Hip dysplasia can cause lameness and osteoarthritis, predominantly in large dog breeds — the word ‘dysplasia’ means abnormal growth. A normal hip joint consists of a ball (the head of the femur, or thigh bone) and its socket (on the pelvis). The ball fits smoothly inside its socket and the movement of the joint is smooth. Dogs with hip dysplasia have a flattened socket and the ball doesn’t fit correctly, so it moves around, causing pain and, over time, degeneration in the joint.
There are two groups of dogs that can be affected by hip dysplasia. The first group are dogs that start to show signs of discomfort while they are quite young. Typically, these dogs are no more than 18 months old. The other group are elderly pets. These dogs have poor hip conformation but this hasn’t caused them any discomfort throughout most of their life. They start to show symptoms after many years of walking on their malformed hips because osteoarthritis has developed.
Dogs with hip dysplasia rarely cry out in pain. They’re more likely to be reluctant to walk far and have difficulty getting up or lying down. If you watch them from behind, their hips often have a swivel as they walk. Typically,
Hip dysplasia is a multifactorial disease, in that there are a number of causes that contribute to its occurrence. Genetics are important, but nutrition has also been shown to play a major role in the development of the disease. Nevertheless, if you share your life with a breed that is at risk of hip dysplasia, there are many things you can do to reduce its effect on your canine companion.
The role of nutrition in the development and worsening of hip dysplasia
When it comes to managing hip dysplasia, there’s not much you can do about your dog’s genetic make-up after they’re born. However, you have total control over what they eat, and this is how you can have a positive effect on their hips.
It’s commonly known that overfeeding while a puppy is growing can increase the risk of hip dysplasia, particularly in large breeds. As a result, pups should not be fed ad lib; they should not have access to a constantly refilled food bowl. Instead, they should be fed a good quality puppy food and the amount they’re given should be carefully measured so they don’t grow too quickly. There are specific puppy food formulas to feed giant breed puppies.
As your dog grows into adulthood and beyond, they should be kept lean. Body condition score is a ranking that can be used to evaluate whether a dog is overweight. It ranges from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (morbidly obese). Dogs should be kept at a body condition score of 4, with their ribs easily felt over their chest, and an obvious tummy tuck. By restricting your pet’s food intake, you can delay the onset, and even reduce the severity of hip osteoarthritis1.
What about if your pooch already weighs a little more than they should? At this stage, they should be put on a diet to help them lose weight, and there are a number of prescription diets that can help with this. Research suggests that losing approximately 10% of their bodyweight will have a positive effect on their mobility and comfort level, for instance2.
Nutritional supplements that support hip health
While a good quality, balanced diet, and weight control are essential in keeping your dog’s hips healthy, it has also been shown that omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, help to reduce inflammation and pain. Studies suggest that dogs fed increased omega-3 fatty acids were more comfortable and showed fewer signs of pain, compared to dogs given a standard diet. In one study, over 80% of treated dogs showed increased weight bearing on painful joints3.
Some dogs don’t readily take supplements in capsule form, such as those containing fish oil. Liquid fish oil is an option, but one way that pet owners can easily incorporate extra omega-3 fatty acids into their dog’s diet is to feed a prescription joint food. These are commercial diets that include additional fatty acids to support a dog’s joints and alleviate pain4.
Hip dysplasia can be a debilitating condition for dogs, but a proactive owner can take steps to prevent and manage it. In puppies, feeding an appropriate food, in suitable amounts, will reduce the risk of them developing hip abnormalities. For adult dogs, the key to treating hip osteoarthritis is weight control, and feeding additional omega-3 fatty acids can also have a very positive effect on their wellbeing.
1Smith, G., Paster, E., Powers, M., Lawler, D., Biery, D., Shofer, F., McKelvie, P., Kealy, R., 2006, ‘Lifelong diet restriction and radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis of the hip joint in dogs’, J Am Vet Med Assoc., vol. 229, no 5, pp 690-693. 2Marshall, W., Hazewinkel, H., Mullen, D., De Meyer, G., Baert, K., Carmichael, S., 2010, ‘The effect of weight loss on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis’, Vet Res Commun., vol. 34, no. 3, pp 241-253. 3Millis, D., 2013, ‘Getting Back Mobility: A New Therapeutic Approach to Managing Joint Conditions’, Proceedings of the Western Veterinary Conference 2013. 4Roush, J., Cross, A., Renberg, W., Dodd, C., Sixby, K., Fritsch, D., Allen, T., Jewell, D., Richardson, D., Leventhal, P., Hahn, K., 2010, ‘Evaluation of the effects of dietary supplementation with fish oil omega-3 fatty acids on weight bearing in dogs with osteoarthritis’, J Am Vet Med Assoc., vol. 236, no. 1, pp 67-73.
Dr Audrey Harvey is a graduate of the University of Queensland, Australia, and has worked in small animal practices for 25 years. She is particularly interested in obesity management and the role of exercise in resolving behaviour problems in dogs.