Hip Issues in Older Dogs

Hip Issues in Older Dogs

Posted by Lianne McLeod D.V.M. on

Hip Issues in Older Dogs

Hip-related ailments such as canine hip dysplasia,  are a prevalent concern among dog owners,  as they can significantly affect a dog’s quality of life by causing discomfort,  pain,  and limited mobility.  The hip joint,  a crucial ball and socket joint that enables dogs to move and run freely,  functions optimally when the ball;  the femoral head,  fits perfectly into the socket.  However,  in conditions like hip dysplasia in dogs,  this isn’t the case.

Recognizing these issues goes beyond understanding medical jargon or the anatomy of a dog’s hip joint.  It involves identifying early signs of trouble to seek timely veterinary assistance.  Early diagnosis and treatment can greatly enhance the prognosis for dogs with hip issues.  Therefore, understanding these issues as a dog owner is not just about knowledge but also about vigilance and prompt action.

Understanding the Role of Exercise in Hip Health

Regular, low-impact exercise is crucial for dogs with hip issues, particularly hip dysplasia.  Exercise helps maintain joint health,  promotes good muscle tone,  and can alleviate discomfort associated with hip problems.

dogs exercising

The Importance of Regular, Low-Impact Exercise

Exercise is beneficial for dogs with hip dysplasia for several reasons.  It helps manage weight and prevent obesity,  which can exacerbate and treat hip dysplasia issues.  Exercise also maintains muscle mass and joint function,  improves range of motion and flexibility,  reduces pain and inflammation,  and provides mental stimulation.

Low-impact exercise lessens the weight applied to the joints,  making it more comfortable for a dog with joint pain.  “Motion is lotion,”  as the saying goes,  so providing your dog with 30 minutes to an hour of low-impact walking every day is a good way to keep joints lubricated and mobile.

Suitable Types of Exercise and Activities

When it comes to suitable exercises for treating hip dysplasia in dogs, the focus should be on low-impact activities that put minimal stress on your dog’s hip joints.  High-resistance exercise provides high resistance to the muscles being exercised,  making them more developed and stronger without stressing the joints.

Swimming is often considered the ideal exercise for dogs with hip dysplasia.  It allows dogs to move their joints without putting weight on them,  providing both low impact and high resistance.  Hydrotherapy can also be beneficial.

Walking sideways is another beneficial exercise. It strengthens the muscles on the inside and outside of the hip on the rear limbs, which helps stabilize the hip, prevent a “splay” injury or fall in the rear limbs,  propels the dog forward aiding in running speed and jumping ability,  and helps stabilize the knee.

dog hip dysplasia

Common Hip Issues in Dogs

Dogs are active and playful animals that love to run,  jump,  and explore.  However,  their hip joints can sometimes suffer from various problems affecting their mobility and well-being.  One of the most common hip issues is hip dysplasia in dogs,  a condition where the ball and socket joint of the hip do not fit properly,  causing instability,  inflammation,  and pain. Hip dysplasia can be caused by genetic factors,  environmental factors,  or both,  and can affect dogs of any age, breed,  or size.

However,  to develop hip dysplasia is not the only hip issue that dogs can face.  There are other conditions that can also cause similar symptoms and affect the hip joint.


It is a degenerative disease that causes the cartilage that cushions the joint to wear away,  leading to bone-on-bone contact and pain.  Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the hip,  and can be triggered by injury, infection, or aging.

Hip luxation

It is a condition where the ball of the femur pops out of the socket of the pelvis,  causing severe pain and immobility.  Hip luxation can be caused by trauma,  such as a car accident or a fall, or by congenital defects, such as shallow sockets or weak ligaments.

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease

It is a condition where the blood supply to the femoral head is disrupted,  causing the bone to die and collapse.  This disease leads to inflammation, pain, and lameness in the affected leg.  Legg-Calve-Perthes disease usually affects young dogs of small breeds, such as terriers and poodles.

Signs and Symptoms of Hip Problems

Recognizing the signs of hip problems in dogs is crucial for early detection and treatment. Dogs with hip issues often show noticeable changes in their behavior and movement. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  1. Difficulty Moving:  Dogs with hip problems may have trouble standing up, climbing stairs, or jumping.  They may also move less than usual or seem reluctant to engage in physical activities they previously enjoyed.

  2. Changes in Gait:  A dog’s walk can indicate hip issues. Dogs with hip dysplasia often display a “bunny hopping” gait, where they use both hind legs together rather than one at a time. They may also limp or favor one leg over the other.

  3. Pain:  Dogs with hip issues often show signs of discomfort or pain, especially after exercise or first thing in the morning. They may whimper, yelp, or show other signs of distress when moving or when the hip area is touched.

  4. Physical Changes:  Over time, dogs with hip problems may develop physical changes such as muscle atrophy in the hind legs due to disuse, or an enlarged shoulder muscle as the dog compensates for the hind end discomfort by putting more weight on the front legs.

  5. Behavioral Changes:  Dogs in pain may become irritable, anxious, or depressed.  They may also show changes in their eating and sleeping habits.

If you get to notice any of these signs in your dog,  then the best thing is to visit a veterinarian at the earliest.  The vet will examine your pet physically and may also take some diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis.

two dogs sitting together

Diagnosing Hip Issues

When it comes to diagnosing hip problems in dogs, a comprehensive approach is necessary.  This approach involves conducting physical examinations,  reviewing the dog’s medical history, and utilizing diagnostic imaging techniques.  

The initial step entails a thorough evaluation performed by a veterinarian.  During this examination,  the vet will carefully observe your dog's walking pattern,  search for any indications of pain or discomfort in the hip region,  and take note of physical manifestations like muscle wasting or unusual posture.

The vet may also ask about your dog’s medical history,  including any signs of pain or difficulty moving,  changes in behavior,  and when the symptoms first appeared.  This information can provide valuable clues about the underlying cause of the hip issues.

Diagnostic Imaging

When it comes to diagnosing hip dysplasia issues,  diagnostic imaging plays a vital role.  X-rays are frequently employed to visualize the hip joint and identify any indications of hip dysplasia in dogs or other joint irregularities.  Occasionally,  more advanced imaging methods like CT scans or MRIs may be utilized for diagnosing hip dysplasia.

A reliable approach for diagnosing developing hip dysplasia in dogs is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) assessment.  This assessment necessitates taking exact X-rays of the hips and submitting them to a professional panel for satisfactory inspection for clinical signs of hip dysplasia.

Early detection and intervention are key in managing hip issues in dogs. The sooner hip problems are diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin, which can significantly improve your dog’s prognosis and quality of life.

dog sitting

Treatment Options for Hip Pain

Managing hip pain in dogs commonly entails a multi-faceted approach, comprising alleviating discomfort, physiotherapy, and, at times, medical operations.  The goal of treatment is to reduce aches, enhance movement, and elevate the pup’s quality of life.

Pain Management

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to manage pain and inflammation associated with hip issues.  These medications can significantly improve a dog’s comfort and mobility.  However, like all medications, they can have side effects, so it’s important to use them under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Joint supplements can also play a role in managing hip pain.  Some supplements that could help to support joint health and to retard the progress of degenerative joint disease include glucosamine as well as chondroitin sulfate.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy offers significant advantages for dogs experiencing hip pain.  Incorporating exercise into their routine can enhance muscle strength surrounding the hip joint, expand the range of motion, and foster optimal joint health.  Swimming stands out as an exceptionally potent exercise method since it enables dogs to engage their joints without subjecting them to excessive weight-bearing pressure.

Surgical Options

In severe cases, surgical intervention for loose hip joint may be necessary.  Total hip replacement surgery involves replacing the entire hip joint with artificial components.  This procedure can significantly improve the dog’s quality of life by eliminating pain and restoring normal hip function.

Another surgical option is triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO).  This procedure changes the alignment of the hip joint by cutting the pelvic bone in three places and rotating the segments to improve the fit of the ball and socket.

Various treatments are obtainable for dogs suffering from hip discomfort.  The most suitable strategy depends on the state of the dog, its age, and general well-being.  An experienced veterinarian can suggest the best treatment plan for each dog.

dog sitting

Prevention of Hip Issues

Preventing hip issues in dogs involves a combination of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and understanding the role of genetics and breed predispositions.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight and Diet

One of the most effective ways to prevent hip issues in dogs is to maintain a healthy weight.  Excess weight can put unnecessary strain on a dog’s joints, leading to wear and tear over time.  Feeding your dog a balanced, nutritious diet and ensuring regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight.

In addition to a nutritious diet,  certain dietary supplements can bolster the hip joint.  For example,  glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can enhance joint health and impede the progression of degenerative joint diseases such as hip dysplasia.

Role of Genetics and Breed

In the development of hip dysplasia, genetics is very instrumental. Large breed dogs and giant breed dogs are especially vulnerable to this malady. It would be advisable; in case you are contemplating getting a pup from any of these breeds to ask the breeder about the parents' hip health. Responsible breeders will evaluate hip dysplasia in their breeding dogs and other genetic disorders.

It is hard to eliminate hip dysplasia risk completely, especially when the breed is predisposed. Nevertheless, knowledge about the risk factors and proactive steps can lower the probability of your dog having hip dysplasia.

boxer sitting

Living with a Dog with Hip Dysplasia

Living with a dog with hip dysplasia involves making certain adjustments to ensure their comfort and well-being.

Adapting Your Home Environment

Making your home more accessible for a dog with hip dysplasia can significantly improve their quality of life.  Consider providing ramps or pet-friendly stairs to help your dog navigate steps or get onto furniture.  Provide soft bedding to help alleviate pressure on the hips. Raised food and water dishes can also make mealtimes more comfortable for your dog.

Regular Vet Check-Ups and Monitoring Your Dog’s Condition

Frequent visits to the veterinarian are essential for keeping track of your pup's health and making necessary modifications to their therapy.  Your vet can judge any discomfort levels, watch over their weight, and determine if anything has improved or deteriorated.  Furthermore, these examinations offer you an opportunity to bring up any qualms or queries regarding your dog's health or its medicinal program.

While living with a dog with hip dysplasia can be challenging,  it’s certainly possible to manage their symptoms and help them live a comfortable life.  Always consult with your vet for the best course of action for your pet’s specific needs.

If you’ve noticed any changes in your dog’s movement or behavior, don’t wait.  Early detection and intervention can significantly improve your dog’s prognosis and quality of life.  Reach out to a veterinarian today for a comprehensive examination of your dog’s hip health.


  1. https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/canine-hip-dysplasia/

  2. Hip Dysplasia In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment (akc.org)

  3. https://www.veterinarians.org/treatment-for-hip-dysplasia-in-dogs/

  4. Hip dysplasia in dogs - PDSA

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Lianne McLeod, DVM, is a former writer for The Spruce Pets, contributing articles for 11 years. Before Dr. McLeod began writing about pet care, she worked several years in small animal practice. She has written extensively about the care and keeping of exotic pets and pet health care. She now researches water quality and chronic disease at the University of Saskatchewan. Lianne McLeod earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She also received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Simon Fraser University. She continued her education and received a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Now, she splits her time between her family, research and writing about pet health for all the animal lovers out there.

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