The Main Causes of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Canine hip dysplasia is one of the most frustrating dog illnesses to deal with because of its prevalent and yet unpredictable nature. It also has a ton of different potential causes—ranging from innate features to exercise habits—that can really throw off even the most attentive dog caretakers.

As far as veterinarians know, hip dysplasia in dogs is not directly dependent on certain major inherent characteristics, like gender and age. Both male and female dogs as well as youthful and aging dogs seem to have an equal chance of getting dog hip problems.

The disease does not appear to directly stem from any singular external factor either. No special diet or climate or habit triggers hip dysplasia significantly more than any other. And it certainly is not caused by a specific virus or infection.  

What the cause of hip dysplasia in dogs seems to boil down to, then, is less a single root than a healthy (or better put, unhealthy) mixture of factors. Similar to most diseases, the source of the problem is one part genetic and another part environmental. Some scientists believe that genetic makeup is overwhelmingly influential and others say it is only 25% responsible for disease development, but for the most part, all agree it is a complex disease involving a myriad of factors. 

Narrowing Down Hip Problems in Dogs

In a sense, there are two principal branches when it comes to causes of hip dysplasia in dogs: genetic makeup and environmental factors. Certain cases seem to favor genes as the main cause, whereas others highlight the massive impact just a few poor lifestyle choices can have.

What Effect Do Genes Have on Dog Hip Problems?

The genetic factors associated with canine hip dysplasia are currently under investigation. Thus far, scientists seemed to have linked minor changes in a few genes that are reportedly associated with osteoarthritis, another “wear and tear” kind of degenerative disease.

Caution: hard science. Researchers have keyed in on mutations known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP), which are changes in just one nucleotide out of an entire gene sequence. The minor tweak in gene sequence is believed to increase the development of degenerative diseases, like canine hip dysplasia. Most of the SNP’s that affect dog hip problems seem to be linked to the genes PTPRD, PARD3B, COL15A1.

Along this line, research has also indicated that particular breeds are more liable to get dog hip problems than others, in no small part due to their genes. Among the most likely are breeds labeled as hunting dogs, which basically includes most dogs designated to help people complete certain tasks.

Most of these dogs, although apparently large and strong in stature, may not necessarily have the right anatomy for a highly active lifestyle. Their bulk offers strength but not always the sleek bone structure and muscle tone that many of these activities demand. Some of these dogs include:

  • Neapolitan Mastiff 
  • St. Bernard 
  • German Shepherd 
  • Golden Retriever 
  • Beagle

One of the most commonly shared traits by dogs with hip dysplasia is large size. Large and giant dog breeds are much more likely to be affected by hip dysplasia than small ones, although dogs of all sizes can potentially get it. Joint complications are not only more frequently encountered in larger dogs, but also more easily diagnosed due to the fact that their physical challenges are a lot more visible.  

Contrary to popular belief, many ostensibly purebred dogs have a long history of inbreeding, which is said to contribute to hip dysplasia in certain dog breeds. Inbreeding has long been suspected to increase the rate of exotropia (inability to focus eyes) in Spaniels, deafness in Dalmatians, and canine hip dysplasia in Bulldogs.

German Shepherds are an interesting case of the impact of inbreeding on dog hip problems. Years of inbreeding of the German Shepherd have led to the development of a surprisingly sloped back. Despite their imposing physical appearance, German Shepherds are especially prone to abnormal hip growth and dog hip dislocation because of their genetic makeup.

What Impact Does the Environment Have on Canine Hip Dysplasia? 

There are tons of outside factors that could potentially increase the likelihood of dog hip dysplasia. A number of the main contributors are:

  • Weight and poor nutrition. Properly managing a dog’s diet is one of the simplest and most effective ways to enhance health and reduce the risk of hip problems in dogs. In most cases, a well-balanced diet containing a mixture of meats, grains, and vegetables is the way to go. Remember, dogs are omnivores.

Depending on size and breed, a dog’s dietary needs vary greatly. Appropriate serving sizes are best determined with the consultation of a veterinarian, since they can help calculate about how many calories specific dogs require per day.  

In regards to hip dysplasia in dogs, obesity is known to be a major risk factor. Obesity slowly destroys blood vessels and the heart while simultaneously applying added pressure on joints. High-fat foods combined with a lack of exercise is a huge no-no for practically all pets.

Dogs born in the summer have been reported to have a lower risk of hip dysplasia, possibly since they are likely to spend more time playing outdoors. Even something as simple as taking longer walks is a great way to get dogs and their owners to improve overall well-being.

  • Improper exercise or high amounts of activity, specifically anaerobic exercises. which drain energy (ATP) stores way faster, can cause hip problems in dogs. Common anaerobic exercises performed by dogs are jumping up to catch frisbees and sprinting after thrown objects.

The negative effects are markedly worse when high bouts of unnatural exercise are performed at early ages. Research shows that puppies with access to stairs or slippery surfaces have a much higher risk of hip dysplasia than those who exercise over soft surfaces with grip, as in parks.

Despite the finding that exercise helps reduce the risk of developing hip dysplasia, exercise can also increase the risk, if done excessively at an early age. One study concluded that dogs between 12 and 24 months of age that consistently chase a thrown stick or ball have a higher risk of getting hip problems. Too much exercise in the first eight weeks could have serious health implications in the future.

  • Trauma. Blunt trauma from accidents or fights can result in minor joint damage that worsens over time or irreparable joint conditions. Dog hip dislocation, for example, can be immediately restored, but the initial wound increases the kind of inflammation and deterioration of cartilage around the joint that can lead to hip dysplasia. 
  • Weak muscles, ligaments, tendons around pelvic and hip joints make them way more susceptible to injury and disease. Muscle strengthening activities are highly recommended for larger dogs so that they can be sturdy enough to comfortably hold their own weight while running.
  • Other joint diseases. Osteoarthritis has been genetically linked to hip dysplasia. They not only have similar signs and symptoms, but can also be caused by some of the same genetic mutations. A dog with one degenerative joint disease is likely to be affected by another.

Vol. 3: Great Ways to Spot Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Vol. 5: Natural Ways to Manage Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

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