Hip Dysplasia is caused by the abnormal development of the hip joint. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. The head (top) of the femur (long upper leg bone) is the ball and it sits in a socket (acetabulum) of the hip bone (os coxae). The head of the femur is supposed to sit very snugly in the acetabulum. It allows a rolling motion, but is not supposed to have a sliding motion. So, in a dog with Hip Dysplasia the ball is usually too small and the socket is too shallow. This results in a "loose" joint. In other words, instead of getting that snug fit, the joint has too much motion. This can allow the joint to subluxate or "pop in and out". Over time, this extra motion causes "wear and tear" on the joint and results in arthritis.
The development of Hip Dysplasia is primarily the result of genetics. That is why it is more common in certain breeds of dogs such as Labs and Rottweilers. As the puppy ages, the joint doesn't develop correctly and results in Hip Dysplasia.
It is often hard to diagnose Hip Dysplasia in really young puppies. All puppies have pretty loose joints. The question is whether they are going to develop normally or abnormally as the puppy grows. By the time the puppy is about six months old, you will often start to see evidence of hip dysplasia. The puppy may have a "rolling gate" where you can actually see the hip joint slipping when they walk. This is often missed due to the fact that puppies are pretty resilient and will ignore the inconvenience of a slipping hip joint.
Typically, Hip Dysplasia is diagnosed once the dog has fully matured and the joint starts to break down. The dog will have trouble rising or may cry out if their hips are pushed on. Other symptoms include: trouble maneuvering up stairs, jumping into cars, or onto the bed.
Treatment for Hip Dysplasia is usually therapeutic, meaning we just try to alleviate the pain and slow the progression of damage to the cartilage in the joint. There are several good medications available to accomplish this. Passive activities, such as walking and swimming, are also good for the joint. Additionally, it is very important to keep the dog’s body weight normal. If the dog is carrying extra weight, it will speed the progression of arthritis.
Hip replacement surgery is also an alternative. There are several veterinary practices that perform this surgery with very high success. It is expensive, but it will cure the problem rather than just manage the symptoms.