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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip Dysplasia is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions that affect our canine companions. Receiving the diagnosis can be tough, especially if your dog is young and active - but there are a multitude of treatment and management options available. Knowing how to spot the early signs and take preventative action is key.

Radiograph of Hip Dysplasia (Source: Fitzpatrick Referrals)

What is Hip Dysplasia?

The term "dysplasia" means abnormal development. The hip is a ball and socket joint; the head of the femur (ball) sits in the acetabulum (socket) of the pelvis; this type of joint allows for a large range of movement in flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and rotation. In a dog with Hip Dysplasia, there is some form of deformity, abnormality or soft tissue laxity (looseness) that prevents the ball and socket from "fitting" together correctly. Hip Dysplasia is often genetic, showing the first signs in early years and usually affecting both hips. Hip Dysplasia is more common in larger fast growing breeds, with Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds being common, but all dogs can be effected. Hip Dysplasia causes pain, and is most cases leads to the development of Osteoarthritis - so early intervention is key.

Labrador Retrievers are a common breed for Hip Dysplasia Diagnosis


What are the signs and symptoms of Hip Dysplasia?

Most dogs will show signs at an early age, with diagnosis commonly being between 6 - 12months old. However, in some cases the condition may not become obvious until later in life. Common signs of Hip Dysplasia include:

  • Stiffness or lameness, often after exercise

  • Pain on palpation (touching) of the hips or hindlimbs

  • Exercise intolerance/unwillingness to go for walks

  • Difficulty getting up/lying down

  • Hip sway when walking

  • "Wonky Sit" - leaning against objects, sticking one leg out to the side, tucking the pelvis under etc.

  • Poor muscle development of the hindlimbs

Dogs may present with all, some, or very few clinical signs.


How is Hip Dysplasia treated?

Treatment options will depend on the severity of the hip abnormality, along with the dogs age, breed and behaviour. After diagnosis, your vet will usually discuss the two options: surgery, or conservative management. There are a variety of surgical techniques, but common procedures are a Femoral Head and Neck Excision (FHNE) or Total Hip Replacement (THR). Both surgeries require extensive rest, exercise restriction and rehabilitation post-procedure, but prognosis is generally good with many dogs going on to live happy, active lives. Conservative treatment consists of medical pain management, exercise restriction, environmental changes and complimentary therapy such as Veterinary Physiotherapy and/or Hydrotherapy. Every dog is different, so a full clinical examination and all options considered should be performed before deciding on the best course of action.

Total Hip Replacement Radiograph (Source: Fitzpatrick Referrals)

Veterinary Physiotherapy plays an important role in managing Hip Dysplasia (Source: Lancashire Vet Physio)

How can Veterinary Physiotherapy help to manage Hip Dysplasia?

One of the most important goals in managing Hip Dysplasia (and for post-surgical rehabilitation) is creating strong, well functioning muscle mass around the entire hip joint to essentially "hold" the joint in place; strengthening the soft tissues of the hip (muscles, ligaments and tendons) reduces the risk of injury and provides strength and stability to the hips. Alongside this, ensuring that the rest of the body is strong, fit and well balanced prevents and reduces the development of compensatory issues elsewhere.


A Veterinary Physiotherapist will perform a full assessment of your dog and their current lifestyle. A personalised treatment plan will then be designed specifically for your dog's individual needs; this may include Massage, Stretching, LASER and/or Pulsed Magnetic Therapy for pain management, Hot or Cold therapy and Therapeutic Exercises. Diet and environment are also discussed and adapted where necessary.


Written for Woofles by Matilda Wild, BSc(Hons) Veterinary Physiotherapy, Lancashire Vet Physio.

  • Fully insured, AHPR and NAVP registered.
  • Specialising in the assessment and treatment of musculoskeletal and neurological conditions to provide gold standard rehabilitation for your pets

Read about the different types of dog insurance in our informative article!

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