Dysplasia in dogs: what causes it and what are the symptoms?

Dysplasia in dogs is a common articular ailment that usually affects medium and large-breed dogs. When detected early, dysplasia and its associated pain can be treated effectively.

What is dysplasia in dogs?

Dysplasia is most commonly an illness that affects the hip joint in dogs. It is characterized by a laxity in the joint caused when the head of the femur is not properly seated within the cavity of the pelvis. Over time, this laxity causes an erosion of the cavity in the pelvis, and most dogs will develop painful arthritis in the affected joint.

Dysplasia is a partially hereditary condition. Certain breeds including German Shepherds, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Rottweilers, are most commonly diagnosed with dysplasia, but unfortunately any dog may develop this debilitating condition.

What causes dysplasia to occur?

Dysplasia is caused by many different genetic and environmental factors. As a result, it can be difficult to eradicate completely by genetic selection alone. Some dogs may suffer from dysplasia even if there is no genetic predisposition at all. The following factors may also influence the development of this disease:

  • Feeding a diet that is too rich in calcium or in calories
  • Too much exercise while the dog is within it’s growth phase
  • Trauma to joints when the dog is still a puppy

It can therefore be very beneficial to avoid strenuous activity during puppyhood, especially for the most commonly affected breeds, as well as to offer a properly balanced growth diet.

Symptoms of dysplasia

Although the signs of dysplasia may resemble symptoms of other articular ailments, owners may notice a more developed muscular build in the hind legs combined with protruding hip bones, a “bunny-hop” running style (where both hind limbs bounce at the same time), a stiffness in the hind legs when the dog gets up from a resting position, or difficulty going up stairs or jumping onto the couch. These signs are often more noticeable in the morning when the dog first gets up, where he may limp or seem stiff when he moves.

How can dysplasia be confirmed?

If your dog is exhibiting these symptoms, only your veterinarian can confirm if your pet is suffering from hip dysplasia. The veterinarian will take radiographs (x-rays) and examine your pet’s gait. The veterinarian will also perform a thorough orthopedic examination. The vet will then be able to evaluate your pet’s condition as a function of its severity, grading the disease from mild to severe.

Treating dysplasia

After visiting your veterinarian, you may be required to administer an anti-inflammatory medication to soothe the pain caused by arthritis present in the joint. Supplements may also be recommended in order to prevent any further destruction of the cartilage of the joint and to slow the progression of arthritis.

Depending on the severity of the condition, your veterinarian may propose a surgical course of action: removal of the head of the femur, surgical correction of the pelvis, or a hip prosthesis are commonly recommended surgical procedures.

If your dog is showing symptoms of dysplasia, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible and schedule an appointment to have the situation evaluated. You will then be able to prevent the progression of the condition, and soothe your dog’s discomfort.