to Do
Hip dysplasia is a painful condition that occurs as a result of improperly formed hip joints. When the hip joints are malformed, the hind legs are able to move around loosely in the hip socket, leading to uncomfortable wear and tear. This condition can affect any breed at any time, though it is most common in larger, older dogs. However, hip dysplasia in puppies can also develop as young as five months old, and it is important to identify and treat the condition before it gets worse.
Hip Dysplasia Causes in Puppies
The primary cause of hip dysplasia is genetics. A puppy born to parents with hip dysplasia is twice as likely to develop the condition. However, it is also possible for the condition to skip generations. This means that a puppy with affected parents will not always develop hip dysplasia, but they may carry the gene and pass it on to later generations.
Diet and exercise can also be factors in the development of hip dysplasia. A high-calorie diet during puppyhood can cause rapid weight gain and place stress on the hip joints. Because of this, puppies should be fed a quality diet that is appropriate for their age and size.
Improper exercise during the period when bones develop can also exasperate a predisposition. Puppies and young dogs should be discouraged from jumping and landing on their hind legs, and they also shouldn’t run on pavement, as these actions cause a pounding effect on the hip joints.
Hip Dysplasia Symptoms in Puppies
Dogs who have hip dysplasia are born with hips that appear to be normal, but as the dog grows and the muscles and skeleton develop, joint abnormalities result in structural problems.
The symptoms of hip dysplasia in puppies can vary, and some puppies may show no symptoms at all until the condition has progressed. Keep an eye out for the following:
- Limping, waddling, or unsteadiness when walking
- Swiveling hips when seen from behind
- Running or jumping with hind legs together in a “bunny hop”
- Clicking sound when walking or running
- Difficulty getting up, lying down, or going up stairs
- Reduced activity
Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia in Puppies
The first step in diagnosing hip dysplasia in a puppy is a physical examination. Your veterinarian will most likely extend your puppy’s hind legs to check for pain, watch them walk around the room, and check for a “pop” when the dog is on their back, and the leg is moved away from the body. If your veterinarian suspects hip dysplasia, x-rays will be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. In most cases the puppy will need to be sedated to minimize the discomfort caused by this procedure.
Hip Dysplasia Treatment for Puppies
While there is no cure for hip dysplasia, there are ways to make your puppy’s life more comfortable:
- Feeding a healthy diet, maintaining a normal weight, and avoiding activities that put pressure on the joints can keep the condition from getting worse
- Massage, joint supplements, warm bedding, and anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications can manage day-to-day symptoms and improve mobility
- In some cases, surgery may be appropriate, especially for puppies who are within a certain growth window
Your veterinarian will help you decide on the course of action that is right for your puppy.
Frequently Asked Questions
At what age do German Shepherds get hip dysplasia?
German Shepherds are a breed that is known to be prone to hip dysplasia, which is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn't develop properly, causing the bones to rub against each other and leading to pain and stiffness. The age at which German Shepherds can develop hip dysplasia can vary, but typically symptoms begin to show around 6 months to 1 year of age. However, the condition can also manifest later in life, often between 4 and 7 years of age. It is important to note that not all German Shepherds will develop hip dysplasia, but it is more common in this breed than in some others.
Can you fix hip dysplasia in German Shepherds?
Hip dysplasia is a complex condition that affects the way the hip joint develops and functions. While there is no cure for hip dysplasia, there are a number of treatment options that can help manage the condition and improve the quality of life for affected dogs. The treatment for hip dysplasia in German Shepherds depends on the severity of the condition and can range from non-surgical management options, such as weight control, exercise modification, physical therapy, and pain management medications, to surgical options, such as total hip replacement, femoral head osteotomy, or triple pelvic osteotomy. Non-surgical options can help manage symptoms and slow down the progression of the condition, but they may not be effective in all cases, particularly in severe cases of hip dysplasia. Surgery is generally more effective in improving mobility and reducing pain, but it is a more invasive and costly option.
What are signs of hip dysplasia in German Shepherds?
The signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia in German Shepherds can vary depending on the severity of the condition. A dog with hip dysplasia may limp or have difficulty getting up or moving around. German Shepherds with hip dysplasia may be less active than usual, as they may experience pain or discomfort when moving. The dog may have difficulty moving the affected hip joint and may show signs of discomfort when the joint is touched. German Shepherds with hip dysplasia may struggle to climb stairs or jump up onto furniture. In severe cases of hip dysplasia, the muscles in the affected leg may begin to waste away, leading to a noticeable asymmetry in the dog's hindquarters. Some dogs may not show any obvious signs of hip dysplasia until the condition has progressed to a more advanced stage. This is why regular check-ups with a veterinarian are important, particularly for breeds that are known to be at risk for hip dysplasia. Additionally, early detection and treatment can help manage the condition and improve the dog's quality of life.
How long can a German shepherd live with hip dysplasia?
The lifespan of a German Shepherd with hip dysplasia can vary depending on a number of factors, including the severity of the condition, the age of onset, and the effectiveness of treatment. On average, German shepherds with hip dysplasia can live about 7-10 years. With proper treatment and management, many German Shepherds with hip dysplasia are able to live relatively normal and comfortable lives. In some cases, however, the condition may progress to a point where the dog's mobility is severely limited, and the pain and discomfort become difficult to manage. In these cases, the dog's quality of life may be significantly impacted, and the decision to consider euthanasia may need to be made.
Does walking your dog help with hip dysplasia?
Walking your dog can be beneficial for managing hip dysplasia, but it is important to do so in moderation and with the guidance of a veterinarian. Exercise can help maintain muscle mass and prevent weight gain, which can put additional stress on the hips, but too much exercise can cause increased pain and discomfort. In general, it is recommended to provide low-impact exercise, such as walking or swimming, for dogs with hip dysplasia. Walking should be done on flat, even surfaces, and any inclines should be kept to a minimum. You should also avoid high-impact activities, such as jumping or running, as they can put additional stress on the hips.
More on German Shepherds
German Shepherd Information: Health
How to Care for a German Shepherd
Healthy Eating for a German Shepherd
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.