Treatment Options For Canine Hip Dysplasia

Helping Your Dog Through The Challenges Of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a genetic trait that is all too common, especially in certain larger breeds. Unfortunately, it doesn’t raise it’s head until your pup is older.

It arises from a malformed hip socket that does not connect properly causing the ball of the femur to fit loosely.  This causes abnormal wear on the head of the femur, triggering the body to constantly lay down new cartilage.

However, it doesn’t take long before the body has a hard time keeping up with this constant damage. The joint and cartilage continue to be inflamed and weak, triggering an even greater immune response. Hip Dysplasia commonly degrades to the point of  arthritis.


X-rays and hip scoring tests are used to diagnose hip dysplasia. The X-rays give an excellent view as to how the femur interfaces with the hip and can  be quite conclusive in leading to a diagnosis. However, one dog may have extremely conclusive results, but suffer from almost no pain. Whereas another pooch may not have results that are as clear, but suffers from constant pain.

The hip scoring tests help collect more information on how symptomatic the disease is.

Dogs are often scored for hip dysplasia before being sold as puppies. However, depending on the age of the pup, it can be very difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. Furthermore, there are different classifications in the scoring system. So while one puppy may be scored as “fair”, they could actually have more dysplastic tendencies then a puppy who is scored as “excellent”.

And, even though it is an inherited disease, a pup who comes from two hip certified parents can still have the disease. It is more rare, but it can still happen.

Is Not Eating A Symptom? Any significant change in your pet’s appetite is absolutely cause for concern.  However, it may not be a direct symptom of dysplasia unless they are in unspeakable pain.  Ideally, you will see other symptoms first, such as being slow to get up, not wanting to play, limping and having difficulty getting in and out of cars or navigating stairs long before the pain increases to where your pooch won’t eat. It is likely that there is something else going that is affecting the appetite.

Surgical Options For Hip Dysplasia

There are several surgical options available for hip dysplasia. They all deliver mixed results, and you want to speak with your vet to determine which one might be the most beneficial for your dog.

Keep in mind, however, that an older dog may not respond well to surgery, and it may not be an option for a dog whose hip dysplasia has progressed significantly to the point of severe arthritis.

  • Femoral Head Osteotomy (FHO): This surgery is one of the simpler procedures and is typically used for small dogs (under 50 lbs).For this operation, the head of the femur is removed and a fake hip is made out of connective tissue. By removing the bone and replacing with connective tissues, the veterinarian is able to remove the source of the pain. Recovery can be a little longer and it can take a year before the dog is able to fully function following this surgery.
  • Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO): This is another option for preventing arthritis in dogs with hip dysplasia. It offers fast recovery time (3 months), but can only be used for dogs under 1 year of age. For this surgery the pelvis is cut in three places and rotated to properly engage with the femur.
  • Hip Replacement: Just as with humans, the head of the femur is removed and replaced with a smooth ball that fits properly and does not grind against the bone (a new socket is typically installed as well). These replacements can work for dogs of any sizes and have a high success rate, but may require you to travel to find a doctor who is skilled in this procedure. It also tends to have a much higher cost.
  • Darthroplasty: This is a newer treatment that is less invasive than the others. It sometimes is used as a first attempt, and the the more invasive surgeries can be done if this one does not deliver the desired effects. On dogs with shallow hip joins with little to no rim, this procedure is done to form a rim for the femur to work with.

Costs: According to our friends at Embrace Insurance, hip dysplasia surgery can range from $1,200 to $4,700. That’s a lot of coin. But, if it provides your dog with relief, it is more than worth it.

Laser Therapy

In 2005 Class IV lasers were cleared for use by the FDA.  These lasers can treat inflamed areas and promote healing. Supposedly, dogs have been able to go from  “unable to walk” to “running like puppies” after this treatment.

This treatment normally is done in successive times, each time delivering a little more relief. The sessions often only cost $60 each, and are not offered in most cities. Just google for “laser therapy veterinarian your cityname” and you should find a vet who offers this. Additionally, you can sometimes contact the manufacturers of veterinarian lasers and see if they have a database of service providers in your area.

Compared to the cost and invasiveness of surgery, laser might be an excellent first option for providing your pet relief.

Home Treatment Options

Your dog has dysplasia. Now what?

If the case is mild enough, there might be some things you can do at home to help make them more comfortable and reverse some fo the pain they are experiencing.


There aren’t many braces on the market.  The braces go around the rear haunches and the back to help take some pressure off the ligaments and the hip.  However, it only is recommended for mild dysplasia.

Bracing might be excellent for an active dog to decrease the damage they can do to themselves while playing. However, it seems to offer very limited recovery since the underlying condition remains.


Glucosamine is often given to dogs with hip dysplasia to help them maintain optimal cartilage health. Like we discussed earlier, this condition is “murder” on the cartilage, and anything you can do to support that is great.

Glucosamine is an essential component to cartilage growth and by supplementing their diet with it, you can give your pet every opportunity at avoiding arthritis.

We’ve had dogs in our family who were able to go entirely off of their pain meds for arthritis after several months of glucosamine supplementation.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care would fall into the same category as the other remedies here; it won’t fix the problem, but it can make it better.

Most importantly, regular chiropractic care can help keep other areas of the body loose and moving freely. It is not uncommon for a pet to develop problems in their front shoulder as they try to compensate for the pain in their hips. Chiropractors can help keep the other areas of the body — like the front shoulder — fully functional and pain-free, reducing the need for additional surgeries or pain medications.


Canine hydrotherapy — or swimming — is gaining more momentum. This allows the pup to stay active without jeopardizing himself and causing further injury.

The beauty of hydrotherapy is that it can deliver muscle growth and strengthen the weak hip flexors. For some pups, this can actually cure their dysplasia to a point where it no longer needs surgery.

Typically hydrotherapy is combined with tight leash controls, so that your pooch does not run and hurt themselves at the dog park, undoing the benefits of the therapy session.

Hip Dysplasia is often a self-perpetuating disease: the dog doesn’t feel like moving, and so they don’t move, causing the muscles to become weaker (or, conversely, they play too hard, injuring themselves). This swim therapy helps to protect them from damage while simultaneously building their strength.

Tramadol For Pain Control

Sometimes when no other options are available, or the condition has worsened to the point that arthritis is the main concern, your vet may prescribe pain relief. There are two major types of pain relief: NSAIDS and mu-opioid agonists. The NSAIDS are things like acetominophen which can help reduce the swelling. A Mu-opioid agonist would be something like Tramadol which increases the level of serotonin in the brain to help your pooch feel better.

Pain medications can have severely detrimental effects to your pet if the wrong one is give. Always check with your vet to make sure that you are giving them the right medications and in the correct dosage.


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