You’ve probably heard that hip dysplasia is an issue that affects many of dogs but are you aware that various studies have found that all puppies are born with perfect hips? Are you also aware that contrary to traditional belief, the primary causes of hip dysplasia are preventable?

Yes, really, it’s true. Despite what you may have heard genetic factors account for less than 40% of the causes of hip dysplasia in dogs. This means that dog owners have the power to gift their companions with a long life, free from the serious discomfort and pain associated with this disease.

What is Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Canine Hip Dysplasia is a skeletal disease that affects many dogs at one point throughout their life. It occurs when a dog’s hip joints don’t fully develop, or when these joints develop poorly. Hip Dysplasia most commonly influences larger breeds, such as Labradors, St. Bernard’s, German Shepherds, and Great Danes. Despite larger dogs being more at risk of hip dysplasia, dogs of all sizes and from all breeds are potentially susceptible.

For over fifty years, veterinarians, breeders, and dog owners have debated the causes of hip dysplasia. The consensus for many years suggested that a dog’s genetic code was the most significant factor in determining whether it would develop the disease. Despite this, no study has ever been able to identify a specific gene that causes hip dysplasia in dogs. Furthermore, comprehensive studies of canine hips suggest that genetic variation accounts for only 15-40% of variation in hip scores. It is likely, then, that no genetic solution will be discovered in the near future.

How can I safeguard my dog from Hip Dysplasia?

Firstly, as a dog owner, it is important to be able to identify the key symptoms which most often correlate with a case of hip dysplasia. These include:

·         A Swaying Gait

·         Clicking sounds coming from the pelvic area when the dog is walking.

·         Sensitivity to touch in the hip area

·         Changes in behaviour such as reluctance to sit or rise, a reduction in activity and exercise

Secondly, as dog owners and dog breeders, it is critical to understand the causes of hip dysplasia and attempt to reduce the dog’s exposure to risk factors.

The Institute of Canine Biology has deliberated on the most significant causes of hip dysplasia and the results are in: a puppy’s diet, exercise, and early environment are huge factor in whether a dog will develop hip dysplasia.

In great news for dog lovers, the Institute has also developed a helpful guide to reducing the chance that your four-legged friend will become immobilised by hip dysplasia. In an article which you can read in full here, the Institute of Canine Biology lists 10 key facts about canine hip dysplasia and how to prevent it. These points are summarised below.

1.       Joint Laxity is the primary Cause of hip dysplasia

Essentially, joint laxity occurs when a dog’s femur does not fit perfectly into its acetabulum. Joint Laxity can be caused by a number of factors, including trauma, weight, lack of strength in the leg muscles, and adductor forces (forces which bring the hips together). If the ligaments which join the femur to the pelvis become damaged, it will cause the joint to feel loose, and increase the likelihood that a dog experience pelvic dislocation and therefore suffer from hip dysplasia.

2.       Controlling joint stability is key to reducing the likelihood of canine hip dysplasia

As mentioned above, the stability and strength of the hip-femur joint is critical to avoiding hip dysplasia. In some puppies as young as one month old, the ligament which connects the femur to the pelvis shows evidence of damage.  By reducing chances for puppies to experience traumatic injury to their pelvic ligaments, dog owners and breeders can reduce the likelihood that their dogs will suffer from hip dysplasia later in life.

3.       Body Weight is a major environmental factor

Just as with humans, a dog’s weight is a major factor on their health. When there is damage to a dog’s ligaments, the magnitude of damage occurring will be heavily influenced by the load carried by the ligament. Research clearly suggests that puppies which are kept on a restricted diet are far less likely to experience hip dysplasia later in life.

4.       Exercise can be both GOOD and BAD

Through exercise, a dog has a significant opportunity to strengthen their bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. This can greatly reduce their risk of hip dysplasia. Puppies who have access to stairs and slippery areas are more susceptible to hip dysplasia whereas those who have off leash access to uneven ground are less susceptible. On the other side of the coin, dogs who regularly chase a ball or stick are more likely to experience hip dysplasia. The most important period for ligament development is birth to 8 weeks, so exercise type and intensity are critical at this stage.

5.       Nutrition Is extremely important

Providing your dog with a balanced, breed and weight specific diet will significantly reduce their risk of hip dysplasia. Commercial dog food will generally contain suitable nutrients for a dog so supplements are not only unnecessary, but also potentially harmful. As mentioned above, it is important to limit a dog’s diet so as to not promote canine obesity.

6.       Early intervention is critical to reducing the burden of hip dysplasia.

As with most diseases, treatment for hip dysplasia is most effective when performed in younger dogs, when the disease has not had a chance to create further problems. The critical window for treatment is 24 months. Puppies will display the first signs of lameness between 4-6 months however this will usually go away, only to reappear later in life. For this reason, it is critical to get dogs who show the symptoms of hip dysplasia check at a reliable veterinarian.

What does this mean for dog owners?

It means that a simple, one-size-fits-all solution is not on the horizon. Owners and breeders alike must be prepared to provide their dogs with optimal environments, diets, and exercise to ensure that they are able to live a long, happy, and comfortable life.