Hip dysplasia in dogs

March 11, 2022 - 5 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 while 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.

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,” explains Dr. Bell.

That might sound quite frightening, but with management and treatment, dogs can still live a long and full life. “They can have a normal life expectancy if managed correctly,” Dr. Bell adds.

Sadly, some owners will have to make the difficult decision to euthanize their dog earlier because hip replacement isn’t an option and pain relief isn’t keeping the dog 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 are nearing their full size. It’s usually after 12 months old, but some puppies show signs of hip dysplasia at 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 most reliable way to help prevent hip dysplasia is to never breed dogs that have the condition. Breeds that are prone to it can be hip tested to help avoid producing affected puppies. But this is more the breeder's concern than yours.

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 Dr. Bell. “Obesity in puppyhood hugely increases the risk."

“Keep prone breeds lean — through the growing phase especially, but then ongoing," Dr. Bell adds. "It’s very important for the first 18 months of life.

Some more tips from Dr. Bell:

  • Avoid high impact exercise for the first 12 months of life (agility training, for example)

  • No excessive walking during puppyhood. A good rule of thumb is five minutes per month of age, twice daily, for the first six months for smaller breeds — and for the first 12 months for larger ones

  • No stairs

  • No ball throwing

  • Swimming for exercise (if it's a breed that takes to water)

  • Delaying neutering until a bit later into adulthood (or even, perhaps, never neutering them); neutering dogs when they're too young eliminates hormones that 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 Dr. Bell. “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 Dr. Bell.

Hip dysplasia can be managed with a combination of:

  • Physical Therapy

  • Hydrotherapy

  • Acupuncture

  • Pain medication

It can also be treated surgically.

The cost of treatment depends on the severity. “Plus, the larger the dog the more expensive the medication,” says Dr. Bell.

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

“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,” Dr. Bell adds.

Hip Dysplasia Surgery for Dogs

Surgery for hip dysplasia can be very expensive – often more than $4,000 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. A total hip replacement surgery can cost as much as $3,500-$7,000 per hip.

Because of the cost, Dr. Bell estimates that 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 (including ManyPets polices) should cover both the pain relief and surgical options. A major issue is simply that many policies simply won’t have a high enough reimbursement limit to cover the cost of surgery for both hips, which could easily exceed $10,000.

Fortunately, ManyPets policies don't place any annual or lifetime limits on reimbursement.

Most pet insurers will treat hip dysplasia as a bilateral condition. In other words, once one hip has been diagnosed, the second hip will be classed as the same pre-existing condition, even if it was healthy when the first hip was diagnosed. Likewise, ManyPets does consider hip dysplasia to be a pre-existing bilateral condition, which is one reason why it's so important to get your dog insured before any health conditions have arisen.


Pre-existing conditions and insurance - how does it work?

ManyPets has exclusions for pre-existing conditions, but past conditions don’t always prevent future coverage. Get the details.


Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Hip dysplasia is usually associated with large dog breeds, 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 the condition 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 Dr. Bell.

Derri Dunn
Content marketer

Derri is a personal finance and insurance writer and editor. After seven years covering all things motoring and banking at GoCompare, Derri joined ManyPets in 2021 to focus on pet health. She has fostered cats and kittens for Blue Cross and Cats Protection and is owned by tabby cat Diggory and two badly behaved dogs.