If your dog is having trouble walking or climbing stairs, you’re probably wondering what you can do about hip problems in dogs right now.
Luckily you have come to the right place, because my first recommendation is – see your vet! Not what you expected then? I say that because I don’t know if you’re assuming your dog has hip problems, or you already know this to be true. I err on the side of caution by making this my number one suggestion.
While you’re waiting for appointment day to arrive, why not read this article anyway! If your dog is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, having this information will make it easier to understand what your vet is talking about, and you can have your questions ready before you go.
I am a huge asker of questions, so I find vet appointments a lot more productive if I have some knowledge going in. Although I’m never rushed I am conscious of the time, not to mention a waiting room full of animals, so the more I know ahead of time, the more I can accomplish.
So let’s get going. When we talk about hip problems in dogs we are basically referring to hip dysplasia.
What is hip dysplasia?
I found this video and really liked it because the creator of it gives such a great explanation about the condition, making it easy for the layman to understand. I hope it helps, but please make sure you come back here!!
To really understand what hip dysplasia is, it’s important to understand the biology of it, so let’s simplify it as much as possible.
The hip joint is what attaches the hind leg to the body, and consists of a ball and socket. The ball is the head of the femur, the socket is on the pelvis, and the ball fits into the socket. In a healthy joint the ball rotates freely in the socket.
Hip dysplasia is a malformation, a failure of the hip joints to develop properly and as a result do not “fit” into each other.
Is hip dysplasia the same thing as arthritis?
This is a very common question, and the answer is no. Dogs are born with hip dysplasia, and every dog born with it will develop arthritis, over time, but not everyone will develop it to the same degree.
Who is at risk for hip dysplasia?
Dogs don’t “get” hip dysplasia when they are older, they “inherit” it from their parents. Adults with bad hips pass that on to their puppies.
It is most commonly (but not exclusively) found in large and giant breeds like Shepherds, Great Danes, Newfies and Saint Bernards. Problems can develop in puppies as young as 4 or 5 months old, and even younger.
There is no link between age and severity, meaning a puppy could really be sidelined by it, while another dog may not experience lameness or pain until he is a senior (the age at which a dog is classed as “senior” differs depending on the size/breed of the dog).
What are the symptoms to look out for?
Symptoms depend on the degree of issues like looseness (laxity) of the joint and inflammation, but are similar to what you would see in cases of arthritis brought on by other causes.
- Difficulty getting up from a lying position
- Abnormal/altered gait
- Decreased range of motion
- Hard to squat while peeing and pooping
- “Bunny hopping” (using both back legs at the same time to hop when running)
- Back legs are unnaturally close together
- Short strides
- Loss of muscle mass in thigh muscles
- Difficulty/reluctance climbing stairs
- Less willing to participate in normal activities
In milder cases, after a bit of walking around dogs will “work out” the stiffness.
Unfortunately many pet parents attribute these symptoms, or any changes in behaviour to normal aging. Please don’t do that! It is very often a sign that something is wrong, so call your vet immediately and have your dog checked out. It’s always best to catch a problem early.
Reasons for getting it/risk factors
If a parent has hip dysplasia, then the puppies will as well, but they won’t all have symptoms, or the same level of symptoms. It’s possible some will just be carriers, with problems showing up in their puppies.
It has been shown that obesity can increase the severity of the dysplasia which makes sense, because the fatter a dog is the more weight he is carrying, making degeneration of the joints worse.
Another factor may be rapid growth in puppies who are free fed, meaning food is left out for them to eat whenever they want, rather than having set meal times.
Dogs genetically susceptible to hip dysplasia are more likely to get it if given too much of the wrong type of exercise when young. Running and swimming are two examples of good exercise, while jumping like when playing Frisbee for example, is not a good idea.
How is it diagnosed?
Your vet will take your dog’s history (including information on his “parents” if he’s from a breeder), perform a physical exam (checking range of motion, muscle atrophy…), likely take blood, want a urine sample, and will x rays. It’s important he gets as complete a picture of your dog’s current health status as he can.
The only way is through selective breeding, which of course doesn’t help you or your dog.
We know you can’t prevent it, but if your dog is a carrier or already experiencing some symptoms, there are things that can be done to slow progression of the inevitable arthritis your dog will experience, or is already experiencing.
Since hip dysplasia is inherited, there are no magic pills to prevent it from developing. However, diet, exercise, supplements, medications and alternative therapies like acupuncture can make a difference to your dog’s quality of life.
Carrying extra weight puts a lot of pressure on your dog’s joints, making arthritis even more painful. Fat and obese pets are also at risk of developing a host of other medical problems.
Do your dog a favour and make an appointment with your practice’s weight management clinic. They are usually free and run by nursing staff, so no waiting for a vet appointment. They will advise you on nutrition and exercise, and create a personalised plan for your pet.
Dogs with hip dysplasia and even arthritis still need exercise, but leave it to your vet to advise you on the best types, length and intensity.
Believe it or not, too little exercise can be as problematic, if not more so, than too much.
The types of exercises should provide your dog with a good range of motion and muscle building, but limit wear and tear on the joints. That could mean gentle leash walks and swimming.
*This is important and applies to all dogs*
Your dog needs to be exercised daily, not just on weekends. There are far too many dogs who get a short walk every day (and not even that), but when everyone’s home on the weekend they take the dog to the park to run around for 3 or 4 hours.
That in no way makes up for the lack of exercise and mental stimulation he did not get to experience during the week, not to mention the harm done to joints not used to being worked.
Keeping your dog warm
Just like people with arthritis feel their symptoms worsen in cold damp weather, the same could hold true for our pets. Keep your dog warm in the winter by dressing him in a sweater or coat when going out. If you see him shivering in the house, keep a sweater on him inside as well.
I am including a link to a post about the many other ways you can keep your dog comfortable. Although I wrote it with the senior dog in mind, the tips are certainly applicable in this case.
A comfortable bed
Memory foam beds are great for dogs with arthritis as it reduces pressure points. Obviously there isn’t one bed that will satisfy every dog, so it may be a case of trial and error. Before you buy, take notice of how easily your dog can get in and out. Higher sides add some extra comfort by allowing dogs to rest against them, but at least one of the sides should be open, for easy access. Even the biggest dog may find it too painful to step over a raised side.
If your puppy is one of the susceptible breeds, you may want to speak to your vet about determining sooner, rather than later, if he does have hip dysplasia.
I say this because puppyhood is the critical time for bone and joint development, so while they need the proper type and amount of nutrition, it’s important to watch their weight. Another reason to avoid overfeeding treats or giving table scraps.
You know how boisterous puppies are, but taking a running leap off the couch, and running up stairs are just a couple of ways a puppy could put undue stress on his joints. If you notice any lameness, curtail the jumping and see your vet for advice.
There are surgical options available including a total hip replacement, but are dependent on a number of factors like: age, is your dog a working dog, extent of the damage, cost… I’m not a vet so this is a conversation better had with a professional.
We all know how therapeutic swimming is – gentle on the joints, low impact but a wonderful workout. Hydrotherapy with a professional can be very beneficial, and while you’re there ask if your dog would get the same benefits if you took him swimming. If yes, have them recommend some exercises you can do with him in the water.
Anyone who has ever undergone any type of physical therapy, or treats themselves to regular massages will tell you how wonderful they feel, and they can potentially do wonders for your dog as well.
I know there are plenty of videos online that can show you what to do, but I strongly advise you see a professional first. Perhaps there are exercises they can show you to do at home, but let the expert see your dog and design a program specifically for him, not a general video where you can potentially do more harm.
Home assistance device
Walking up steps, climbing onto the couch or into your bed, and getting into the car have become either too painful or impossible. How are you feeling now that you’re having to lift him? That’s the beauty of a ramp. They come in various sizes, or build your own, but it’s a great way to give your dog back some of his freedom, not to mention getting back some of yours as well!
I’ve used ramps and they’ve made a huge difference in my dog’s life.
When looking for a ramp, be mindful of the measurement when fully extended. Too steep of an incline could be painful for your dog, so a longer one with a more gradual incline will likely be a better choice.
Supplements, medications and alternative treatments
Below you will find a sample of treatments that may help your dog feel better. Conversations with your vet will help you decide on the right course of treatment.
One quick note – some vets (like human doctors) are open to alternative treatments, while others are not. If alternatives are something you would like to explore instead of, or in conjunction with medication, have an honest conversation with your vet and see if you can find a way to make that happen.
Some vets will work with a holistic vet, but if you choose that route be absolutely sure the lines of communication are open, and information is being shared by all concerned.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate
Glucosamine is an amino sugar produced naturally in the body. It plays a key role in the production of joint lubricants and shock absorption, protects the cartilage in the joints against further degeneration, relieves pain, and improves mobility.
Chondroitin is naturally found in animal cartilage, primarily from bovine cartilage, but also comes from sharks and whales. Chondroitin sulfate addresses the disease process itself, doesn’t just mask the pain like drugs do.
Green lipped mussels
Green lipped mussels contain a very high concentration of omega-3s, and are an excellent source of glucosamine and chondroitin.
MSM blocks the transfer of pain impulses through the nerve fibres, by enhancing cortisol production, a natural anti-inflammatory hormone produced by the body.
If you prefer to rely on food for MSM, the best sources are raw, organic meats and bones.
*note* If your dog is not on a raw food diet, do not just start him on one. Be safe and speak to your vet first, and if he doesn’t know enough about it to advise you, speak to a holistic vet. You need to be sure it’s the right plan for your dog. There are many proponents of a raw food diet, and many detractors, so do your research if it’s of interest.
Organic apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce muscle pain and inflammation. A compress of ACV can be applied to the affected area for about 15 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day.
Contains anti-inflammatory properties, helping to eliminate pain, and provide essential nutrients required by cartilage.
Fish oil – omega 3 fatty acids
Fish oil reduces inflammation, but avoid liver oil. It is low in omega 3s, and could be dangerous in the high doses needed to be effective. It is possible to give human grade fish oil, but working out dosages can be problematic. For best results buy products specifically made for dogs.
SaMe is a liver support, but can also reduce pain, stiffness, and inflammation caused by arthritis.
Herbs and vitamins
Certain herbs help reduce inflammation, and one of the best is turmeric (which is recommended daily for adults). Vitamin C and E may also help.
Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapples, and is said to have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Arthritis is just one of the many conditions that can be helped with acupuncture. While it’s not a guaranteed fix for every dog, there are endless success stories. It is good to note that acupuncture can be used alongside Western medicine, so you don’t have to choose one or the other.
Special needles are inserted into acupoints (the spot where nerve bundles and blood vessels come together), to help redirect the body’s energy fields (called Qi) back into balance. They also stimulate the release of anti-inflammatory and pain relieving hormones (endorphins).
The number of needles used will depend on the issue, and the time a treatment takes will vary – could last 10 minutes, could last 1 hour. It’s not unusual for a dog to relax, or even fall asleep during acupuncture.
Acupressure – gentle pressure is applied to acupoints, releasing blocked healing energy and blood, and helping distribute nutrients the body needs to heal.
Electroacupuncture/Electrostimulation– A mild electric current passes between needles, stimulating the nerves and relaxing spasming muscles.
Aquapuncture – A solution of herbs or vitamins is injected into the acupoints through the tip of a needle.
Laser Acupuncture – Lasers are used in place of needles to stimulate acupoints.
Moxibustion – Needles are heated with a dried herbal incense, stimulating blood flow. Heat is very beneficial for older dogs with sore or stiff joints, which is why you’ll often find senior pets with heating blankets, self-heating mats, or even hot water bottles on their beds.
The effects of acupuncture are cumulative, so your dog will benefit more if you stick to the recommended plan, rather than going for treatment “whenever.” Don’t quit after one visit because you don’t see results. Alternative treatments are typically slower to act, and it takes time for a body to heal itself.
If your vet’s office does not offer it, ask for referrals or search the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture website (aava.org) for a list of practitioners in your area.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories)
Most drugs used for treating arthritis in dogs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and help reduce swelling, stiffness, and joint pain. These medications are very beneficial with a good track record, but monitor your dog for any changes in behaviour – eating, drinking, skin redness, vomiting, diarrhea. Call your vet immediately if you notice anything.
Blood work will likely be done before beginning treatment, and the results used as a reference against follow up tests, to monitor liver and kidney function.
Steroids may be prescribed if NSAIDs are not having any effect. Prednisone and other corticosteroids will reduce swelling and inflammation, but there are risks, particularly if they are used long term.
Some of the risks and side effects include: liver and kidney damage, ulcers, seizures, increased thirst and peeing
Unlike some drugs that you stop taking when the treatment is done, you must gradually wean your dog off steroids. It is dangerous to do otherwise. Your vet will create a schedule for you.
Controlled medications (narcotics)
Narcotics are the most efficient pain relief, and although they’re addictive, they don’t have the same potential for organ damage as NSAIDs.
This category contains drugs like: Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Oxycodone to name just a few.
Very often prescribed for pain relief, but isn’t much help as an anti-inflammatory. It is less controversial than narcotics, and generally safer than NSAIDs. Like steroids, your dog needs to be weaned off Tramadol, so your vet will advise you on the schedule.
What you can do about hip problems in dogs right now – conclusion
I know this was an extremely lengthy and intense post, but I wanted to help you see there are a host of options to help your dog feel better.
I hope you are comforted knowing what you can do about hip problems in dogs right now for immediate relief, while exploring options for a long term plan of action.