Is Hip Dysplasia Fatal in Dogs?

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A common worry for anyone with a large breed dog is hip dysplasia. You’ve heard about it from friends, family, and all-over social media for years. Those two words have struck fear in dog owners for years! But how much of the information you hear is real, and how much is based on an exaggerated fear? For example, did you know a dog with hip dysplasia can still live a full and happy life? On its own, hip dysplasia is not a death sentence, and with the right care and treatment, it can be managed.

What is Canine Hip Dysplasia?

Small Maltese wears a hip brace to support bad hips

Canine Hip dysplasia is a developmental disorder that occurs when the hip joint doesn’t form properly during growth. Either the femur or acetabulum is misshapen, and in some cases both are.

The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint, the head of the femur being the ball and the acetabulum being the socket. When one, or both, are malformed or misaligned the joint doesn’t move smoothly which can cause the dog pain or impede their range of movement. In some cases, the femur can actually slip out of the acetabulum and bang around.

In any case, dogs with hip dysplasia have a hip joint that is unstable and prone to additional wear and tear.

Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

The exact cause of hip dysplasia is not fully understood, but it is believed to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Some of the possible causes are:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Breed-specific incidence
  • Rapid growth
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise

Early Signs of Malformed Hips

German Shepherd early sign of mobility loss with difficulty standing

Hip dysplasia is often present at birth but can also develop when the puppy is young and still growing. By the time they are two years old any deformity in the hip joint will already be present.

A dog with hip dysplasia may not experience any problems or pain until later in life, but there are some signs to look out for.

  • Difficulty getting up or laying down
  • Reduced desire to run, jump, or play
  • Limping or favoring one hind leg
  • Swelling or pain around the hips
  • Stiff or reduced range of motion in the hips
  • Narrow stance or bunny hopping (moving both hind legs together)
  • Grating or clicking sound coming from the hips

Can Hip Dysplasia Kill my Dog?

One of the very first questions dog owners ask when their dog is diagnosed with hip dysplasia is: Can hip dysplasia kill my dog? The easy answer is no, hip dysplasia by itself is not fatal.

The more complicated answer is that while not being fatal, hip dysplasia does cause chronic pain, restricted movement, and other complications that can affect your dog’s quality of life and lifespan, especially if untreated.

Complications from Hip Dysplasia

Arthritis is one of the most common complications dogs with hip dysplasia have. It occurs when the cartilage in the joint has worn away which causes bone-on-bone contact. The result is often pain, stiffness, swelling, reduced range of motion, and loss of joint function.

Other possible complications are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Avascular Necrosis (more common in small breeds with hip dysplasia)
  • Hip Luxation

Any complication from hip dysplasia can negatively affect your dog’s health and quality of life.

Quality of Life

Walkin' Wheels dog wheelchair to keep dogs active

Your dog’s quality of life depends on many factors, including, the dysplastic severity, the treatment options, response to the treatment, care at home, and the individual personality of your dog.

Some dogs can have mild symptoms preventing them from jumping on the bed, but not limiting their life in any other way. Dogs with more severe symptoms could have problems standing up to go the bathroom or eat.

There is no one way to measure quality of life. You can rely on scales, such as the Canine Brief Pain Inventory (CBPI) or the Canine Quality of Life Scale (CQLS), but ultimately it comes down to owner perception.

Do you see your dog struggling to stand long enough to eat, can they do the things they want to do with relative ease, and most importantly, are they happy?

Corgi in his wheelchair for IVDD
Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair
German Shepherd DM harness
Buddy Up Harness
Iris in a Walkin' Hip-EEZ hip brace for hip dysplasia
Walkin’ Hip-EEZ Hip Support

How Long Can a Dog Live with Hip Dysplasia?

Just like quality of life, there is no one size fits all answer to how long a dog can live. Many dogs live a normal or near-normal life with hip dysplasia, while others can suffer a shorter lifespan.

There are many factors to consider, some of them are:

  • Age of Onset
  • Condition Progression
  • Available Treatments
  • Response to Treatments
  • Presence and Severity of Complications
  • Quality of life

These factors vary from dog to dog and can change throughout the dog’s life as well. Working with your veterinarian and knowing about problems ahead of time can make a huge difference. For example, early screening at 2 years old could show that your dog has hip dysplasia. Even if they have no pain and show no symptoms yet, knowing about it early gives you time to take measures to keep them healthy and potentially prevent any major problems.

Recognizing Hip Dysplasia in Your Dog

If you’ve noticed your dog exhibiting any of these signs it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian. They will be able to confirm whether your dog has hip dysplasia and, if they do, to what degree.

While x-rays are the only definitive test for hip dysplasia, the methods of evaluation are different. The two primary evaluation methods are the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) Hip Evaluation and the PennHIP Evaluation.

Some key differences between the two are:

OFA Hip Evaluation: Dogs 2 years and older can be evaluated and any veterinarian with an x-ray machine can send images off for certification.

PennHIP Evaluation: Can be used on dogs as young as 16 weeks and can accurately predict future hip changes. The downside is it can only be performed by vets that have undergone PennHIP certification and dogs must be sedated to get accurate laxity measurements.

Dog Breeds More Prone to Hip Dysplasia

As we’ve mentioned, some dog breeds have a higher chance of being born with or developing hip dysplasia than others. According to the OFA statistics, some breeds with the highest percentage of hip dysplasia are:

  • Pug: 71.7%
  • Bulldog: 70.1%
  • Dogue de Bordeaux: 57.1%
  • Otterhound: 47.2%
  • Clumber Spaniel: 40.7%

And some breeds with the lowest percentage of hip dysplasia are:

  • Italian Greyhound: 0.2%
  • Portuguese Podengo Pequeno: 1.2%
  • Manchester Terrier: 1.4%
  • Ibizan Hound: 1.5%
  • Saluki: 1.7%

Dr. Daisy A. May, MRCVS BVSc, a contributor to All About Parrots, has some interesting insight about dog breeds and hip dysplasia.

“Regarding breeds and their risk, it’s not a black and white story; it’s more like a complex genetic puzzle. True, you’ll see it more in your German Shepherds and Labradors, but a mutt with the wrong genetic hand can suffer too.”

Dr. May adds “In terms of small dogs with serious hip issues, they’re the exception rather than the rule in my practice. Sure, I’ve seen a Chihuahua waddle in with the same problem that plagues some Saint Bernard. But generally, the scale tips in favor of the big guys.”

Hip Dysplasia Treatment Options

While there is no cure for hip dysplasia, there are treatment options that can help manage the condition and improve your dogs quality of life. The option with the best chance of success will depend on your dogs age, weight, dysplastic severity, and the symptoms your dog already shows.

Non-Surgical Options

Typically, non-surgical treatment options are recommended for mild – moderate cases or when dogs are not good candidates for surgery. Non-surgical treatment options are:

Schauzer weares Hip-EEZ dog hip brace to beach
  • Medication: Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids, can help reduce pain and inflammation in the hip joint.
  • Supplements: Nutritional supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, or green-lipped mussel extract, can help support joint health and cartilage repair.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the hip joint and improve its range of motion and function. Physical therapy may include exercises, massage, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, laser therapy, or electrical stimulation.
  • Weight management: Weight management is critical for dogs with hip dysplasia, as excess weight can put more stress on the joint and worsen the condition. A healthy diet and moderate exercise can help your dog maintain an ideal weight and prevent obesity.

Hip Dysplasia Surgery

Surgery is usually recommended in more severe cases or after a dog has shown not to do well with non-surgical options. Surgery can restore stability as well as function to the hip joint and relieve pain. But it’s not without risks. Infection, bleeding, nerve damage, and implant failure are among the risks of surgery.

  • Triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO): This procedure involves cutting and rotating the pelvic bone to improve the alignment and fit of the ball and socket. TPO’s can prevent further degeneration and preserve the natural joint.
  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO): This procedure involves removing the head of the femur (the ball) to eliminate bone-on-bone contact and create a false joint. An FHO procedure can help reduce pain and improve mobility.
  • Total hip replacement (THR): Like the name suggests, a THR involves replacing both the ball and socket with artificial implants made of metal and plastic. This can help restore normal function and movement of the joint.

When asked about the success rates, Dr. Kathryn Rosalie Dench, a veterinary surgeon, and writer at GentleDog Trainers said “THR offers the best long-term results for severe hip dysplasia but is a more complex and costly procedure. Success rates are generally high, with dogs regaining near-normal function.”

Home Care for Dogs with Hip Dysplasia

There are additional ways you can help your dog cope with hip dysplasia, whether you went the surgical route or not. Providing your dog with easier ways to get around and be comfortable will increase their happiness, well-being, and mobility. A few good ideas are:

  • Comfortable bedding: A comfortable and supportive bed can help your dog rest and sleep better. Orthopedic beds, memory foam beds, heated beds, or elevated beds can cushion your dog’s hips and joints and keep them warm and cozy.
  • Ramps and stairs: Using ramps and stairs can help your dog move around without having to jump or climb, which can quickly aggravate their hip dysplasia.
  • Harnesses and slings: Using specially designed harnesses and slings can help you support your dog’s weight and mobility when they walk, stand, or go up and down stairs.
  • Massage and grooming: Massages and brushing can help your dog improve their blood circulation, reduce muscle tension, and relieve pain and stiffness in their hips and joints.
  • Environmental enrichment: Keep your dog happy and engaged with toys, puzzles, games, treats, and social interactions to enrich your dog’s environment and offer them mental and physical challenges that are suitable for their condition.
Chase Roseberry's Profile Picture

Guest Author:
Chase Roseberry

Chase Roseberry has spent his life surrounded by all kinds of animals. From growing up with horses, dogs, and cats to keeping multiple saltwater aquariums, he quickly realized he loves all animals. He now shares his passion by writing on BuzzPetz with his loyal German Shepherd proofreading at his side. You can get in touch with Chase on LinkedIn.



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