Hip dysplasia in dogs

Derri Dunn
11 March 2022 - 6 min read
A dog hip dysplasia x ray

Hip dysplasia is the abnormal development of the hip joint. Usually it’s a hereditary condition that dogs inherit from their parents, but it can be caused by trauma.

It can cause a lot of pain and difficulty walking and some dog breeds are particularly susceptible. 

Treatments and therapies are available, so don’t despair if your dog’s showing signs of hip pain.

Pet insurance with up to £15,000 vet fee cover.

Dog and cat
Dog and cat

Why do some dogs develop hip dysplasia?

“The hip joint consists of a ball called the ‘femoral head’ and a socket, the ‘acetabulum’,” explains Veterinary surgeon Dr Sophie Bell.

“Both the ball and socket should grow at the same rate, but with hip dysplasia they grow at different rates. That leads to a lax joint where the head doesn’t sit snugly inside the socket.”

An x-ray showing a dog with hip dysplasia

Because of this, you might not notice hip dysplasia in a puppy. But, as they grow, “the body tries to compensate and as a result osteoarthritis and degenerative disease kick in, leading to lifelong pain of varying degrees.”

That might sound quite frightening, but with management and treatment dogs can still leave a long and full life. “They can have a normal life expectancy if managed correctly,” says Vet Sophie.

Sadly, some owners will have to make the difficult decision to euthanise their dog earlier because hip replacement isn’t an option and pain relief isn’t keeping them comfortable.

Which breeds get hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is more common in these large breeds:

Some small breeds are also affected, especially

Symptoms of hip dysplasia

Dogs usually show signs of hip dysplasia when they near their fully grown size. It’s usually from 12 months old but some puppies show signs of hip dysplasia from six months old.

Symptoms include:

  • Hind leg lameness
  • Bunny hopping
  • Hip joint grating – due to bones rubbing against each other
  • Lack of movement
  • Decreased activity
  • Poor muscle mass
  • Reluctance to sit

Can you prevent hip dysplasia in dogs?

Because it’s usually genetic, the only way to really prevent hip dysplasia is to never breed dogs that have the condition.

Breeds that are prone to it can be hip scored to help avoid producing affected puppies.

If you have a breed of dog that’s prone to hip dysplasia there are a few things you can do to help them avoid the condition.

“Even though it’s a genetic condition, environment, exercise, diet, growth and hormones can all play a role in the development of hip dysplasia” says vet Sophie. “Obesity in puppyhood hugely increases the risk.

“Keep prone breeds lean – through the growing phase especially but then ongoing. It’s very important for the first 18 months of life.”

Some more tips from Sophie:

  • Avoid high impact exercise for the first 12 months of life (for example agility training)
  • No excessive walking from puppyhood: five minutes per month of age twice daily for first six months for smaller breeds and 12 months for larger ones
  • No stairs
  • No ball thrower
  • Swimming for exercise
  • Delaying or perhaps never neutering these dogs as hormones are important for joint support and muscle

“One minute of swimming is equivalent to four minutes of running and takes pressure off the joints,” says Vet Sophie. “However, swimming in cold water can lower pain receptors and cause dogs to overdo it.”

Not enough exercise can also increase the risk, so it’s a balancing act.

Bulldog with hip dysplasia

Diagnosing hip dysplasia

Your vet will first spot hip dysplasia based on your dog’s gait and signs of pain.

X-rays can then be used to confirm the diagnosis and to see if just one or both hips are affected, and how badly.

Another condition, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, causes similar symptoms in young dogs and affects small breeds like toys and terriers. Although it’s a different condition, it can be treated in a similar way with hip replacement or removal of the femoral head.

Treating hip dysplasia

“Conservative management is based on a multi-pronged approach, says Sophie. 

Hip dysplasia can be managed with a combination of:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Pain medication

It can also be treated surgically.

The cost of treatment depends on the severity as that dictates the cost. “Plus, the larger the dog the more expensive the medication,” says Vet Sophie.

Supplements containing omega three and six and hyaluronic acid for joint support can help. “Event if symptoms are mild all dogs should receive monthly supplements,” says Vet Sophie.

“There should be an emphasis on keeping weight down, using ramps to get in and out of the car, avoiding the stairs and putting anti-slips mats (like yoga mats) down in the house to stop slipping on the floor.”

Hip dysplasia surgery for dogs

Surgery for hip dysplasia can be very expensive – £2,000-£5,000+ per hip. But 10-12 years of treatment for pain relief could well exceed this one-off cost.

Dogs with severe cases that aren’t treated surgically will sadly have a dramatically shortened lifespan.

There are three main types of hip dysplasia surgery: 

  • Total hip replacement
  • Excision arthroplasty/femoral head ostectomy
  • Double or triple osteotomy
Total hip replacement

This is where an artificial hip is fitted. It’s the best option for a ‘forever fix’ and can mean your dog has a normal quality of life pain free. It’s also the most expensive option. Often each hip is operated on individually with a four-six month gap between the surgeries.

In March 2022 we found specialist veterinary practices quoting these prices for a total hip replacement:

  • £5,489 – Animal Trust
  • £6,000 – Chester Gates Veterinary Specialist
  • £5,145.37 – Abington Park Referrals
  • £6,750 – Frank Pet Surgeons

Because of the cost, Vet Sophie estimates only around 5% of owners opt for a total hip replacement.

Excision arthroplasty/femoral head ostectomy

This involves cutting the femoral head/ball part of the joint. This creates a false joint. Hip function will never be normal, but pain will be hugely reduced.

Double or triple osteotomy

For dogs under 10 months of age, the pelvis can be cut in two or three places to rotate and manipulate the bones to form a good ball and socket hip joint. They can lead a very good life post-surgery. The dog is often neutered at the same time to prevent breeding.

With excision arthroplasty and double/triple osteotomy there is a greater chance of arthritic changes over time, so your dog would still need lifelong management for pain.

Does pet insurance cover hip dysplasia

As long as you took out pet insurance before your dog showed any signs of hip dysplasia, most pet insurance policies should cover both the pain relief and surgical options. The main issue is simply that many policies simply won’t have a high enough vet fee limit to cover the cost of surgery for both hips, which could easily be upwards of £10,000.

Our Complete policy has up to £15,000 vet fee cover a year, so it could help cover the cost even if both your dog’s hips need surgery.

As well as covering vet fees, our pet insurance policies have a separate limit for complementary treatments within your vet fee limit. For example, with our complete policy you can claim up to £2,500 a year for complementary therapies like acupuncture or hydrotherapy that can help with hip dysplasia, as part of your £15,000 a year vet fee limit.

Most pet insurers will treat hip dysplasia as a bilateral condition. That means that once one hip has been diagnosed, the second hip will be classed as the same condition, even if it was healthy when the first hip was diagnosed.

That could be a problem if you have a time-limited or per-condition policy, as you may have exceeded either the time limit or the condition limit on the first hip, leaving nothing for the second one.

It also means that if you had the first hip treated before you took out pet insurance, the other hip would be classed as a pre-existing condition if it developed dysplasia after you took out cover and probably wouldn’t be covered.

But at ManyPets we wouldn’t automatically class the second hip as a pre-existing condition if it was still healthy when the first hip was diagnosed or treated. And because all our policies are lifetime pet insurance, that means both your dog’s hips will be covered up to your vet fee limit every year as long as you continue to renew your policy.

All our policies cover conditions that ended at least two years ago.

Woman with cat
Woman with cat

Hip dysplasia in cats

Hip dysplasia is usually associated with large breeds of cats, but some cats breeds can get it too, especially:

  • Persians
  • Maine Coons
  • Himalayans

Again, it’s generally caused by a genetic predisposition with weight and nutrition playing a role.

Like dogs, cats can have a hip replacement or femoral head ostectomy or it can be managed conservatively with pain relief.

“We do not see so many cases compared with dogs, but joint problems in cats are hugely under-diagnosed, especially arthritis,” says Vet Sophie.