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What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia refers to a misalignment of the hip joint. It could mean that the hip joint itself is misshapen or that the hip socket is poorly formed and unable to completely cover the parts to which it is attached. The abnormal placing can cause increasingly worsening health complications, from mild discomfort to complete immobility of the hip.

Misaligned joints can be visualized as a screw improperly set in its socket. At first, the screw might appear to fit all right, at least well enough to hold everything in place. Over time, however, the treads on the screw begin to wear away. The treads of the screw are somewhat like the cartilage surrounding the hip joint, which is made up of a bunch of collagen fibers bundled together.

Movement of any kind slowly damages the components and can end up loosening the screw or even breaking the whole setup apart. In the same way, the precious cartilage meant to protect the hip joint will eventually erode away until the bare bones begin rubbing against one another.

Fortunately, there exist a variety of way to minimize these negative consequences. Most of the methods, although only temporary fixes, are not only able to alleviate pain, but also extend the lifespan of the injured hip joint.

Some potential solutions include: 

  • Weight loss. Dropping a few pounds can help lighten the total load bearing down on the hips.  
  • Use of a walking aid. Canes, wheelchairs, and other locomotive devices might facilitate movement. 
  • Arthritis medications. Some medicine is known to reduce inflammation and pain near joints. Consult a medical professional before using any drugs.

Understanding Hip Dysplasia Terminology

As is the case with most health related topics, hip dysplasia is inundated with a flurry of medical jargon. Here are some of the key technical terms:

  • Femoral head. The thigh bone is called the femur. At the top end of the bone sits the femoral head, which is curved like a ball and shaped to fit inside the hip joint.
  • Acetabulum. A part of the pelvis, the acetabulum is the sock inside of which the ball rests and is usually able to freely rotate.
  • Articular cartilage. The femoral head is covered by an extremely smooth layer known as articular cartilage.
  • Labrum. Labrum is a type of cartilage lining the socket that holds a natural lubricant known as synovial fluid, which helps stabilize the hip as well as nearby ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

And as if it were not already confusing enough, clinicians call the condition by several different names based on the stage of disease progression and the age of the one affected by it. These are the six primary names for the disease: 

  1. Hip dysplasia
  2. Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH)
  3. Hip dislocation
  4. Developmental dislocation of the hip (DDH)
  5. Congenital dislocation of the hip (CDH)
  6. Acetabular dysplasia

What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Dog hip dysplasia, like the human disease, refers to the same kind of malformation of the ball and socket of the hip joint. It arises from numerous different genetic and environmental factors, and can similarly deteriorate joints and lead to loss of function. 

One of the most widely studied veterinary conditions, dog hip dysplasia is a problem frequently faced by loving dog owners. While the disease starts off by impacting joint mobility and comfort, it is also known to be the single most common cause of another serious health concern—dog arthritis.

In the majority of cases, hip dysplasia in dogs starts at an early age while they are still developing physically. Average onset is at roughly four months of age, although it is not rare for the disease to begin progressing before presentation of symptoms.

On occasion, canine hip dysplasia takes place as a result of other joint affecting health complications, especially variations of arthritis. Osteoarthritis—a type of joint inflammatory disease—is the main culprit for secondary dog hip dysplasia. The wear and tear osteoarthritis puts on joints over time, combined with the inflammation it triggers, can easily turn what appears to be uncomfortable hip pain into serious structural issues.

Essential Points to Consider in Dog Hip Dysplasia 

Among the countless relevant facts, details, and myths concerning hip dysplasia in dogs, these are some of the most important:  

  1. Canine hip dysplasia does not start at birth. Several major studies have demonstrated that all puppies are born with healthy hips. At birth, dog hip joint structures are entirely composed of malleable cartilage, most of which gradually becomes bone. Early onset dog hip dysplasia can theoretically take place at some point during early growth.
  2. The main cause of dog hip dysplasia is looseness of the joint. As far as scientists know, hip dysplasia in dogs stems from a mixture of various genetic and environmental factors. Specific genes that cause the disease have not yet been identified, but certainly play a central role in lax joints. A bunch of external elements may influence joint security, including traumatic injury, excessive strain from weight, and extremely weak muscles.
  3. Improving joint stability is critical to prevention and recovery. Be it due to fragile ligaments, frail bones, or underdeveloped musculature, an unstable joint is the principal cause of dog hip dysplasia. A failure in any component of joint formation can potentially lead to a state of disease.
  4. Exercise can help and hurt. Research has verified that losing excess body weight can massively reduce the risk of deteriorating joint health or developing joint diseases. However, too much high intensity activity at an early age, especially over slippery surfaces, can dramatically increase the chance of joint injury (both seen and unseen).

Prevention is key. In basically all scenarios, treatment for hip dysplasia is best when started as early as possible. Despite the effectiveness of certain treatments, hip dysplasia in dogs does not have a permanent cure, which is why prevention is generally the best defense. Good nutrition as well as safe and healthy exercise are top ways to beat the odds when it comes to keeping dogs out of harm’s way.

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Vol. 2: Top Dog Breeds Prone to Hip Dysplasia

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