Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is a common condition of large breed dogs. The larger the dog, the more likely the development of this problem becomes, particularly as the dog ages. The typical sign of Hip Dysplasia is limping and bunny hopping. The condition can range from mild to severe.

The term dysplasia means abnormal growth, thus hip dysplasia means abnormal growth of the hips. Hip dysplasia occurs during a puppy’s growing phase and refers to a poor fit of the “ball and socket”. When a dog has hip dysplasia, the ball and socket do not fit smoothly. The socket is flattened and the ball is not held tightly in place, thus allowing for some slipping. This makes for an unstable joint and the body’s attempts to stabilize the joint only end up yielding arthritis.

Hip Dysplasia is a relatively common disorder. The highest incidence occurs in larger, rapidly growing dogs. Many people have misconceptions about dysplasia, considering it to be a form of arthritis affecting the hip joints. It is true that you can see severe arthritis in dogs with this condition but this is the secondary result of dysplasia, not the primary problem. Once you understand the disease you can easily understand its treatment.

To better understand the condition, it’s important to look first at the hip joint of the dog, the pictures below show both a normal and an abnormal hip. It forms the attachment of the hind leg to the body with a “ball and socket” joint.


Hip Dysplasia is a disease that affects development of the hip joint in a young dog. It may or may not be bilateral (affecting both the right and left hip joints) It is brought about by a laxity of the muscles, connective tissue, and ligaments that should support the joint. Even dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips but the soft tissues that surround the joint start to develop abnormally as the puppy grows. The most important result of the change is that the two bones are not held in place but actually move apart. The joint capsule and the ligament between the two bones also stretch, adding further instability to the joint. As this happens, the articular surfaces of the two bones lose contact with each other. The slight separation of the two bones of the joint is called subluxation; this – and this alone – causes all of the resulting problems we associate with this disease.

It is important to remember that if two bones within any joint lose their normal position in relationship to each other, their articular surfaces no longer correctly contact each other. The surrounding muscles of the dog’s joint work to force the bones back together but they are never totally successful. Because of the dog’s weight, the femoral head often rides up onto or over the rim of the socket. With every movement of the leg, there are now two abnormal areas of bone grinding against each other instead of contacting on a smooth articular surface. A disaster is about to occur. Wherever these bones come in contact, new abnormally-shaped bone will grow. It is a vicious cycle; new bone growth causes further irritation which causes more abnormal bone growth. This is arthritis and it is usually a very painful condition. The femoral head that once looked like a smooth billiard ball now looks more like a head of cauliflower, with more abnormal growth, with it comes further pain and distortion of the bone.

The puppy with Hip Dysplasia usually starts to show signs between five and 13 months of age. These range from mild discomfort to extreme pain when using the hind limbs. This will occasionally be seen following prolonged activity or when the dog gets up or lies down. Later in life the signs become more consistent, noted daily regardless of activity levels.

Adult dogs that are in severe pain will usually decrease their activity. They are unwilling to run or climb stairs and, with decreased use, the muscles of their rear legs atrophy and become weakened. A few will learn to alter their gate and posture, often showing little or no signs of discomfort even though the bone changes are severe. Signs of Hip Dysplasia in young dogs are generally thought to be from small irritations or even minor fractures occurring in the bone spurs that form around the socket. Fractures may be caused by the pup’s increasing weight or exercise. Sudden periods of discomfort usually follow prolonged activity. In the adult, the discomfort is simply from arthritis of the deformed joints and chronic irritation.

Only with x-rays can we truly diagnose dysplasia and hope to eliminate it. Regardless of what you have been told, you can never be positive that a dog showing rear leg lameness has dysplasia unless it is x-rayed. And you can never be sure that a dog showing no signs is disease-free without an x-ray!

The Cause of Hip Dysplasia
The cause of hip dysplasia can be genetic but inheritance of this trait is not as simple as a dominance/recessive relationship. Normal dogs can breed and yield dysplastic offspring as the condition may skip generations.

Excessive exercise in a young dog aged 3 till 18 months such as repetitive movements: walking stairs, jumping in cars and jumping over gates. But also rough play or walks that are too long for the puppies age is also a cause.

Nutritional factors are also important in the development of hip dysplasia. For example, it has been popular to try to nutritionally “push” a large breed puppy to grow faster or larger by providing extra protein, more calcium, or even just extra food. Practices such as these have been disastrous, leading to bones and muscle growing at different rates and creating assorted joint diseases of which hip dysplasia is one. This has led to the development of puppy foods designed for large breed puppies, where the optimal nutritional plane is lower than for small breed puppies.

Rottweilers are twice as likely to develop hip dysplasia if their adult weights were above average.

Preventing Hip Dysplasia in Rottweilers
AVOID FLIGHTS OF STAIRS AND JUMPS ABOVE SHOULDER LEVEL BEFORE THE AGE OF 1. WAITING UNTIL THE AGE OF 2 IS EVEN BETTER. Whatever your puppy’s height is – avoid having him or her jump anything higher than their shoulder. This includes the couch, the back of the car, but also agility jumps. Consider a ramp for getting into the car. Those joints need time to develop and fuse. Give them time and keep those 4 paws on the ground!

No flights of stairs repeatedly, either. Think about how rough a flight of stairs can be on your knees or your hips. For some of us, it isn’t a big deal (yet). But for many of us – we know – it causes some soreness. Especially when we have to go up and down over and over. So, if your dog just needs to climb a few steps to get to the front door or a set of doggy steps to get into the back of your truck than you’re probably okay. But a full flight of stairs to a second story of your home every day, a few times a day – that’s a big time no-no.

Invest in some good, sturdy, dog gates and try to keep them on one or the other story if you have a 2 story home. I know this is a challenge. We made sure to buy a single story house because we knew ahead of time. But, maybe you got the house before you got the puppy! To help give your puppy’s joints time to grow and fuse properly you’re safest bet is to confine him or her away from a those steps.

Check the bag of your kibble of choice. Some “Large Breed Puppy” brands are very high in protein. Avoid those. High protein encourages fast growth. Fast growth leads to brittle bones that expanded too quickly. A puppy food with as much as 35-40% protein is probably too high. These puppy foods tend to be low in fat, as well. Consider an all stages, grain free, high quality kibble with somewhere closer to 22-28% protein and about half that in fat, or 12-16%. Puppies need protein to grow! And they should have it. But excess protein is difficult on their bodies and can lead to kidney stones and UTIs. You can also feed a raw diet where your protein sources are whole. Your Rottweiler puppy will grow to his or her maximum size whether you get him or her very big in the first year or not. His or her genetics determine their final size. So, there is no reason to rush their growth. Feed them enough that you can’t see but you can feel his or her ribs at all times. We like to give a whole egg (sometimes a few) each day and a big dollop of yogurt to our growing or pregnant dogs, too.

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