One of the most devastating diseases that a dog can develop is canine hip dysplasia. Unfortunately, the German Shorthaired Pointer is susceptible to developing this disease. It seems as if the condition is caused by more than one gene acting together and it may be triggered by some environmental factor or factors, such as exercise, rate of growth and level of nutrition; this means that although a dog may be genetically predisposed to develop hip dysplasia, the condition may not pop up unless the right environmental factors are in place.
To understand canine hip dysplasia, you need to first understand the structure of the hip joint, which is where the hind leg attaches to the body. This joint is a classic ball and socket joint, where the head of the femur, or thigh bone, is the ball that fits snugly into the acetabulum, an indentation in the pelvic basin, which is the socket part of the joint. The whole complex is stabilized by muscles and ligaments and thanks to the perfect fit between the two parts of the joint, rotation of the femoral head is free and movement is smooth. Canine hip dysplasia occurs when there is a malformation in either the structure of the acetabulum or the structure of the head of the femur, when the ligaments are loose, or when the muscles are in poor form; any of these conditions can lead to the arthritis and at times excruciating pain that often accompany the disease. Dysplasia can affect one or both hips and any combination of the above mentioned conditions may occur; for example, the femoral head may be normal, while the acetabulum is shallow or there may be a normal acetabulum but a deformed femoral head or both the acetabulum and the femoral head may be deformed.
More often than not, dogs with hip dysplasia are born with hips that are normal, but receive some kind of trigger to start the abnormal development of the structures surrounding the joint. The bones are not properly held together, with both the capsule surrounding the joint and the ligament holding the bones together stretching; the surfaces of the two bones no longer contact one another and a number of problems arise. There are cases of young puppies developing the disease; without treatment, walking will become impossible after a few years. In the overwhelming majority of cases, though, the disease starts to rear its ugly head when the dog is well into middle age. Dogs who start to develop the disease will most likely show a change in their gait and will often avoid fully extending and/or flexing their hind legs; a "bunny hop" running pattern is typical of dogs with this condition. Pain and/or stiffness in the hind legs will be common, especially after exercise or a long nap. The dog's pain increases and his ability to move decreases.