Canine hip dysplasia is the most common developmental orthopedic disease in dogs, affecting millions of dogs worldwide. This condition can result in significant pain and decreased mobility for your pet. Our team at Groves Veterinary Clinic wants to provide information about this concerning disorder, and about a minimally invasive surgical procedure called juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS) that can prevent hip dysplasia from progressing.

How does hip dysplasia affect my dog?

The hip functions as a ball and socket joint. During your dog’s growth, a dysplastic hip joint is loose, and the femoral head does not fit properly inside the hip socket. This results in the femoral head moving continually, and the socket becomes deformed. As the condition progresses, the cartilage and bone deteriorate, the surrounding musculature atrophies, and arthritis develops. 

Canine hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition that most commonly affects large-breed dogs, such as German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers. Other factors, such as inappropriate exercise, improper nutrition, and rapid growth rate, can exacerbate this genetic predisposition. If left untreated, hip dysplasia signs include:

  • Hind-end lameness
  • Musculature loss over the thigh
  • Decreased mobility
  • “Bunny hopping” gait
  • Cracking, popping, or grating noises when joints move
  • Abnormal sitting positions
  • Difficulty jumping on or off furniture and climbing stairs

How is hip dysplasia diagnosed in dogs?

The best time to diagnose hip dysplasia is before your puppy is 18 weeks of age. At this growth stage, they are a candidate for a surgical procedure that can decrease or prevent hip dysplasia’s long-term effects. Your puppy should be evaluated when they receive their vaccines, to ensure the issue is addressed as promptly as possible. Diagnosis is typically made using two methods.

  • Ortolani sign — This palpation technique was developed in 1937 to assess newborn infants’ hips for dysplasia. The procedure is best performed on a sedated puppy, to ensure muscle relaxation. If the result is positive, your puppy will likely have hip arthritis by 1 year of age. However, false negatives can occur, and X-rays are also recommended for a definitive diagnosis.
  • PennHIP — This X-ray technique requires heavy sedation of the puppy, to ensure appropriate muscle relaxation. This method allows quantitative measurement of the puppy’s hip joint laxity when their hips are completely relaxed.

How is juvenile pubic symphysiodesis beneficial to puppies affected by hip dysplasia?

JPS is a preventive surgical procedure that can be performed on puppies 10 to 18 weeks of age diagnosed with canine hip dysplasia. The procedure involves using thermal necrosis to close a growth plate (i.e., pubic symphysis) at the bottom of the pelvis. As the puppy grows over the next four to six months, the pelvis and hip cup grow, and increasingly cover the femoral head. This results in increased joint stability, and decreases the puppy’s arthritis risk. 

Complications associated with JPS are extremely rare, and the benefits have been well documented. Puppies can typically go home the same day as the procedure, but their exercise must be limited to leash walks until their recheck examination. They will also need to eat measured amounts of a low protein diet, tailored to rapidly growing large-breed puppies, to manage their weight and excessive growth rates.

What if my dog is too old for juvenile pubic symphysiodesis?

Young puppies usually do not show signs indicating canine hip dysplasia. Therefore, unless your puppy is screened for the condition, you likely will not know they are affected until they are much older. Other treatment options include:

  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO or TPO) — This procedure is another option for young dogs, ideally less than 10 months of age, who are diagnosed with hip dysplasia, but no arthritic changes are seen on X-ray. The technique involves cutting the pelvic bone in two (DPO) to three (TPO) locations, and rotating the segments to improve femoral head coverage and decrease hip laxity.
  • Total hip replacement — This procedure involves replacing the ball and socket with metal and polyethylene implants. Dogs must be at least a year old to undergo this procedure. 
  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO) — FHO can be performed at any age, and involves removing the femur head, to reduce the pain caused by abnormal hip joint contact. Dogs who weigh less than 60 pounds tend to have a better outcome.
  • Medical management — This approach can be used for dogs who are not candidates for the surgical procedures. Medical management involves:
  • Healthy body weight — All dogs affected by hip dysplasia should be kept at the minimum body weight for their breed. This is the most effective and least expensive method to keep them as comfortable as possible.
  • Limited exercise — These dogs should not be exercised strenuously, and should be leash walked only at manageable distances.
  • Pain medications — Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can be used daily or intermittently to control pain. These dogs will need frequent blood tests to monitor their kidneys and liver.
  • Cartilage protective supplements — These products may help slow the arthritic progression.
  • Physical therapy — Certain exercises can help improve joint movement and increase muscle strength, resulting in increased comfort and mobility.

If your puppy is affected by hip dysplasia, the sooner they are diagnosed, the better their prognosis for a pain-free life. If you would like your puppy evaluated for hip dysplasia, do not hesitate to contact our team at Groves Veterinary Clinic, to schedule an appointment.