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May 01, 2004

Understanding Hip Dysplasia

By: Brenda Biermierer - Harmony Pet Care

Most dog lovers confuse hip dysplasia with arthritis of the hips and use the terms interchangeably, which is incorrect.  The hip is a true ball-and-socket joint.  The ball is the head of the femur, which is the long bone of the thigh.  This fits into a socket in the pelvis called the acetabulum.  In a normal dog, the ball and socket fit together well and the ball stays in the socket where it belongs.  In a dysplastic hip, the ball and socket have an abnormal relationship to each other.  This can range from mild incongruity (a ďpoor fitĒ) to the ball being partially out of the socket (subluxation of the hip).  This abnormal relationship between the bones eventually will result in arthritis in the hip joint and pain for the pet.

How Is Hip Dysplasia Detected?
The only way to diagnose hip dysplasia is with radiographs (x-rays) of the hips.  Unfortunately there is a poor correlation between how the hips look on film and how the dog feels and behaves.  Some dogs with radiographically mild hip dysplasia can be severely lame, while other dogs with very bad hips on film act perfectly comfortable.  What is inevitable in all dysplastic hips is that arthritis will set in at some point in the dogís life span--we just canít tell when.  Some dogs wonít develop arthritis until old age, while others will show signs of pain and lameness before they reach their first birthday.  How and when a dog develops pain in the hips determines what treatment options are available.

How Is Hip Dysplasia Treated?
While only a veterinarian can best determine how a particular dog should be treated, some general rules apply.  For some dogs that develop arthritis secondary to hip dysplasia discomfort can be controlled with medications.  Oral anti-inflammatory pain relievers and supplements to improve cartilage and joint health can keep many pets comfortable for years.  For dogs that are less than ten months of age, a surgical procedure called a triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) can be performed.  This procedure involves making three cuts (osteotomies) in the pelvis and repositioning the pelvis so the acetabulum better fits the head of the femur.  Only young dogs with no evidence of arthritis in the hip are candidates for this procedure.  In older dogs or those who already have evidence of arthritis on radiographs, two surgical options are available.  The Femoral Head Osteotomy (FHO) simply removes the ball part of the joint and fills the socket with muscle, creating a pseudo-joint.  This allows the dog to use the leg in a pain free manner.  The more complex Total Hip Replacement involves implanting an artificial joint of stainless steel and high-impact plastic.  This procedure gives the dog an artificial hip that is mechanically sound and can withstand the rigors of a high activity life style.

How Do I Pick A Dysplasia Free Puppy?
Unfortunately, when acquiring a young pup there is simply no way to guarantee your new friend will grow up to have normal hips.  To improve your odds try to limit the risks.  While a dog of any breed might become dysplastic, certain breeds are more likely to have problems.  The large, rapidly growing breeds are genetically prone to dysplasia.  Examples include the various Retriever types, giant dogs such as Saint Bernards and Newfoundlands, and stocky dogs such as Bulldogs.  When evaluating a puppy from an at-risk breed, itís best to look to the parents.  Breeding dogs that are certified to have acceptable hips by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (Penn-HIP) are more likely to pass on the genes for good hips to their puppies.  Good breeders are happy to discuss their dogís hip certification and often will include a hip guarantee in the purchase contract.

Once you have chosen your pup how you feed it can have a huge impact on the way he grows and develops.  Improper diet during the rapid growth phase can make a dog that is genetically prone to hip dysplasia develop bad hip conformation.  Fortunately, the emergence of diets specifically for large breed puppies has removed much of the risk of feeding your growing pup.  To assess you pupís condition, only a radiograph can tell if your pet is dysplastic.  Screening radiographs taken under sedation around six months of age can reveal if your pet has already inherited the condition.  Treatment is based more on the pupís comfort and function than the radiographs themselves, but these films can give you an idea of your dogís potential for future problems.  For dogs that will be used for breeding the films are taken again at two years of age and submitted to one of the certification programs.  Any dog that is determined to be dysplastic should never be used for breeding.

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