Hip Dysplasia In Dogs

› Hip Dysplasia In Dogs

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Would you know if your Sheltie had hip dysplasia? What would you look for and how would you treat it?

As frequently as the phrase is bantered about, there are still a lot of people that don’t have a comprehensive grasp of what it is, how dogs get it and what to do about it. So let’s explore this topic further….

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Causes of Hip Dysplasia In Dogs

The first, probable cause is genetics. It has been the thorn in the sides of breeders for decades now. Because there never seemed a simple inheritable pattern from parents to pups, it was felt to be polygenetic in nature.

This means not one but several genes may play a role in whether a dog develops dysplasia.

So trying to do selective breeding around multiple genes acting independently was about as easy as nailing jello to a wall.

Just the other day (May, 2014) I found an article stating a breakthrough has been made in the search for the genetic basis for hip dysplasia in dogs. A specific gene has been found in the German Shepherd Dog. YAAA HOO!

So finally there may be some objective means to determine which dogs to breed. It will take time to isolate the gene in other breeds but at least there is some progress. Who knows if it will turn out to be polygenetic or not.

How Genes Affect Whether There Is Hip Dysplasia In Dogs

We think that the genes cause the hip to develop in a less than functional manner.


For example, a hip that has greater laxity (stretching ability) means that the ball and joint don’t sit snugly together.

For a visual example, make a fist with one of your hands and cover that fist with your other. That is what the hip looks like. Now imagine if you could pull the covering hand off the fist by an inch or two.

That would give the two pieces the chance to bounce around and wear away bone in the wrong places whenever the joint moved.

Wearing down bone causes pain and bone spurs and eventually  hip dysplasia in dogs.

Depth Of The Socket

Another issue is how deep does the ball of the femur (the “fist” of the hip bone) sit in the socket (the hand that covers the fist). Even if it is a snug fit, a shallow socket can let the ball of the joint slosh around easier, and again wear away the socket in places it shouldn’t like the edges.

This allows more and more movement in the wrong directions and again total wearing away of the joint.

A shallow hip joint can cause hip dysplasia in dogs as early as 4 to 6 months of age!!


How a dog ages is another possibly hereditary factor. Osteoarthritis, usually develops as a dog ages. How much depends on his genes, we think… we think….

How long the body can maintain the cartilage on the ends of bones is thought to be genetic.

Cartilage is that white, very smooth, relatively hard substance at the end of every joint that allows it to move with very little friction.

Next time you go to prepare a chicken for dinner, as you cut it in pieces look at the exposed end of the joint and maybe you will see what I mean.

In the aging process, the cartilage loses protein and gains water making it softer and easier to wear away. Once the cartilage is gone, the bones rub against each other every time the joint is moved. This causes the bone to wear away, again causing pain and bone spurs.

So look at your pup’s parents’ history to get an idea of how your Sheltie will develop. Do either of the parents or his siblings have hip dysplasia, or arthritis?

Environmental Influences

In addition to the genetics, there is a big nature vs nurture aspect to this illness of hip dysplasia in dogs. A gene may be present but the right circumstances allow it to be expressed in that individual dog.


Sigh, I know no one is going to want to hear this but being overweight, yes, obesity can be a biggie. More pressure on a joint and it will fail faster and easier than if less stress is placed on it.

It is a simple matter of mechanics.

Onset of Sports / Pattern of Exercise

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this website about the type and extent of exercise for your Sheltie pups when they are young. Puppies should be allowed to run and play freely and puppies do jump for joy frequently. That’s not a problem.

What is a problem?

Taking your puppy jogging long distances before they are mature and growth plates in the legs have closed (finished growing) at around 18 months to two years of age in Shelties. Endurance training in general should wait ‘til then.

Agility training the jumps. Repetitive jumping at a young age can cause damage to the joints. I would think even weave poles with the rapid zigzagging could do a job on some joints. Let him learn other stuff first like the dog walk, the A frame, hoops, etc.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

Most dogs, including Shelties can be pretty stoic when it comes to pain. They don’t whine or complain. Dogs just stop doing something when it hurts too bad to move.

At some point however, you may notice:

  • Lameness, or inability to bear weight on a back leg
  • Decreased range of motion in the back leg
  • Loss of muscle tissue in the affected leg. In other words, one leg looks skinnier that the other as it wastes away.

Understand that by time you see these things, your Sheltie is probably pretty far along.

How do you know for sure? Sorry guys, sometimes we need a professional to diagnose some things like hip dysplasia in dogs. The symptoms listed above could be due to other problems, such as cruciate ligament tears for example. So you need to go to your vet.

And unless you have X-Ray eyes, you need X-Rays taken at the vet’s. No one said owning a dog is cheap.


X-ray. Simple.


Things YOU Have Control Over

  • Weight loss in obese dogs. Please don’t say, “But I don’t feed him that much.” Because he only eats what you give him. He doesn’t take the keys and drive out to McDonald’s by himself. Whatever you are feeding him is either too much or the wrong kind. Stop making excuses and do something about it.
  • Dogs that are free fed (i.e., you put a bowl of food out and leave it      down all day for him to pick at) tend to be more overweight than dogs who have access to food only limited amounts of time during the day. Give him 20 minutes to eat then pick it up until the next regularly schedule meal time
  • Over the counter anti-inflammatory herbal supplements
  • Moderate exercise

Things Your Vet Can Do

  • Diagnosis with an X-ray
  • Prescription pain meds
  • Prescription meds to reduce inflammation
  • Surgery

Types Of Surgery Include:

  • Triple pelvic osteotomy and femoral osteotomy on puppies without degenerative joint changes gets the head of the femur in the socket deeper.
  • Pectineus myectomy, muscle is removed to relieve pain for a while. 
  • Femoral head/ neck excision relieves pain in small dogs.
  • Total hip replacement similar to human surgery is very effective.

Preventative Measures

  • Buy a dog from good, healthy parents. Hip dysplasia in dogs is almost certainly genetically based
  • Maintain a calorie controlled diet
  • Make sure there are appropriate amounts of minerals in the food to prevent rapid growth
  • Appropriate, moderate activity until puppy is mature
  • Chondroitin and Glucosamine supplement

Frequency of Hip Dysplasia in Shelties

Frequency varies based on the breed. What are the chances your Sheltie has Hip Dysplasia?

We have good news and we have bad news. The good news is that out of 172 breeds listed, the Shetland Sheepdog is low on the list at 148.

The percentage of hip dysplasia in dogs tested was only about 3 - 5% for Shelties.

The bad news is that since the 1970s the number of dogs with EXCELLENT hips hasn't improved all that much. 

We can do better. We should do better. You can read about the tests done to assess hip dysplasia in breeding dogs here.

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