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Canine hip dysplasia is found in almost all breeds of dogs but is particularly prominent in some of the larger working breeds. The condition is very difficult to treat and only preventable through selecting males and females that are free from any signs of canine hip dysplasia and have be certified as free from the condition by a qualified veterinarian. Since the signs of canine hip dysplasia or CHD are very minor at first, unless tested and x-rayed it is possible for dogs to appear sound and healthy but still have the condition.
Canine hip dysplasia has been known to be a very serious problem in dogs for many, many years, with continual research on detection, prevention and management of the condition ongoing in most areas of the world. Since this condition is both debilitating and progressive, leading to other conditions such as arthritis and other bone and joint related problems breeders, researchers and animal health professionals have made this condition a priority for research and treatment development.
What is canine hip dysplasia?
Canine hip dysplasia is a genetic or hereditary condition that starts with a poorly or malformed hip joint in the hindquarters on one or both sides. As the hip is a ball and socket type joint the natural movement worsens the bone wear and damage and the hip becomes loose in the socket. This looseness in turn leads to cartilage damage that further allows the ball and socket components of the joint to wear irregularly and move away from being held close together to provide a natural range of motion for the dog.
With continual wear arthritis will also develop in the joint that can actually be more crippling than the initial canine hip dysplasia condition. Arthritis does not cause canine hip dysplasia but canine hip dysplasia typically leads to very severe cases of arthritis. The onset of both canine hip dysplasia and the associated arthritis may occur when the puppy is young if the malformation is extreme, but it may also take years to be noticed and problematic. This becomes particular important in breeding programs as if one or both dogs used in the breeding program has undetected canine hip dysplasia the genetic component can be passed on to several litters before the symptoms are actually observed in the breeding pair.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of canine hip dysplasia are often mistaken for many other conditions in puppies and dogs, especially at the very early stages of the degeneration of the hip joint. Typically most dogs or puppies will start out with mild symptoms such as a stiffness in the hind legs, particularly when first moving about after sleeping or staying still, a reluctance to sit or stand up, painful movement and decreased range of motion in stride on the hind quarters and decreased energy and desire to play or move about.
As the condition progresses the dogs will show an unwillingness to go up stairs or jump up simply because this puts additional pressure on the hip joints causing pain. Some dogs will develop a very rolling or swaggering gait on the hindquarters to try to keep the hips as immobile as possible. The dogs may snap or whine when they are petted or touched on the hips. Some dogs may also develop a strange hopping gait at faster speeds to keep the two back legs moving together, thus supporting the damaged hip from carrying any weight on its own.
Often owners mistakenly believe that puppies are just experiencing normal growth pains and muscle stiffness from becoming more active. In this assumption they provide more exercise to the puppy or young dog, which does not reduce the problem but in fact makes the canine hip dysplasia progress much more quickly.
How is it treated?
The only way to test for canine hip dysplasia is for the vet to complete a series of x-rays of the hip as outlined and prescribed by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). There are also some other tests that can be used such as the PennHIP radiography technique but this is only typically used on puppies that are less than four months old.
There are some treatments available for canine hip dysplasia with the earliest possible detection providing owners with the best outcome and the most options for treatment. In younger dogs or dogs that are diagnosed with canine hip dysplasia before arthritis occurs the treatments are very successful however they are expensive. The two most common treatments for a dog are either a partial hip replacement or reconstruction or a surgical manipulation of the existing hip to realign the hip ball and socket joint. These two procedures will also require physical therapy, pain control medications and treatments as well as structured exercise for the dog during recovery.
In some cases where the looseness or malformation is very slight, surgery may not be required, instead a purely therapeutic approach may work. These approaches typically involve weight management and control, structured exercise and physical therapy, drug therapies and pain management as well as education of the owner as to assisting the dog.
In cases where the hip has already become arthritic the only option is a complete hip replacement, which is usually only done on larger dogs due to complications that can occur. Since this can be a very risky type of surgery it is typically only completed by an orthopedic specialists that has extensive experience in dog hip replacement. Pain and weight management is also very important in dogs with arthritis to help to minimize the effects of the condition on the quality of life for the dog.
Most vets recommend that breeds that are of high risk for canine hip dysplasia start having their hips x-rayed at six months and have a PennHIP radiography technique completed while they are puppies under four months. If the parents are both OFA certified the risk is much less. The breeds that tend to be at the highest risk for canine hip dysplasia include Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, retriever breeds, spaniel breeds, mastiff breeds and Newfoundlands.
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