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Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs by a Veterinarian

An older brown dog laying in the grass with a wall covered in leaves behind him

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a condition that affects the ball-and-socket joint of the hips. The socket aspect of the hip does not cover enough of the ball aspect of the upper thigh bone. This can cause pain in dogs and make it difficult for them to move. It can also cause arthritis in dogs as they get older.

Hip dysplasia occurs most frequently in large and giant breed dogs, though all breeds are susceptible, and it affects purebred dogs more often than mixed breed dogs. It can be inherited from a dog’s parents, so it is important to make sure that dogs do not have hip dysplasia prior to breeding.

What are the symptoms of hip dysplasia?

A brown, black, and white dog laying down on concrete ground.
  • Decreased Activity: Signs of hip dysplasia in dogs can be subtle to severe. One of the less obvious signs is decreased activity. Your dog might still want to run or play fetch, but you might notice that he can’t play or run for as long as he used to. This is one of the earliest signs that there might be a problem with his hips.
  • Favoring weight to one side: You might also notice that, when he goes to sit on his hind limbs, he might favor one side of his hip over the other. This can sometimes be coupled with slower movements, as if there is some difficulty in walking, and can be worsened by climbing upstairs. After prolonged periods of rest, your dog might have difficulty standing up, and he may walk stiffly for a few moments. Limited mobility is almost always associated with pain.
  • Bunny Hopping and Lameness: Hind limb bunny-hopping and lameness are some of the more classic signs of hip dysplasia. A bunny-hopping gait is when both back legs push off the ground simultaneously like a rabbit. Dogs with painful hips might walk like this because it keeps their body weight evenly distributed over both hips instead of displacing the weight intermittently between the left and right hips. Hind limb lameness can occur in one or both legs and is usually due to bony proliferation around the hip joint spaces. In severe cases where there is a very little socket for the ball part of the joint, the ball can become subluxated or pop out of the socket altogether, causing the affected leg to appear almost completely limp.
  • Wincing and Whining: Pain and sensitivity are associated with many orthopedic issues, especially hip dysplasia. Most dogs are stoic and seem to be very good at hiding pain. However, with hip dysplasia, your dog might wince or cry out if his hips are touched or bumped suddenly. In moderate to severe cases, there can be an audible clicking noise from the hips while your dog walks.

Hip dysplasia is often confirmed with x-rays, but in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to detect it prior to x-rays. Your dog’s clinical history and physical exam findings are helpful in this, and some veterinarians like to perform a good orthopedic examination with the help of mild sedation in order to detect crepitus and what is known as a positive Ortolani sign. When the thigh bone of the hind-limb is pushed in towards the socket and then the limb is simultaneously rotated outward, a loud clicking can be appreciated in dogs with hip dysplasia.

Treatment of hip dysplasia

There are multiple treatment options for dogs with hip dysplasia, some of which depend on the severity of the disease and can often be combined with other treatment options.

  • Weight Management: One of the most important facets of treatment is keeping a lean body condition. This is because dogs who are overweight place a greater strain on their joints, resulting in more pain and discomfort. If your dog is overweight, then it is important to work with your veterinarian on a diet plan.
  • Prescriptions and Supplements: There are excellent weight loss prescription foods available commercially, including ones that have additional ingredients for joint health. Joint supplements are useful, too. Many of the ingredients that go into human joint supplements can be found in supplements for dogs, such as glucosamine and chondroitin. These ingredients help protect cartilage in the joint spaces by maintaining cartilage flexibility.
  • Medications: Your veterinarian may also prescribe medications that help with pain and discomfort. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are highly effective at minimizing inflammation, which also helps with discomfort. Opioid medications can help with pain and may provide mild sedation which can help dogs with hip dysplasia sleep better at night.

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  • CBD Oil: There is a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of CBD oil and how it can help with pain and anxiety. In some cases, a combination of medications can be recommended at the same time. This is referred to as multimodal pain management and is often more effective rather than just using one medication alone.
  • Physical Therapy: When it comes to stiff gait and hind limb weakness, physical therapy can make a big difference. Deep tissue massage and passive range-of-motion exercises can help strengthen muscles in the limbs. Hydrotherapy is an excellent form of exercise because it can strengthen muscle tissue while minimizing the impact of body weight on the joints. Acupuncture is also effective for addressing many of the problems associated with hip dysplasia, including pain, muscle weakness, and anxiety.
A grey Great Dane laying outside in the grass on a sunny day.
  • Surgery: In severe cases of hip dysplasia where medical treatments have failed, surgical intervention is a last-resort option for dogs. For small breed dogs, they may be candidates for a procedure called a femoral head osteotomy, or FHO. This is when the ball of the joint is removed and a pseudo-joint capsule forms around the socket, thus stabilizing the hip for walking. FHOs are not recommended for large and giant breed dogs. In those patients, total hip replacement is recommended. With this surgery, the ball-and-socket joint of the affected hip is replaced by metal plates and pins in order to create an artificial joint. No matter which surgery occurs, it is important to note that dogs can still have problems walking, and it is not a 100% fix for hip dysplasia. These are salvage procedures meant to minimize pain.

Orthopedic surgeons are working hard to detect hip dysplasia early in their patients. This is because a surgical procedure exists that might help decrease the severity of hip dysplasia as the dog ages. It is called a juvenile pubic symphysiodesis, or JPS. Puppies who are at risk of developing hip dysplasia or already have a positive Ortolani sign on an exam can undergo this minimally invasive surgery anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks of age. It prematurely closes one of the growth plates in the center of the hip bones. Then, as the puppy grows, the hips open a little wider and create better coverage of the ball part of the thigh bone.


Hip dysplasia is one of the most common orthopedic issues, affecting big and small dogs alike. Knowing the symptoms of hip dysplasia can allow for early detection and intervention, both of which can delay the progression of more serious arthritis and pain. If you are concerned that your dog might have hip dysplasia, make sure to talk to your veterinarian about possible x-rays and what you can do to help your dog right away!  

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Picture of author Dr. Erica Irish with a golden retriever

Dr. Erica Irish
Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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