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Hip Dysplasia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention

I have a friend that has recently come to me with an ailing 9-year-old yellow Labrador retriever that has hip dysplasia. I have tried to convince him for years to make the switch to the BARF diet, but he was convinced that Purina was a better choice for his dog.

Now that his dog is 30 pounds overweight and can’t get up on his own four feet anymore, my friend is now looking to me for a “miracle diet” to reverse his poor dog’s condition. Unfortunately, the chance of reversing this condition after the joint has been so severely damaged is marginal at best.

In hopes of helping others out there avoid the pain and heartache of seeing their own companion animals suffer through this condition, I’ve decided to focus this week’s issue of “The Intelligent Pet” about this common pet problem.

It has been reported that almost 25% of dogs visiting veterinary practices are diagnosed with musculoskeletal disorders. While dogs both large and small can develop hip dysplasia, it is much more common in large and giant breed dogs.

Bulldog in a harness smells a red ball

Breeds that demonstrate the highest incidence of this disorder include:

Great Danes
Labrador Retrievers

Canine hip dysplasia is the most frequently encountered orthopedic disease in
veterinary medicine. This condition is considered a polygenic trait, which
means that more than one gene controls the inheritance of this condition. As
such, pre-disposition to these illnesses in specific breeds of dogs is
worrisome at best.

when considering the purchase of a large breed puppy, one must be diligent to
raise that puppy in such a manner as to reduce the possibility for skeletal

What Causes Hip Dysplasia?

Primarily in large breed dogs, the onset of hip dysplasia is usually associated with
periods of rapid growth – between 3 to 9 months of age. Therefore, it is best
to understand what causes this accelerated growth rate.

Feeding a dog a very high-calorie diet loaded with carbohydrates and synthetic
nutrients can exacerbate a predisposition to hip dysplasia, because the rapid
weight gain places increased stress on the hips. Excessive weight gain during
this period renders a higher frequency and more severe degenerative change in
large breed dogs. The extra weight greatly multiplies the large breed dog’s
genetic potential for hip dysplasia.

Dogs that are allowed to eat as much as they want anytime, they want (known as
free-feeding) also grow significantly faster than dogs that are fed restricted
amounts of food. This escalated rate of growth during puppyhood can cause the
body to develop erratically and make your puppy more susceptible to hip dysplasia.

In addition, supplementation of certain nutrients might reverse the important
calcium/phosphorus balance in the body, which also plays a part in the skeletal
formation process. This refers specifically to calcium supplements.

Many professional breeders encourage new puppy owners to routinely supplement their pet’s diet with calcium during the entire first year of life for prophylactic
measure. While they may mean well, this can create skeletal issues in your pet
as well as produce deficiencies in other nutrients. In this instance, the risk
of added supplementation of calcium does not outweigh the benefits.

Another factor that influences the condition is inappropriate exercise. During the
period of rapid growth, young dogs should be discouraged from jumping up and
down (such as jumping up to catch a ball), and from standing up on their back
legs. Also running on pavement should be eliminated.

Symptoms of A Dysplasia Hip

The hip joint is a “ball-and-socket” joint. The ball is the head of the femur, and the
socket is the acetabulum of the pelvis. In a dysplastic joint, the head of the
femur fits loosely into a poorly developed, shallow acetabulum. In severe
cases, the head of the femur is completely out of the joint and arthritic
changes are marked. Joint instability and wear occur as muscular development
lags behind the rate of skeletal growth.

The age of onset hip dysplasia is 4 to 12 months of age. The affected puppy will show
pain in the hip, walk with a limp or a swaying gait, and have trouble in the
hindquarters when getting up. When placed on his back, the puppy will show pain
and discomfort when the rear legs are extended into a frog-like position.

Diagnosis And Treatment

A proper diagnosis can only be accomplished with an x-ray of the hips and pelvis. A
major problem with performing an x-ray is that the dog will be required to be
under heavy sedation or anesthesia, which carries its own set of risks. If you
do opt to carry out the test, the x-ray will allow your veterinarian to grade
the severity of your pet’s hip dysplasia, which ranges from mild to severe. The
diagnosis depends on the placement of the head of the femur into the
acetabulum. Once the condition is this severe, it cannot be reversed. Lameness
is unpredictable and can be present or not noticed.

There are some procedures that can give your pet some relief for the pain. These
include acupuncture, veterinary skeletal chiropractic adjustments, massage,
hydrotherapy, and if required, pain medication.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

Many pet owners have touted acupuncture as a great means to help relieve chronic pain from hip dysplasia. This ancient form of Chinese has no negative side effects,
and it is a good treatment method to try to provide your pet some comfort and
improve their mobility.

Acupressure is like acupuncture except that instead of using needles, the practitioner’s
hands, elbows and knees are used to maintain light pressure on the same
meridian points that are used in acupuncture. Acupressure is easier for those
that wish to perform at-home treatments for their ailing pet. There are a
variety of books and how-to videos out there to help you get started. Just make
sure to consult with your veterinarian before you start to attempt this
treatment yourself.

Did you know your dog's hip dysplasia could cost around $7,800?
White dog with black speckles pouncing on its own shadow in grass

Chiropractic Care

When the hips are in bad shape, the rest of the body will often overcompensate to
relieve the damaged joint. After a while, this unbalanced distribution of
weight can cause your pet’s spine to misalign. That’s why regular visits to the
chiropractor are a good idea for your pet to help rectify this and prevent
further issues down the road.


A licensed massage therapist can help improve your pet’s stiff and aching limbs
and reduce discomfort from hip dysplasia. Many people also swear by massage
therapy to help those suffering from arthritis and muscle strain.


When your pet’s hips are damaged, one of the most important things to regulate is
your dog’s body weight. Excess weight on your pet will put added stress on the
hips and cause increased pain. This often causes your pet to become more
sedentary which only exuberates the condition. Hydrotherapy offers your pet a
low impact form of exercise, helping to promote mobility and weight loss as
well as to reduce the stiffness in the muscles and joints.

Pain Medication

Use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and other anti-inflammatory
drugs can help to temporarily relieve pain but are not recommended for
prolonged use. These strong pain medicines put excess stress on the liver and
can cause a variety of other negative side effects.

Prevention Is Key

Research studies have indicated that nutrition plays an important role in preventing and
treating this condition. Studies have shown that approximately 60% of all
influencing factors for hip dysplasia are environmental in nature – one of
those factors being what we feed out pets. The nutritional influence on this
condition is the reason why our clients seek the help of a raw meat diet.

Feeding a balanced, biologically appropriate diet that supports steady growth
and reduces the obesity factors is critical to the prevention of hip dysplasia.

Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller, BSc, Pharm. is a registered pharmacist, author of “Living Enzymes: The World’s Best Kept Pet Food Secret”, and co-developer of BARF World’s BARF diets patties, nuggets and supplements – the first company to make the Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods (BARF) diet conveniently available to animals everywhere. He and his wife love to travel around the world with their dog, Moxie – a Yorkshire Terrier/Maltese mix. For more articles like these and to learn more about the benefits of raw food for your pets, sign up for “The Intelligent Pet” monthly e-zine .

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