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 didn'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.
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.