Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip Dysplasia is an abnormal development of the hip joint which is most common in medium and large breed dogs. The exact cause is unknown, but it’s suspected either genetic predisposition, rapid growth rate as a puppy, and/or environmental factors might cause it, such as obesity.

Pain usually presents between 4-12months of age. At birth the dog’s hips are normal but between 4-12months the ligaments can become less taut. As the disease progresses symptoms do calm down due to scarring in the hip joint which stabilises it slightly, however, eventually the condition progresses to Osteoarthritis.  

What symptoms might my dog display if they have Hip Dysplasia?

Your dog might display a combination of the symptoms below depending on how old they are;

  • Difficulty rising from lying or sitting
  • Reduced activity levels
  • Stopping during their regular walks or even resting
  • A ‘Bunny Hopping’ gait pattern (moving the back legs together instead of separately)
  • Reduced range of motion of the back legs
  • Your dog might shift their weight forward to prevent putting too much weight on the back legs so you might see them leaning on their front legs.

How can physiotherapy help?

Treatment and management for Hip Dysplasia can include non- surgical or surgical options. In either case Physiotherapy is beneficial.

Non-surgical/conservative rehabilitation:

The aim of rehabilitation is to provide an adequate environment in the hip joint. This means aiming to minimise any swelling and scarring internally. A Physiotherapist can help by giving advice on weight reduction, minimising joint pain, using manual therapy (therapeutic movement of the joint to break down scar tissue, maintain hip range of movement and reduce pain), massaging the surrounding muscles, using therapeutic stretching/strengthening exercises, electrotherapy, hot/cold therapy and providing tailored graded exercise programmes to improve fitness and quality of life.  All these combined together can support your dog to getting back to their normal routine.

In 2012 a research paper was done looking into the management of Hip Dysplasia in dogs. It found weight management was the most effective component when it comes to managing the condition, alongside restricting activity. The management of Hip Dysplasia is therefore a delicate balance between needing to exercise to increase strength and support the joint, but to not allow your dog to run in the park every day for the ball for long periods. With the careful exercise management, you also need to manage the dog’s weight! So, in conclusion Hip Dysplasia can be a complex disease to manage so advice from your vet or physiotherapist about the balancing act is advised.

Rehabilitation after surgery:

There are occasions where your vet might feel surgery is required so physiotherapy although has the same principles as conservative rehabilitation, the timings of treatment are different depending on what type of surgery your Vet feels is appropriate.

There are 4 main surgery types:

  1. Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis
  2. Triple Pelvic Osteotomy
  3. Total Hip Replacement
  4. Femoral Head and Neck Excision

After surgery your Vet will prescribe medication for pain relief, and physiotherapy can use cold therapy and passive range of movement exercises to get the recovery process started. Hydrotherapy or underwater treadmills can also reduce pain alongside restoring the dog’s ‘normal’ walking pattern but only when pain is manageable and the wound has healed. Usually after 4-6 weeks an appropriate exercise programme can begin. Usually this entails slow, controlled and structured timing of leash walking with a gradual progression to pole exercises. The use of different terrains, inclines and declines will also be used as part of the rehabilitation programme. Physiologically walking your dog on inclines or declines will work different muscle groups at different intensities, so these will begin at staggered times. Stretching, strengthening and balance exercises will also be incorporated to further restore, strength, range and function.

So, if you think your dog has displayed any of the symptoms above or is due or has had surgery for Hip Dysplasia, feel free to get in contact for advice.