How You Can Spot Hip Dysplasia in Dogs


Hip dysplasia in dogs is no fun for anyone involved—not the owner or veterinarian, and certainly not the dog going through it. And once hip problems in dogs get underway, it becomes ever more difficult to take care of a suffering fuzzy buddy, not to mention help ameliorate his symptoms.

The good new is there are plenty of telling signs that give away dogs with hip dysplasia and related health complications. Catching wind of hip problems in dogs as early as possible significantly reduces their risk of getting worse and stirring up even more trouble. 

For the most part, signs and symptoms of canine hip dysplasia depend on three main factors: 

  1. Joint laxity. How loose the hip joint currently is often determines both the type of symptoms dogs experience and their severity.
  2. Joint inflammation. Inflammation is one of the principal contributors to heating, swelling, deterioration of various joint parts, and ultimately pain around the joint.
  3. Duration. Dog hip dysplasia is a progressive disease that manifests as increasingly worse and more serious health problems the longer amount of time it spends attacking the body.

Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Outlined below are several signs of hip dysplasia in dogs, some of which are quite apparent and others a bit harder to spot.

  • Reduced physical activity. Reluctance to run, jump, climb stairs, or really participate in any regular activities, be they indoors or outdoors, is one of the chief early signs of hip problems in dogs.
  • Reduced range of motion. More or less all dogs with hip dysplasia will experience minor to serious cutbacks in range of motion. Things to look out for include less frequent or altered stretching and scratching, a slower walking pace, and general stiffness.
  • Having a hard time getting up. Most dogs with serious cases of hip dysplasia prefer to spend more of their time lying down because of how difficult it gets for them to get back up.
  • Irregular or consistent lameness. Lameness may be one of the more obvious traits, and it get especially bad after periods of exercise. Moreover, persistent lameness can lead to awkward walking patterns, such as a swaying gait or a form of self-explanatory movement known as “bunny-hopping.”
  • Narrow stance. Hip problems in dogs have been known to alter their stance such that their hind (or back) legs move closer together. The change in posture generally takes place gradually as a way to cope with increasing discomfort or pain. Joint looseness, and especially dog hip dislocation, can force much more drastic adaptations in stance.
  • Bulking up of shoulder muscles. The more that the hip joints and hind legs weaken, the more weight a dog needs to bear on its front legs and shoulders. Musculature around the hind legs will progressively shrink. In contrast, the shoulder muscles should noticeably increase in size as a result of the increased daily workload.
  • Grating or cracking of joints. Cracking or popping sounds are often heard during joint movement when the ball and socket of the hip joint are improperly situated. Grating comes up more so after significant cartilage deterioration.
  • Pain. Hip pain in dogs can present in a number of ways, including, for example, squeamishness, laziness, yelping, barking, crying, significantly increased resting time, depression, and bone protuberances or distortions.


Based on these signs, canine hip dysplasia can be arbitrarily categorized into early disease and late disease. 

  • Early disease signs are tied to a loose or lax joint, such as is often evident in diminished physical activity and lameness. Note: Early disease signs are often masked in long-term (gradual) hip dysplasia in dogs.
  • Later disease signs are more closely associated with joint degeneration and arthritis, which can lead to grating of joints and serious pain.

How to Distinguish Between Adult and Child Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

One of the great challenges surrounding hip dysplasia is its knack for eluding diagnosis. It can pop up more or less at any point in time in any type of dog, for which reason it is often referred to as a “silent” health condition. Many cases are missed even by caring owners.

To top it off, the disease progresses at variable rates depending on external factors, like diet and activity, which means all might seem well at one moment and then disastrous the very next. As a developmental illness, a number of telling signals fortunately help shed some light on the state of the disease.

Here are key signs to keep an eye out for when it comes to infant canine hip dysplasia:

  • Asymmetry. Any sort of physical irregularities that can be seen in the way dogs move or stand are blatant red alerts for dog owners.
  • Clicking or popping sounds. While puppies’ bones are still developing as they age, they certainly should not be making clicking sounds.
  • Restricted movement. Take note of how puppies walk, stretch, and run. Either or both range of motion and walking capacity may be hindered more and more the older they get.
  • Pain. A puppy in pain is no fun at all.

In some cases, a dog can squeak by its early life without its owner realizing it has canine hip dysplasia. At a certain point, however, the disease inevitably leads to unavoidable consequences. Here are two of the most commons signs of adult canine hip dysplasia:

  • Hip pain. Tough dogs, or those that are generally inactive, can easily hide their hip pain for years on end. Serious hip pain, however, can end up looking like any number of the symptoms of hip dysplasia previously mentioned. Excess activity can really highlight dog hip pain to owners.  
  • Limp. At a certain point, limping or awkward movements are simply unavoidable and become very glaring issues. And yet, a limp does not always indicate hip dysplasia in dogs since it could be caused by a ton of different dog hip problems.

Vol. 2: Top Dog Breeds Prone to Hip Dysplasia

Vol. 4: The Main Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

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