Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs is a congenital disease that, in its more severe form, can eventually cause lameness and painful arthritis of the joints. It is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It can be found in many animals, but is most common in many dog breeds, particularly the larger breeds. In dogs, the problem almost always appears by the time the dog is 18 months old. The defect can be anywhere from mild to severely crippling. It can cause severe osteoarthritis eventually.
The hip is a ball and socket joint, in a normal hip the ball fits snugly into the socket, forming a pivot point. Dogs which have a genetic predisposition for hip dysplasia are born with normal hips. However, as the dog grows, the structure of the hip joint becomes badly formed, and the ball no longer fits snugly into the socket and therefore does not rotate smoothly causing pain.
Dogs might exhibit signs of pain, lameness, reluctance to exercise, and wasting away of the muscle mass in the hip area. Most dogs do not show symptoms–and x-rays do not reveal the presence–of hip dysplasia until at least a year of age, although some dogs manifest the problem early and others do not show it until as old as two years.
In dogs, there is considerable evidence that genetics plays a large role in the development of this defect. There might be several contributing genetic factors, including a femur that does not fit correctly into the pelvic socket, or poorly developed muscles in the pelvic area.
The classic diagnostic technique is with appropriate X-Rays and hip scoring tests. These should be done at an appropriate age, and perhaps repeated at adulthood – if done too young they will not show anything. Since the condition is to a large degree inherited, the hip scores of parents should be professionally checked before buying a pup, and the hip scores of dogs should be checked before relying upon them for breeding.
Overfeeding puppies and young dogs, particularly in the large/giant breeds, might aggravate the problem or bring it on earlier, because pups tend to be more active, less aware of their physical limitations, and have immature bones and supporting structures carrying their weight. Dogs from breeds which are known to be prone to dysplasia, can be kept slightly leaner than normal until around 2 years old, by which time the bones are full strength and the animal can be easily brought up to its normal adult weight.
Exercise is the other main contribution. Many people over-exercise young puppies, or give them the wrong type of exercise. The wrong type of exercise can include forced running for any distance and too much exercise on tarmac or other hard surfaces. Up to at least six months of age, exercise on hard surfaces should be kept at a minimum. Correct exercise for puppies includes running and playing in the garden or in a park, although games that involve jumping and very rough play should be avoided, and the puppy should be allowed to rest as soon as he has had enough and must not “over-do” it. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise which builds up the muscles without putting stress on the joints.
The treatment depends a lot upon the severity of the hip dysplasia and the age of the dog concerned, and veterinary treatment must be sought.
Any dog with hip dysplasia should be kept fit and trim as any excess weight will obviously aggravate the condition, but good muscle tone will help to support the dog’s weight. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise which builds up the muscle without stress to the joints.
Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and carprofen, can often help manage pain. Research has shown that Vitamin C can also reduce the inflammation in the affected joints. Some people have also reported success with holistic medicines.
Surgery. Depending on the extent of the problem, surgical alternatives include excision arthroplasty, in which the head of the femur is removed and reshaped or replaced; pelvic rotation, in which the hip socket is realigned. Hip replacement is also possible, it is expensive but (since it completely replaces the faulty joint) has the highest percentage of success, usually restores complete mobility, and also completely prevents recurrence.
Since a less mobile joint may lose muscle mass and quality as a dog ages, and hip dysplasia may also indirectly cause spinal injury (due to the extra strain on the back), if a hip replacement is to be done, there is advantage in doing it whilst the dog is at an age that new muscle can be laid down by the body afterwards, rather than in old age when damage may have been done.
Responsible breeders who track the incidence of hip dysplasia have been able to reduce the incidence in some breeds but not to eliminate it altogether.
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