How Do I Know If My Puppy Has Hip Dysplasia?

Adopting a puppy, while a wonderful time in any person’s life, does come with several risks. After all, humans don’t have a crystal ball to look into the future and see if our new puppy will live a long, healthy life.

Sadly, overbreeding dogs has gotten to the point where some breeds are well known to have a high incidence of health problems. Brachycephalic dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs, for example, are well-known to have trouble breathing and other health problems. These problems can cut a dog’s life short.

One well-known health problem suffered by several dog breeds is hip dysplasia. A hip deformity that occurs during a puppy’s growth phase, hip dysplasia, can cause a lot of pain and misery for a puppy or adult dog. 

I was thinking about this the other day as I watched one of my neighbors walk by with her dog. The poor thing was obviously suffering from hip dysplasia and moving quite slowly. It was a sad sight, to be sure, and got me thinking about today’s subject, how do I know if my puppy has hip dysplasia?

The answer is that if your puppy has severe hip dysplasia, you’ll probably see them limping and favoring the most affected limb. Difficulty getting up from a lying position is also a sign your puppy has hip dysplasia, plus an unwillingness to run or jump.

Some puppies will have a “wobbly gait,” which means they walk unsteadily. Other pups will have problems when trying to climb stairs and use “bunny hop” movements when walking to ease their pain.

You could start noticing your puppy has hip dysplasia as early as 4 months old, although most puppies that experience the problem will start showing signs around 9 months to a year. 

Some puppies may show very few, or no signs of having hip dysplasia, and many cases go undiagnosed for several years. Unfortunately, once a dog with hip dysplasia reaches middle age, you’ll start seeing the signs of this insidious joint problem.

Now that you know how to know if your puppy has hip dysplasia, I’m betting you have more questions about the condition and how it could affect your puppy or adult dog. 

For example, can hip dysplasia be cured in puppies, and which dog breeds have the highest incidence of hip dysplasia? If so, please keep reading. I have the answer to those questions and several others below. 

What is Hip Dysplasia?

The femur and pelvis form a dog’s hip. The femur, or thigh bone, has a ball-shaped part on one end. The pelvis or acetabulum has a socket made for that ball, and together they form a large ball and socket joint. (Two of them, actually.)

Both the ball and socket must grow at a uniform rate to form and then function correctly. When they do, the joint works perfectly, and the ball moves in the socket smoothly. If one grows too slow or too fast, the bones will rub and then grind against each other as the joint breaks down further year after year. 

Can Hip Dysplasia be Cured in Puppies?

Unfortunately, there is no current cure for hip dysplasia in dogs. That being said, veterinarians recommend several treatments for pain relief, especially in older dogs suffering extreme pain from their hip dysplasia.

Some treatments can slow down the damage and help maintain the cartilage between the femur head and pelvis. No matter what you do, however, a puppy with hip dysplasia will have it their entire life and suffer more as they age.

How Early Can Hip Dysplasia be Detected in Dogs?

Although rare, if a puppy is born with hip dysplasia, you could see signs as early as a few months old. It’s much more common to see signs of hip dysplasia in a dog between 1 and 2 years of age.

What you need to remember about hip dysplasia is that it’s a degenerative problem. The head of the femur and the pelvis socket will only start to show damage after years of movement and exercise. Walks in the park, running around in the yard, fetching balls, etc.

For that reason, it’s unusual to see signs of hip dysplasia in a very young puppy. Even a puppy predisposed to have severe hip dysplasia might not show signs of it until middle age. Their hip joint won’t have enough damage to cause them pain until then.

Can You Tell if an 8-week-old Puppy has Hip Dysplasia?

One thing to know about dogs is that all of them are born with normal, healthy hips. However, when they are only a few weeks old, the pelvic joints in puppies with hip dysplasia start to change, and not in a good way.

Detecting hip dysplasia in an 8-week-old puppy would still be difficult, however. At 8 weeks, most pups have done little, if any, running but instead rolling around with their siblings and mother on the floor.

Veterinarians say the earliest you will likely see signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia is 3 months, usually a laxity or a looseness in one or both of your puppy’s hips. 

Limping is one of the first signs most pet parents notice. Limping can go in cycles, disappearing for a while but returning. 

You might also see your puppy do a walking movement called a “bunny hop.” This funny little movement is when a puppy or dog hops around on their hind legs rather than put their full weight on their pelvis. (Their front legs move normally.)

Which Dog Breeds have the most Problems with Hip Dysplasia?

While hip dysplasia typically affects larger or giant breed dogs, the hip condition can occur in any size or breed of dog. Experts agree that no matter the breed or size of the dog, hip dysplasia is a painful condition that can significantly impact the quality of a dog’s life.

Although hip dysplasia can occur in any dog, certain breeds are more commonly affected by the problem than others. The list includes some of our favorite canines, including:

  • Bulldogs
  • Golden retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • Saint Bernards
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Mastiffs
  • German Shepherds
  • Pugs
  • Rottweilers
  • Newfoundland
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Boxer
  • French Bulldog

How to Slow Down Hip Dysplasia 

Although you might see a lot of information claiming to prevent hip dysplasia in dogs, the fact is that, once the dog is born, they will either get hip dysplasia or not. 

That takes “preventing” hip dysplasia out of the equation and turns the conversation to how to slow it down instead. How to ensure that, even if your puppy does have hip dysplasia, they still live a long, active life. Below are several methods you can use to do that, including:

  • Feed your puppy and adult dog a healthy, nutritious diet throughout their life. 
  • Supply copious amounts of water your puppy can easily obtain.
  • Provide plenty of exercise opportunities for your puppy and dog to ensure they maintain a healthy weight. Obese dogs put a lot more strain on their hip joints.
  • Let your dogs swim as often as possible. At the beach, the lake, a lagoon in your backyard, wherever. Swimming and playing fetch at the beach is a great way to strengthen the muscles in their back legs.
  • Supplement your dog’s diet with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to better maintain their bones.

Final Thoughts 

How do you know if your puppy has hip dysplasia? You will usually see them start limping first and favor the affected limb. Puppies with hip dysplasia will have problems getting up from a lying position and won’t be interested in running or jumping.

Some puppies with hip dysplasia will have a wobbly gate or use a bunny hop movement when walking to ease pressure on their pelvis and hip joints. However, it’s unusual to see symptoms of hip dysplasia in a young puppy. Most dogs with hip dysplasia start showing signs of the condition during middle age.

I hope today’s blog answered your questions about how to know if your puppy has hip dysplasia. If you have more or like to learn more about being a pet parent, please see my other blocks. They are filled with real-world information and advice to help you become a better pet parent and raise a happy, healthy dog.