Signs of Hip Problems in Dogs and What to Do About It
Your dog’s hip health is important because the hip joint is crucial to mobility, which allows them to get the exercise they need to stay healthy and happy and live a long life. A dog’s hips are a ball-and-socket joint located at the top of their back legs, where the femur bone meets the pelvis. When a dog starts to experience trouble with this part of their body, it can dramatically affect their quality of life.
The more pet owners know about hip problems in dogs, the more supportive they can be of their dog’s hip health to ensure a long, pain-free life for their beloved canine. Here’s everything you need to know about what causes hip problems in dogs, how to know if your dog is experiencing hip pain, different types of canine hip problems, and how to support your pet’s hip health.
What Causes Dogs to Have Hip Problems?
Hip problems in dogs are very common and can have a variety of causes, including:
- Type of exercise
- Poor nutrition and being overweight
Large and Giant Breeds Often Have Poor Hip Health
Sadly, one of the primary causes of hip problems in dogs is genetics. Large and giant breeds, including Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Mastiffs, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards, are all prone to hip problems. Many of these breeds have an excess in growth hormones, which can cause the ball of the femur and the socket in the pelvis to grow at different rates.
When the ball and joint don’t fit together smoothly, there can be grinding and discomfort in the joint. While all dogs can experience hip problems, larger breeds inherently put more strain on the hips because of their size and weight, which can contribute to long-term issues with the hips.
Certain Types of Exercise Can Aggravate Hip Problems
Exercise is a vital part of your dog’s daily routine, but certain types of high-impact activities can cause hip issues. Especially for the larger breeds that are prone to such problems, it’s best to avoid activities like fetch, which requires repetitive sprinting and jumping. Agility courses and running long distances can also contribute to hip strain. Your dog can likely get the health benefits they need from less intense exercises, such as leash walking or swimming.
A Poor Diet and Being Overweight Can Contribute to Hip Problems
Your dog’s weight plays an important role in their overall quality of life, including their hip and joint health. Being overweight applies additional strain to the hip joint, which can cause or exacerbate hip issues. Help your dog avoid hip issues by keeping them at an ideal weight with a diet that is appropriate for your dog’s size, activity levels, and breed, and carefully monitoring their daily intake of treats.
Different Types of Hip Problems
While hip dysplasia is the most common type of issue for dogs, there are other types of canine hip problems such as:
- Diseases that impact the hips
- Dislocation or hip injury
The Most Common Issue: Canine Hip Dysplasia
Canine hip dysplasia is the most common issue plaguing dogs’ hips. This condition occurs when the ball and socket of the hip joint grow at different rates, causing the bones to grind against each other rather than move smoothly against one another. Hip dysplasia is degenerative, meaning it gets worse as it progresses because the grinding causes the joint to become loose and less functional, which strains the ligaments around the hip.
The signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia are the same as signs of any other hip issue. A dog with hip dysplasia might have limited mobility, stiffness, reluctance to do normal activities, or reduced muscle mass in their back legs. You can’t really prevent hip dysplasia, as it’s thought to be a genetic condition caused by disease, but a dog’s quality of life can be maintained for many years even if they have this condition.
Other Diseases That Impact a Dog’s Hips
Hip dysplasia is not the only issue to affect a dog’s hip joints. Another relatively common cause of hip issues is Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which causes rapid degeneration of the head of the femur – the ball part of the ball-and-socket joint. Little is known about the cause of this disease, but oddly enough, it impacts small breeds more often than large ones (unlike other hip issues, which are more common in large and giant breeds).
Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is often seen in Miniature Poodles, Pomeranians, and Bichon Frise, and it usually appears in the first few months of life. It can often be treated with surgical removal of the bone that’s deteriorating.
Another common disease related to hip function in dogs is osteochondrosis. This disease hinders the process by which cartilage changes into bone, which is important during the growth of the hip joint. The dog is left with a thickened cartilage, much weaker than bone, that can’t support proper hip movement.
Hip Dislocation and Injury in Dogs
As with any part of the body, some hip issues will be caused by external factors. Your dog can dislocate or bruise their hip with a fall or any kind of trauma, such as being hit by a car. Hip dislocation is when the ball comes out of the socket and the joint can no longer function as needed.
This is very painful and often causes limping – a dog with a dislocated hip will not place any weight on that leg. Hip injuries like dislocation are usually treatable but recovery can be long and slow.
How Osteoarthritis Can Impact a Dog’s Hips
Osteoarthritis is a condition that can affect any joint in a dog’s body, and its impact is often seen in the hips. This condition causes swelling in the joint and a dog with osteoarthritis will also lose cartilage, which makes the joint less limber and mobile. While osteoarthritis in dogs is incurable, it can be managed with medication and various lifestyle changes.
Signs of Hip Problems in Dogs
There are a few different signs your dog might show if they are experiencing hip discomfort. The signs of hip dysplasia and other hip problems include:
- Your dog becoming less active
- Stiffness or limited mobility
- A noticeable thinning or weakening of your dog’s thigh muscle
Reduced Activity Levels May Indicate Hip Problems
If your dog is experiencing hip pain, they may be less inclined to participate in their favorite activities. If you notice your dog is less enthusiastic about their daily walk or game of fetch, or maybe even hesitant to climb the stairs or jump up on the couch, this may indicate that their hips are in pain. Hip mobility and function are crucial to your dog’s daily activities, so if you notice such changes in their lifestyle, it might indicate their hip health isn’t quite right.
Stiff Movement and Limited Mobility Can Be Signs of Hip Discomfort
Early on in the development of a hip issue, your dog might not avoid their favorite activities – they might just do them more slowly or with more difficulty. A little stiffness is normal for a dog in certain scenarios, such as shortly after an intense activity like a long hike or car ride. But if you’re seeing your dog struggle with daily movements like getting up from their bed or squatting to use the bathroom, it might be a symptom of hip dysplasia or other hip problems.
Hip Problems in Dogs Can Cause Weakening of the Leg Muscles
A visible change in the shape, size or density of your dog’s back leg muscles may also indicate hip problems. You’ll likely notice reduced activity before any dramatic change in your dog’s muscle shape, but that reduced activity can lead to reduced muscle mass. Dogs with hip problems often have thin or atrophied back legs because working those muscles causes them pain. If you see that your dog’s thigh and back legs have reduced muscle mass, it could be because of hip problems.
How to Support Your Dog’s Hip Health
While many hip issues are genetic conditions that can’t be completely cured, there are plenty of ways to support healthy hips for your dog. Use these methods to maintain your dog’s current mobility levels and comfort, and to manage hip conditions when they arise:
- Carefully select appropriate exercises for your dog
- Keep your dog’s weight down with a proper diet
- Add supportive supplements for hip wellness
- Consider physical therapy and massage for dogs
- Surgery, if recommended by your veterinarian
Choose Appropriate Exercise Activities
Choosing appropriate exercise activities will be extremely useful in supporting your dog’s hip health. You want to provide enough strain to keep the muscles around the hip joint strong – stronger muscles means less pressure on the joint itself – but you also don’t want to overwhelm your dog’s hips with excessive exercise.
Stick to walking and avoid high-impact activities that require your dog to run or jump for long periods of time. If you can, split your walks into two shorter ones rather than a single long walk each day. Swimming is also a wonderful way for your dog to get cardio with nearly zero strain on their joints.
Maintain a Healthy Weight with a Nutritious Dog Diet
Maintaining a healthy, nutritious daily diet will support a normal weight for your dog, which will reduce the strain on their hips and help them avoid hip issues. Choosing the right diet for your pet depends on a number of factors and you should consult your veterinarian if you think your dog is overweight. Your dog’s treat consumption is also a factor in their daily calorie intake, so be sure to feed them small, healthy snacks between meals.
Wellness-Supporting Additions for Hip Health
You might consider other wellness-supporting resources for your dog’s hip and joint health, like our CBD Hip+Joint Chews for Dogs. These tasty bites include glucosamine HCL and omega-3 fatty acids, which aren’t direct treatments for ailments but do promote your dog’s mobility and joint health. Your veterinarian can recommend a variety of other products that can encourage healthy canine hip growth and development.
Physical Therapy or Massage Can Support Your Dog’s Joints
Just like with humans, physical therapy and massage can help your dog’s joints stay limber and comfortable. You can try implementing some dog massage techniques at home or hire a professional dog massage therapist or physical therapist. If your dog signals that a touch or pressure causes them pain, don’t continue to rub that area. Massage and physical therapy should be relaxing and rejuvenating for your pet.
Surgery as a Last Resort for Hip Problems
If your dog’s hip problems are serious, your veterinarian may recommend surgery. Some surgeries that may alleviate hip issues include a total hip replacement, a pelvic osteotomy (in which the surgeon cuts the pelvic bone to improve the fit of the femur head), or a femoral ostectomy (removal of the “ball” part of the ball-and-socket joint).
In puppies under 18 weeks old, there is another surgery that can be done on the pelvis to reduce or eliminate future hip problems. Surgery is complex and multi-faceted, and your veterinarian will need to walk you through the steps of how to navigate this decision should your dog’s hip issues require it.
Hip Problems in Dogs Can Be Managed
While common, hip problems in dogs are not a definitive end to your dog’s happy days. In fact, some hip issues can be prevented and most hip discomfort can, at the very least, be managed with simple lifestyle changes. By knowing the signs, you can identify canine hip dysplasia and other problems before they become serious.
A reasonable exercise regimen and an appropriate diet, along with supportive additions like CBD and physical therapy, can ensure your dog’s quality of life for many years, even if they suffer from hip problems.