What is Hip Dysplasia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2018
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Hip dysplasia is a condition characterized by abnormalities of the hip joint which lead to an assortment of symptoms including inflammation, infection, and severe pain. The condition is particularly associated with dogs, although it has been observed in humans and in other animals as well. Hip dysplasia appears to be hereditary, and in animals it tends to strike large, overbred breeds such as Labradors. While it cannot be cured, a number of techniques can be used to treat the condition and improve the patient's quality of life.

In a normal hip joint, the femur has a rounded head which fits securely into the pelvic socket. The joint has a full range of motion, and it is able to bear stress like heavy weights and exercise. In a case of hip dysplasia, the head of the femur does not fit securely into the joint, and this looseness can cause wear and tear on the surrounding bone and muscle, as well as pain. Also, the head of the femur can be deformed or irregular, which contributes to the associated pain.


Generally, hip dysplasia manifests at a fairly young age. Common symptoms include lameness, stiffness, bunny hopping, or obvious pain and tenderness in the region of the hip joint. Hip dysplasia can be diagnosed with x-rays, which will reveal the malformed joint and the amount of damage to the area. In some cases, the hip joint may be manipulated so that a series of different joint positions can be studied for more clues to the patient's health.

Inflammation of the area due to tearing at the muscle, tendons, and bone around the joint is common. The hip may also try to repair itself by laying down fresh cartilage or bone, which can in turn tear or cause pain. Osteoarthritis is also commonly associated with hip dysplasia. Arthritis of the hip joints can be extremely painful and very unpleasant for the patient. Most treatments for hip dysplasia focus on minimizing the associated pain and inflammation with medications, diet control, and careful exercise.

There are also surgical options for the treatment of hip dysplasia. Hip replacements may be offered in severe cases; in the case of canine hip dysplasia, this surgery tends to be more readily available in urban areas with a high concentration of veterinary specialists. Less drastic surgeries attempt to reshape the head of the femur or to rotate the hip joint to relieve pain and stress. In small dogs and cats, a surgeon may remove the femoral head altogether, allowing the resulting scar tissue to compensate for the loss of the joint; however, this technique cannot be used on heavy animals.



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