What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is the abnormal development of the hip joint.

There is a ball and socket hip joint where the top of each hind limb meets the pelvis. In the initial stages of hip dysplasia, there is laxity of the muscles which surround and stabilise the joint. The looseness of these muscles allows excessive movement of the joint. This movement causes the ball, or the socket, or both halves of the joint, to become malformed or damaged. When this happens, they don’t fit together as they should.

Hip dysplasia can affect just one side of the dog, but most commonly it affects both sides.

Looseness of the surrounding muscles and the uneven shape of the two parts of the joint will allow uneven movement. This movement damages and wears away the protective cartilage in the joint, leading to early development of osteoarthritis.

What causes Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia can have both genetic and environmental causes.

The genetic element suggests that if one or both parents (or grandparents) of the dog have hip dysplasia, then the dog is more likely to have hip dysplasia too. However, there are many genes involved in hip dysplasia. Even the precaution of breeding only with parents with very good hips can still result in puppies with hip dysplasia.

Other factors include rapid weight gain and rapid growth as a young puppy. These can be as a result of excessive nutritional intake but will also have a genetic factor. Also, inappropriately balanced nutrition can be involved in the development of hip dysplasia.

When a puppy is likely to develop hip dysplasia due the above causes, excessive exercise may have a bearing on the severity of the dysplasia that develops, but this possible factor is not as clear cut.


What are the symptoms of Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia symptoms can vary. They will depend on the severity of the muscle and joint abnormalities. On the pain the dog is experiencing. And on the degree of progression of the osteoarthritis of the joint.

The joint might not move smoothly through the normal range of movement. So it may be excessively loose, or the joint may be restricted especially when arthritis has developed. When this happens, it may not move as far in some directions as would be expected. Where osteoarthritis has developed, there may also be crepitus or grating within the joint.

If the dog is avoiding using the affected limb, there can be loss of muscle mass around the joint. Or there can be tightness and hypertonicity. This is where their muscles are working extra hard to hold the joint stable.

The amount of pain and discomfort experienced by the dog may not be directly proportional to the degree of hip dysplasia that can be seen on x-rays. Some dogs can have severe hip dysplasia, but which causes them limited issues. For some dogs hip dysplasia is only discovered during other investigations. But some dogs with mild deformations of the joint may be extremely uncomfortable.


What might I notice if my dog has Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia will often be seen as lameness.

This lameness may be mild, moderate, or severe and is often more pronounced after exercise or rest. A “bunny-hopping” or a “swaying” gait is sometimes evident, with the dog avoiding using the limbs independently. The dog may be shifting weight forwards onto the forelimbs. There may be pain during extension and flexion of the hind legs.

Dogs with hip dysplasia can exhibit a range of other indicators, including:

  • Hind-limb lameness, often worse after exercise or resting;
  • Reluctance to run, jump, climb stairs;
  • Pain when touched or when you are grooming their rear end;
  • Nibbling or licking their hip area;
  • Difficulty rising from lying or sitting positions;
  • Being grumpy or withdrawn due to the pain; and
  • Sitting in “frog” position (one or both hips splay out).

Depending on the severity of the hip dysplasia, your vet is likely to suggest keeping your dog at a relatively low weight. Being overweight will put more pressure on the affected joints. They may also suggest your dog attends hydrotherapy. Keeping the muscles strong around the affected joint can help to keep the joint stable. They may also prescribe pain killers to help support your dog and reduce pain.


How can Clinical Canine Massage Therapy help with Hip Dysplasia?

Alongside the support provided by your vet, Clinical Canine Massage Therapy can help dogs with hip dysplasia by:

  • Improving mobility and flexibility;
  • Relieving soreness, stiffness and discomfort;
  • Relieving any build-up of muscle tension and hypertonicity;
  • Correcting muscle balance and posture;
  • Reducing inflammation around the affected joint;
  • Assisting in providing pain relief; and
  • Addressing compensatory issues where the dog may be overloading other areas of their body to avoid putting weight through the affected limbs(s).

The above benefits help to improve quality of life for the dog. You will see this through improvements in their mood and mobility. They will feel better and move better, becoming more able to enjoy the normal activities of daily living and exercise.


The Canine Massage Therapy Centre have a further article around hip dysplasia. To read more: Hip Dysplasia

Massage for Hip Dysplasia in dogs

Any questions? Want to book an appointment?

Interested in finding out whether massage can help with managing hip dysplasia in your dog?

Dog with hip dysplasia after having a massage

We were introduced to Emma and Canine Massage Therapy when our young working cocker spaniel was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. He was already being treated with hydrotherapy and we have found that the massage therapy has really helped keeping him mobile, and therefore enjoying a great quality of life still. Emma has been absolutely brilliant, she has a very soothing approach – really connecting and understanding what works best for Joe. 

23 February 2020

Sue Brown and Joe