Hip dysplasia is one of the most feared conditions for some pet owners – even mentioning it can make people uncomfortable and worried that their dog will never be able to live an active, happy life. In reality, there are many degrees of hip dysplasia and it’s not always a major issue. Specifically, hip dysplasia means that the end of the leg bone (the femoral head) doesn’t perfectly fit in the hip socket (the acetabulum). This allows the femoral head to wobble around inside the acetabulum, or in severe cases to pop in and out of the socket, causing damage and inflammation. Over time this wobbling and banging around causes significant deterioration to the joint and will result in arthritis and joint pain. Common signs of hip dysplasia include stiffness when a dog first gets up, lots of stretching, reluctance to climb stairs, sitting down on walks and having a wobbly gait.

Hip dysplasia is half down to a dog’s genetics, and half due to lifestyle and upbringing. As such, there is a lot that we as pet owners can do to reduce the changes of a dog developing hip dysplasia. Firstly, I would recommend that if people are buying a dog from a breeder that is in a commonly affected breed (such as Labradors, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers), they ask about the parents, whether they have been hip scored and whether any of the previous litters have had any issues.

Lifestyle and upbringing do have a major influence. Research has definitely shown that supplementation with calcium and too much food are both serious risk factors for developing hip dysplasia. Calcium and high calorie diets allow bones to grow quickly but not strongly, and will significantly increase the risks of hip dysplasia. All larger breed puppies should be fed a diet designed for their breed such as Hills Large Breed Puppy or Royal Canin Junior Large Dog. They should not be supplemented calcium, but they should be given glucosamine (which is very different to calcium and promotes healthy bone growth) as well as an omega 3 supplement to reduce joint inflammation.

In some cases however, medical and surgical management may also be necessary. Many dogs with hip dysplasia will need to take anti-inflammatory medication such as Rimadyl, Meloxicam or Previcox when they are uncomfortable, and in more advanced cases surgery may be necessary. If your are concerned that your dog has hip issues we would always recommend discussing further with your vet – early treatment will greatly improve the chances that your dog can live a life pain free and unaffected by any hip issues.