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Is your dog looking “stiff” or sore in the hips when getting up, doesn’t want to exercise anymore, won’t climb stairs, stand on his hind legs, limps, or “bunny hops”…then it is time to call your vet, as he/she may have a condition called “hip dysplasia”. Or, perhaps you have been told by your vet your dog has dysplasia. If so, let me help you to understand what your options may be..

The back leg bone, the femur, has a knob on the end called the femoral head  that fits perfectly into a socket in the pelvic bone called the acetabulum. A  strong ligament attaches the head to the socket. They are encased in connective  tissue called the joint capsule and cushioned by spongy cartilage. Fluid lubricates the joint so it works smoothly.

Hip dysplasia is inherited, and is the result of improperly developed hip joints. The muscles, ligaments and connective tissue loosen, the socket  wears down and the head loses contact. This changes the bones’ shape and wears  away the cartilage so bones grind painfully on bones.

The condition can begin in puppies as young as 5 months old, and may worse with age0-sometimes it only becomes obvious when the dog reaches his senior years. Frequently, it will be seen in them in the middle years of your dog’s life.

It usually affects the larger breeds of dogs, especially Rottweillers, Great Danes, Retrievers, Shepards, and St. Bernards, but can in occur in any breed.

Treatment of hip dysplasia is limited due to the inherited nature of the disease, but a healthy diet and weight can help (besides improve your dog’s overall quality of life in many ways).

Exercise, massage, a warm and dry area to sleep, joint supplements, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medications may also be part of your vet’s treatment plan for your dog.

Surgical options do exist, such as hip replacement, but most cases do not require surgical intervention.

Weight plays a significant role in managing hip stress, so a healthy diet is especially important.

Exercise can also be an important part of management, as walking and running strengthen the muscles around the joint, so talk to your vet about an appropriate exercise program, and always let your pet set the pace. Swimming is another excellent way to exercise the muscles around the joint. Running long distances and jumping usually should be avoided.

Anti-inflammatory pain relievers may also be appropriate, and should be discussed with your vet, as should the use of joint supplements.

Try to provide traction on slippery floors, and a carpeted ramp can be used to prevent jumping on the couch or into the car.

An orthopedic bed with a firm surface can also help your dog, as can the application of a warm bottle to the joints twice a day (limit this to 15 minutes at a time).

Massage is another option, and can be applied by gently rubbing the joint in a circular pattern for periods of less than 10 minutes.

When applying massage, use your fingertips and monitor your dog’s response. If he/she appears uncomfortable, stop immediately!

As with any medical condition, always speak to your vet before beginning a treatment. This article is intended to assist you in discussing appropriate treatment options with your vet. Only a licensed veterinarian should make a diagnosis and treatment plan!