What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is, in its simplest terms, the abnormal development of the hip bone and/or hip joint. What this means is that unlike natural healthy dog’s hips, the hip joint does not sit neatly into the hip joint. This can have a number of knock-on consequences for a dog’s health and well-being.

A healthy UK dog’s hips in comparison to a UK dog suffering from hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is genetic with the majority of cases stemming from the parents of a puppy also suffering from dysplasia. Whilst this is the most common way for hip dysplasia to be passed from dog to dog, it is important to also observe the environmental effects that have been shown to cause hip dysplasia in dogs even when that dog has no genetic history of the disorder.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors that have been found to be causes of the condition (according to a 3 year study in Norway) may include, but are not limited to, such things as:

  • Excessive walking/running during puppy months.
  • Excessive exercise during puppy months.
  • Lack of nutrients in diet during puppy months.
  • Abnormal posture when standing/sitting as a puppy.

As you can see from the above findings, it is imperative that dog owners and, more specifically, puppy owners need to be very careful in the training and nurture of dogs under 12 months old.

How is hip dysplasia diagnosed?

The number one and unparalleled way to diagnose hip dysplasia is via x-rays of the puppy or dog’s hips. UK Veterinarians can diagnose hip dysplasia in dogs from 3 months old onward from a simple x-ray. Whilst older dogs can develop hip dysplasia later in life, the key time for diagnoses is generally from the puppy being 3-6 months old but any owner who holds the well being of their dog close to their heart should have periodic checkups throughout their pet’s life.

A Healthy Dog’s Hips

X-Ray of a healthy UK dog’s hips.

The image above is an X-Ray image of a healthy dog’s hips. As you can see pointed out by the arrows, the hip ball of this dog is snugly and firmly within the hip joint. This dogs hind leg bones are nicely rounded and secure against the rest of the canines skeleton. This allows the dog to move freely without any friction of the bones preventing movement.

Whilst this dog is not suffering from hip dysplasia at the time of this X-Ray, it is important that the dog owner’s attention to the risks of hip dysplasia is not overlooked since, whilst statistically not as likely, the dog can still develop this condition later in life as mentioned previously. This change is generally gradual so early diagnosis can be critical for your dog’s health.

Dogs Showing Hip Dysplasia

X-Ray of a UK dog suffering from hip dysplasia.

The image above is an X-Ray image of a UK dog suffering from hip dysplasia. Contrary to the first image above, this dog’s hip bones are both loose and slightly away from sitting flush with the dog’s hip joints. This is common amongst puppies or dogs suffering from hip dysplasia and will likely see the irregularities become more extreme with age.

It is very likely that this particular dog is in some pain and discomfort. This pain is likely to increase to the point where the dog will become lame and a quality of life cannot be maintained without surgery and rehabilitation. Whilst it is true that some dogs handle this condition better than other dogs, it is important as dog owner to try and understand and observe how your dog is moving and behaving on a daily basis.

How can I tell if my dog has hip dysplasia?

Symptoms can vary hugely for different dogs and personalities. Many dogs will over compensate to avoid friction (shifting more weight to one side), lean heavier on their front legs (to avoid their hips) and/or whimper when walking.

All of these symptoms will heavily depend on not just the animal’s personality mentioned above but also the severity of the condition itself and more importantly the looseness of the joint or the inflammation level currently showing.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

Some of the generic tell-tale symptoms of hip dysplasia in UK dogs can vary from the following:

  • Decreased activity of puppy or adult dog.
  • Difficulty in rising from seated or laying position.
  • Reluctance to run, jump, or climb stairs/obstacles
  • Over use of the front legs or hopping motion when walking.
  • Back legs unnaturally close together when standing.
  • Pain in hip joints or rear area usually accompanied by whimpering.
  • Noticeable ‘grating’ sound/vibration on movement of the rear legs.
  • Decreased flexibility of rear legs.
  • Loss of muscle mass in thigh and hind muscles
  • Front and shoulder muscle increase usually from overcompensating away from the rear legs.

If you notice more than one of these traits in your dog it is important to seek out a certified UK veterinarian for diagnosis.

What dog breeds are most at risk of hip dysplasia?

Many puppy and dog breeds are particularly susceptible to either contracting hip dysplasia through their bloodline or from developing hip dysplasia through environmental factors. These dog breeds include but are not limited to:

As you may have noticed from the list, minus the odd exception, active and larger dogs are most susceptible when it comes to hip dysplasia. This is mainly due to the extra weight being carried by the hips and the strenuous activities that these dogs are generally involved in on a daily basis.

Whilst it is true that these are working dogs for the most part, this is not the whole story. It is very important that any puppy is allowed to grow without over straining or even over playing to avoid abnormalities.

How is hip dysplasia treated?

The best treatment recommendations for a dog that is suffering from hip dyspepsia revolve around a number of factors. The severity of the condition in a puppy or dog is at the heart of the decision to treat with or without surgery. This decision needs to be taken by a registered UK veterinarian with the current problem severity and future potential severity of the dog’s health in mind.

Non Surgical Options for Hip Dysplasia

Choosing to not commit to surgery for a dog suffering from hip dysplasia only tends to be an option for dogs with minor to no symptoms. Some dogs and breeds tend to suffer from slight hip dysplasia at various points of their life without being affected by pain or flexibility.

Short term non surgical options mainly consist of the following:

  • Diet and body weight management.
  • Regular Physiotherapy
  • Bespoke exercise regimes
  • Anti-inflammation medication

Whilst any and all of these can be helpful it is important to note that 90% of dogs that suffer from slight hip dysplasia within the first half of their life go on to develop more severe symptoms that lead to surgery being needed. This is not to say that surgery is inevitable but it is an indication that even doing everything right may be fruitless.

Surgical Options for Hip Dysplasia

There are a number of surgery options for treating UK dogs suffering from hip dysplasia. Each surgical procedure is solely dependant on the main area being affected and the desired outcome.

The four main procedures carried out in the UK for dog hip dysplasia are the following:

  • Femoral head and neck excision (FHNE)
  • Triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO)
  • Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS)
  • Total hip replacement (THR)

There are many pros and cons to each of these procedures and it would be wrong for us to advise on any of them without knowledge of your dogs medical history and up to date x-rays. Any registered UK veterinarian will be able to discuss at length the benefits and repercussions of each procedure depending on your pet’s situation.

Cost of Hip dysplasia Surgery

The cost of surgery for dogs suffering with hip dysplasia in the UK varies widely by the region you are in and the procedure being performed.

The average cost of hip dysplasia surgery across the UK currently stands at £5000 per hip.

There are some regions (northern England, areas of Scotland and Wales) where the surgery cost for hip dysplasia is around £2500 per hip.

Other regions such as London and Southern England can see prices as high as £8500 per hip for hip dysplasia surgery.

Is Hip Dysplasia Covered by Pet Insurance?

Yes and No.

Whilst most UK pet insurance cover the illness, it is important to note some key areas when signing up for a policy.

Hip Dysplasia is considered an ‘illness’

Many UK pet insurance policies are ‘accident only’ policies which will only cover injuries and accidents. This means the policy will not cover illnesses as a category, a category which hip dysplasia sits.

Policies have a limit of cover payment

Many UK pet insurance policies have a limit of how much the insurance will cover in the event of surgery. This limit is normally around £3000 and whilst substantial, this will not cover the surgery costs of hip dysplasia mentioned earlier in this article.

In these situations it is down to the dog owner to pay the remaining balance so it is important to check what you have covered.

Pre-existing condition

Many if not all pet insurance policies will not cover pre-existing conditions. What this means is that if your dog has been showing signs of hip dysplasia or a previous x-ray shows early signs of it then they will not cover any treatment for the condition.


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