Hip Dysplasia in Older Dogs
What are the signs of hip dysplasia in older dogs? Your sweet older pup may be sporting a few distinguished gray whiskers on his chin these days, but lately you’ve observed some more worrisome traits—he can’t negotiate the stairs he once bounded up effortlessly; standing up from a prone position is difficult and painful for him; and his gait seems somehow “off” on your daily walks. You expected him to slow down in his twilight years, possibly even to develop arthritis in his joints. But he may also belong to a population of dogs who are vulnerable to a hip condition called dysplasia, a genetic problem that can occur at any age but most commonly occurs in larger adult and older dogs. Read on to learn more about what causes hip dysplasia and how it affects senior dogs in particular.
WHAT IS HIP DYSPLASIA IN DOGS, AND WHAT CAUSES IT?
Hip Dysplasia is a chronic, inherited condition where the rounded head or “ball” of the dog’s femur—the longest bone in his leg—does not fit properly into his hip “socket,” or acetabulum, because it is too shallow. Additionally, weakened ligaments that are supposed to join the two bones instead allow them to separate. So instead of being “seated” nice and snug inside the joint, the femur slides around against the acetabulum.
Having hip dysplasia is known as being dysplastic, or loose-jointed. A dysplastic dog’s bones slowly dissolve in response to irritation during movement, and eventually change shape, or remodel. This often results in painful osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, but in mild cases a dog may exhibit few or no symptoms. In the most severe cases, the entire structure of the hip is lost.
While hip dysplasia may result from a traumatic injury or dislocation, it is largely a genetic disease that affects both hips and worsens over time. Bad breeding is routinely blamed for hip dysplasia, but the condition can skip generations, and sometimes affects only some of the puppies from the same litter, thus making it difficult for breeders to completely eradicate it. Most notably, hip dysplasia can be painful for your dog.
Anatomy of a Dysplastic Dog’s Hip Joint
The entire structure of a dog’s hip joint is called the joint capsule. It consists of:
The smooth coating inside a healthy hip joint—coating that allows proper cushioning and joint function—is eroded away in a dysplastic joint, causing bone to wear against bone. As the bone under pressure dissolves, new bone builds up around it; this phenomenon is painful for the dog and worsens over time.
In severe cases of canine hip dysplasia, the ball joint may wobble, which is called subluxation, or may slip out of the acetabulum completely, which is called luxation.
SYMPTOMS OF CANINE HIP DYSPLASIA
Hip dysplasia symptoms emerge differently in different dogs. Sometimes they’re noticeable when a dog is still a puppy. Other times they emerge all at once when a dog becomes a senior. But in most cases, symptoms show up during a dog’s mid-life years and beyond, and worsen over time. Start by looking at your dog’s family history if it’s known; if there are relatives with dysplasia, your dog is more likely to have it, too.
Symptoms of hip dysplasia in your older dog:
Signs of pain in dysplastic dogs tend to emerge first thing in the morning and after exercise; often the stiffness eases as the day wears on. The problem is worse in cold weather, and when your dog rests on cement or tile floors. Hip dysplasia is nearly always bilateral, meaning it occurs in both hips, but whichever side is causing the most trouble on a given day will create observable lameness or limping on that side—which unfortunately can overshadow pain in the opposite hip. And while some cases are so mild there are no symptoms at all, a stoic dog may not admit he hurts until his dysplasia is advanced. Visit the vet if you observe any symptoms.
How can I tell my dog’s in pain?
DIAGNOSING CANINE HIP DYSPLASIA
You have a better chance of managing your dog’s dysplasia with an early diagnosis; get to the vet if you observe any of the symptoms described above. During the visit you can expect:
After assessing the extent of damage in your dog’s hips, your vet will outline the best treatment options for him.
DOES MY DOG HAVE HIP DYSPLASIA?
While any dog can have hip dysplasia, it’s most common in dogs who weigh more than 60 pounds, and in stocky breeds. It occurs more often in purebreds than mutts, but a cross between two dysplastic parents of different breeds is equally vulnerable. The Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA) reports these breed-specific frequencies:
Susceptible small breeds include Pugs, Bulldogs, and Basset Hounds.
TREATMENT FOR HIP DYSPLASIA IN AN OLDER DOG
You can’t keep your dog from getting hip dysplasia since it’s inherited. But you can manage hip dysplasia in your dog.
I. NON-INVASIVE TREATMENTS FOR HIP DYSPLASIA:
II. PHYSICAL THERAPY FOR HIP DYSPLASIA: THE NEXT LEVEL OF TREATMENT
III. Surgeries to Correct Hip Dysplasia in Older Dogs
In severe cases of hip dysplasia surgery may finally be the best treatment option but some vets recommend waiting for as long as possible. Surgery treats the result of dysplasia, and not its cause—an important distinction. The cause of hip dysplasia is weakness and looseness of the soft tissue that holds the joint together, and the result is an improperly shaped hip.
There are several surgical procedures for treating hip dysplasia, but only two of them are indicated for older dogs:
Because hip dysplasia is genetic, you’re not likely to prevent it if your dog is already predisposed to it. But you can take steps to control for it. It’s believed a rapid growth rate together with rapid weight gain can increase the odds of hip dysplasia, especially in very large breeds. You can help your dog by not overfeeding him, and by avoiding a diet too rich in protein. When you’re choosing a puppy, look for average-sized parents, and choose an average-sized puppy from the litter; better still, try to find Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA)- certified parents, or choose from the second or third litter of dogs with no mobility or joint problems. Never buy a puppy where the parents are not available for inspection.
Then as your dog ages, keep him lean. If he’s inactive, adjust his diet—feed him smaller portions, or feed him a less caloric preparation. Exercise him if you can, but don’t push him to over perform: he wants to please you and won’t tell you when he’s gone beyond his limits. When you practice these strategies, even your dysplastic dog can enjoy a long, pain-free, and mobile life with you.
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