By Dr. Becker
Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a condition of the hip joint in which there is laxity (looseness) of the joint.
This laxity leads to degeneration of articular cartilage (the smooth white tissue that covers the ends of bones in joints), which in turn leads to the development of osteoarthritis (OA).
CHD has increased over the last 50 years and it is currently estimated between three and four percent of dogs have the condition.
Certain breeds are more prone to CHD than others and include:
- Saint Bernard
- Old English Sheepdog
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Alaskan Malamute
- Labrador Retriever
Mechanics of Canine Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a situation in which the ball and socket hip joint is misshapen, causing separation of the two bones. In most cases of CHD, the socket is not deep enough to fully seat the ball (the round head of the femur).
This abnormal joint construction is coupled with weak muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. So instead of gliding smoothly, the joint scrapes and grinds during movement.
Often the body will try to stabilize the poorly constructed joint by building hard, bony material in and around it. This usually creates an even more unnatural fit over time.
The wear and tear on the joint eventually develops into degenerative joint disease which is painful for the dog and restricts his ability to move normally.
Since the hip is the biggest weight-bearing joint in a dog's body, it's easy to imagine how painful and debilitating it can be for the large and giant breed dogs who commonly suffer from it.
Small and medium-size dogs and cats can also develop hip dysplasia, but it's much more common in larger canines.
Canine Hip Dysplasia is an Inherited Disease
CHD is polygenetic, meaning it is inherited and there are multiple genes involved.
Dogs without the genes for hip dysplasia will not develop it.
Dogs with the genes may acquire the disease, or they may not. There is currently no test which identifies CHD genes.
A dog with excellent OFA and PennHIP scores can carry the genes for the disease, never develop CHD, and still go on to produce generations of offspring with the problem.
Historically, only dogs with x-ray evidence of OA were prevented from breeding. However, studies show that if dogs with hip joint laxity and dogs with established OA are prevented from breeding, there is a greater decrease in the incidence of CHD.
Markers for CHD
Any of the following conditions may predispose a dog to hip dysplasia:
- A body that is longer than it is tall
- High BMI (body-to-mass) ratio
- Spayed or neutered
- Dogs less than one year old diagnosed with hip joint damage and microfractures of the hip socket
- Young to middle-aged dogs with pain and lameness linked to osteoarthritis
Whether or not a dog develops osteoarthritis, and the severity of it, depends on both nature (a genetic component) and nurture (environment and nutrition).
The Role of Environment and Nutrition
There are things you can do as a pet owner to help prevent or reduce the severity of hip dysplasia in your dog.
If you're planning to get a large or giant breed puppy, find breeders who PennHIP certify their dogs. OFA certification is still the established standard, but PennHIP is a much better indication of hip health.
The number of calories your dog consumes, especially from three to ten months of age, has been shown to have a significant impact on whether a puppy with CHD genes will go on to develop the disease.
High calorie, high carb diets can cause frame growth that is too fast for the cartilage in the body to keep up with, especially in large breed dogs.
A portion-controlled, balanced, species-appropriate diet will provide your pet with the right nutrition in the right amounts throughout his life.
In a 1997 study of Labrador Retriever puppies, the dogs fed 'free choice' had a much higher rate of hip dysplasia than their littermates who were fed the same food, but in controlled portions that amounted to 25 percent less than the free fed pups.
The free-fed dogs were also quite a bit heavier as adults than the controlled portions group -- by about 22 pounds on average.
Obesity can increase the severity of dysplasia. Extra weight can accelerate the degeneration of joints. Dogs born with genes that make them prone to hip dysplasia, if allowed to grow overweight, will be at much higher risk of developing the disease, and subsequently, arthritis as well.
Focus the exercise your dog gets on activities like running and swimming. The goal is to help your pet maintain good muscle mass, which can decrease the incidence and severity of CHD.
Avoid activities that require your pet to jump or suddenly change direction or stop. Don't allow your dog to exercise or spend significant time on slippery surfaces.
Help for Dogs with Canine Hip Dysplasia
Surgery to repair early hip laxity or to replace all or part of a hip is an option for some dogs and their owners. Not every dog is a good candidate for surgery, and not every dog parent can afford it, nor is it always the best option.
Conventional medical management involves the use of NSAIDs, buffered aspirin and corticosteroids, all of which have side effects.
If your pet is on medication for pain and inflammation, I recommend you work with a holistic vet to determine what alternative treatments might also be of benefit. Often an integrative approach can reduce or replace the need for potentially toxic drugs.
The most important aspect of managing CHD is building and maintaining excellent muscle, tendon and ligament health.
Physical therapies like chiropractic, massage, stretching, laser treatment, acupuncture, and aquatic therapy are extremely beneficial. So is a naturally anti-inflammatory diet.
And talk to your holistic vet about supplements that can provide the raw materials for cartilage repair and maintenance. These would include glucosamine sulfate with MSM, eggshell membrane, Perna mussel (green lipped clam) and also:
- Homeopathic remedies, including Rhus Tox, Arnica and Bryonia
- Ubiquinol and other antioxidants
- Super green foods (spirulina and astaxanthin)
- Natural anti-inflammatory formulas (herbs, proteolytic enzymes and nutraceuticals)
- Adequan injections