Hip dysplasia is a condition that can affect dogs of all shapes and sizes, but it is especially common in larger breeds. The ball (the head of the femur) and socket (acetabulum ) in a dog’s pelvis must grow at about equal rates during growth.

The condition occurs when the hip joint does not develop properly, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms including pain, lameness, and decreased mobility. In severe cases, hip dysplasia can even cause arthritis.

X-Ray of Canine Hips, Pelvis and Tail

Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that can affect any breed of dog, but is more common in certain gundog breeds. The larger gundog breeds that may suffer from hip dysplasia are breeds like Newfoundland, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. Springer and Cocker Spaniels are two of the smaller common breeds that can also suffer from hip dysplasia but it is far less prevalent. Please note – any dog can be affected by hip dysplasia, regardless of breed.

X-Ray showing Canine Bilateral Hip Dysplasia


Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the femur does not fit snugly into the socket of the pelvis. This can cause pain and lameness, and will eventually lead to arthritis.

There is no cure for hip dysplasia, but it can be managed with weight control, exercise and medication. If you think your dog may be affected by hip dysplasia, please consult your veterinarian.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some breeds are more susceptible to the condition than others due to their anatomy or genetics. For example, large-breed dogs are more likely to develop hip dysplasia because of their rapid growth rates. Additionally, puppies who are fed a high-calorie diet are also at an increased risk for developing hip dysplasia. The condition usually affects both hips, but can be unilateral (i.e. affecting one hip only).

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia

The symptoms of hip dysplasia can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some dogs may only experience mild discomfort while others may be severely lame.

Common symptoms include:
  •  Pain in the hips or hind legs
  • Lameness in the hind legs
  • Difficulty rising from a lying position
  • Decreased activity level
  • Stiffness after exercise
  • Muscle wasting in the hind legs

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. They will be able to perform a physical examination and order any necessary diagnostic tests to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of hip dysplasia.

Diagnosing Hip Dysplasia

There are several different tests that can be used to diagnose hip dysplasia. The most common is the Ortolani test, which is performed by manipulating the hips while the dog is under anaesthesia. This test is usually combined with X-rays to get a clear picture of the hips and joints. Other diagnostic tests that may be used include CT scans or MRIs.

Treatment Options for Hip Dysplasia

The treatment for hip dysplasia will vary depending on the severity of the condition. For example, mild cases may only require weight management and exercise modification while more severe cases may require surgery. Common treatment options include:

  • Weight and dietary management
  • Exercise modification/restrictions
  • Physical therapy
  • Joint supplements such as Chondroitin and Glucosamine 
  • Injectable Agents
  • Surgery
  • Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)

If your dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, your veterinarian will work with you to create a treatment plan that is right for your pet.

Hip Scoring A Dog

Hip scoring is a helpful tool that assigns a numerical value to a dog’s hip joints, with lower numbers indicating healthier hips. This information can be helpful when choosing a breed as some breeds are more prone to hip dysplasia than others. However, it’s important to remember that hip scoring is not a perfect science and other factors such as nutrition, exercise, weight, and environment also play a role in a dog’s overall health.

The good news is that hip scoring is a relatively simple and quick procedure. A veterinarian will take X-rays of the dog’s hips and then send them away to be scored based on specific criteria.

Once your dog has been scored, a completed certificate detailing the hip scores will be sent back to your vet and then passed on to you. The results of the hip score can help you and your veterinarian make decisions about the best course of action for your dog, whether that’s diet changes, supplements, or even surgery.

The hip score is made up of the total number of points given for different features in the hip joint, it is representative of the severity of the condition. The lower the score the better. The minimum score for each hip is 0 and the maximum is 53, giving a range for the total score of 0 to 106. This total score should be compared to the Kennel Club in your country’s breed median.

Each breed has a breed median to compare against, and when buying a gundog puppy it is worth asking the breeder for the hip scores of the parents.


Hip dysplasia is a common condition that can affect dogs of all shapes and sizes. However, there are ways to manage the condition and help your dog live a comfortable life. If you think your dog may be showing signs of hip dysplasia, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment options.


•Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that can affect any breed of dog but is more common in certain pedigree breeds.

• Symptoms of hip dysplasia include stiffness, trouble rising to a stand, hesitation when offered exercise or the opportunity to climb stairs, reluctance to jump, and a limp or bunny-hop motion.

• The severity of the condition varies between individual dogs and can be managed for some with painkillers and reduced exercise, but in others may require surgery. Sadly, in extreme cases euthanasia may be the only option.

• Most severely affected are larger/heavier breeds like Labradors, but Springer and Cocker Spaniels can suffer from it too.

• There is a test that breeders can do find out whether their dog carries the tendency for this crippling problem before breeding from them.

Further Resources

British Vet Association Hip Dysplasia Download

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