Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

We want nothing more than for every puppy to grow up happy, healthy, and strong.

The Condition Known as Hip Dysplasia

Thanks to our dedicated Goldendoodle puppy breeding practices, we're doing our part to ensure all the best and strongest characteristics of the parent lines stand out in this wonderful dog breed.

But as with all things health, we can only do our best. Even the most responsible dog breeding practices can't guarantee that conditions such as hip dysplasia do not occur. At least not yet, as research continues.

Hip dysplasia is a condition known to happen in humans, dogs, and other animals. In hip dysplasia, the "ball and socket" of the hip and femur bone is not formed properly, which results in an irregular shape, fit and function of the joint. This affects how the surrounding muscles develop, which in turn leads to further deterioration of the joint.

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a progressive condition that gets worse over time. As it does, dogs will exhibit more and more visible symptoms. These include reduced activity, stiffness, limping, swaying or "bunny hopping", weakness or lameness in the hind legs, reluctance to go up stairs, reduced range of motion, loss of muscle mass in the back legs, increased muscle mass in the shoulders, discomfort, pain, and even unequal leg length.

While hip dysplasia is more common in older dogs and larger breeds, it has been known to affect puppies and young dogs of all dog breeds, even the little ones. Fortunately, this article is designed to help owners understand the underlying causes of dog hip dysplasia, identify its signs, do their best to prevent it, and intervene as quickly and early as possible for the best chance of treatment.

Scientists are Hard at Work

Researchers have been busy trying to understand dog hip dysplasia for more than 5 decades. At the same time, responsible puppy breeders are doing their part to prevent any known associated hereditary traits from being passed on to future generations. And while the problem remains complicated, we have learned a lot about dog hip dysplasia and can now help treat and even prevent it by sharing knowledge.

It's Not Congenital

When something is not congenital, it means it's not present at birth. All puppies are born with normal hips that are still composed of cartilage, which transforms into solid bone as they grow. This means that the condition can only begin to develop after birth…

Hip Joints Continue to Grow Normally as Long as there is Congruity in their Structure

Scientists have learned that, as long as the hip structure remains the way it's supposed to, the condition will not develop as the joint grows. They also understand that the joint structure develops and grows in response to traction and stimulation from surrounding and internal tissue. In other words, something that the hip joint is doing or not doing may be causing hip dysplasia to develop as the joint grows…

Genes Seem to Play a Key Role, but We Are Not Sure Which Ones They Are

One thing for sure is that some dog breeds and lines are more susceptible to this condition than others. This suggests a genetic connection, but scientists have yet to pinpoint the culprit—or culprits—at work.

Genes are complicated, that much we get. For example, all dogs have 100% dog DNA. But a tiny portion of that genome is unique to each breed. These little differences are what give our pups their unique characteristics and make each breed special in its own right. And it's within this tiny and unique spectrum that the genes linked to hip dysplasia have been found, where they unfortunately differ from one dog breed to the other.

In other words, scientists have yet to find any specific genes that are, with 100% certainty, responsible for hip dysplasia. The search continues.

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) Can Help, but Only Somewhat

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are a pedigree database of heritable traits that help puppy breeders select the healthiest and most desirable traits to pass on. This science-based and proven system helps narrow down healthy traits as well as unhealthy traits, enabling responsible breeding practices that lead to healthier dogs. EBVs are widely used in hopes of rooting out conditions such as canine hip dysplasia, but only to modest success in this case. With EBVs, you don't actually have to know the genes responsible, but are instead targeting an associated trait using calculated estimates based on a ton of data.

  1. If not Gene Studies and EBVs, then What Can We Do About Dog Hip Dysplasia?

    After decades of gene studies and breed selection practices, we still haven't found a solution to hip dysplasia on the genetic front. But because a genetic root cause has been so elusive, it's actually led to an important discovery — hip dysplasia is not caused by genetics alone.

    If there are specific genes that cause the condition, those genes seem to be part of a greater pathology involving non-genetic, environmental factors.

What Kind of Environmental Factors?

Depending on how you look at it, the fact that genetics alone does not cause canine hip dysplasia might be seen as good news. Yes, finding a gene or genes responsible for this awful condition and eradicating it for good is what we all want. We can only hope that one day this comes true, but genetic research and breed selection are a slow process. In the meantime, finding out that environmental factors are associated with dog hip dysplasia gives us hope. It means that we can actually do something about it!

So what kind of environmental factors are we talking about? Let's read on.

  1. Joint Laxity

    In humans, joint laxity is another term for loose joints. In most cases, the condition is completely non-medical and can even provide for a greater range of motion. For example, people such as dancers, athletes and contortionists use it to their advantage and are the envy of those who can't.

    But in the case of doggie hips, joint laxity is not a good thing. It means that the "ball and socket" does not have a perfect fit. Because all puppies are born with normal hips, joint laxity is a malformation that takes place after birth.

    When joint laxity is present, there is a much higher risk of hip dysplasia developing. Joint laxity can take shape in different ways, such as a result of injury, muscle weakness, too much weight on the joint, or something known as adductor forces, which, in the case of hips, just means contracting the legs together.

    When there's joint laxity, it means the ligament between the ball and socket, known as the teres ligament, is loose or severed. In turn, the femoral head, or the "ball", doesn't fit properly into the "socket", or the acetabulum. As a result, the joint is unable to distribute forces properly. Instead of being fully supported by the inner socket, the ball ends up placing uneven pressure on the socket's rim, which is not as strong. As you can guess, this causes damage to the structure of the joint.

  2. Joint Stability

    Through research, scientists found that the teres ligament could already be damaged before some puppies were even 1 month old. This was one of the first major findings linking possible environmental factors with hip dysplasia, and a big red flag.

    With a damaged teres ligament, the head and socket are no longer held firmly together. And with joint laxity at such an early age, the surrounding muscles are unable to develop as strongly as they're supposed to. It's the perfect recipe for the development of hip dysplasia at a very young age.

    Since all puppies are born with normal hips, and the hip joint develops in response to stimulation and traction, then what could be causing a puppy's teres ligament to be damaged so early?

    Scientists have found no evidence of bone defects that could lead to this condition. In fact, what they've found is that hip bone dysplasia can actually be improved, worsened, or prevented altogether by the degree of joint stability and congruity. Hip dysplasia appears to be a meeting point for genetic weaknesses and environmental stresses, where these factors play on each other and lead to the condition, and ultimately degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis.

  3. Body Weight is a Major Culprit

    As we've discussed, hip dysplasia is a progressive condition that seems to involve multiple factors. Whether it begins with genetic weakness or it's just another fuel in the process, one problem sort of leads to another and hip dysplasia is the result.

    For example, joint laxity makes the joint vulnerable to environmental stresses, such as being under too much weight. Research has shown that heavier dogs are more susceptible to the condition, but so are puppies that are hefty at birth, as well as puppies that have a faster growth rate, or get big fast. Fortunately, scientists have found a connection between a restricted diet and a reduced risk of hip dysplasia. Young dogs kept on a restricted diet are more likely to develop hip dysplasia much later in life compared to those who are not on a restricted diet.

    It's only natural to not even think about a restricted diet until we feel it's necessary, like if our dogs are already overweight, or are older. But a study showed that, by 4 years of age, less than 10% of dogs on a restricted diet were developing hip dysplasia — compared to more than 30% of dogs who were not on a restricted diet.

    The study was telling: it proved that weight management in young dogs was a gigantic factor in the development of hip dysplasia. But this isn't the only benefit of a restricted diet, which has also been associated with a longer life and preventing a slew of obesity-related illnesses in dogs.

    While genetic research is still ongoing, it's exciting to know that a restricted diet can stave off hip dysplasia until much later in life, control it, or even prevent it.

  4. The Role of Exercise

    Before you take your puppy for a game of fetch, let's talk about the role of exercise in puppy hip dysplasia and why it's both good and bad.

    Nobody will argue that exercise is healthy. It helps boost circulation, cardiovascular health, fat burning, muscle and bone strength, energy levels, the immune system, and more. But as we've learned, hip dysplasia is a progressive condition that involves environmental factors which affect joint stability and congruity over time — and one of those environmental factors is exercise.

    On the one hand, exercise is necessary. Without it, the muscles that support the legs and pelvis can become weak, which puts extra pressure on the joints. At the same time, the type of exercise that puppies engage in can mean the difference between strengthening their hip joints and wearing them down.

    Once puppies are born, their hips begin to grow, develop and transform from cartilage into bone. The period from birth to 8 weeks is the most important time for hip development, and in the case of these sweet Goldendoodle puppies, their little hips are fully under our knowledgeable care. But as long as puppies are growing, so are their hips. That's why it's important to consider all of these factors before your pupper is fully grown.

    Studies have shown that puppies who spend a lot of time on slippery surfaces or running up and down stairs before they are 3 months old are at higher risk of developing hip dysplasia. Similar studies revealed that puppies who spend more time off-lead on soft ground (such as a well-kept lawn or park grounds) are actually at lower risk of developing puppy hip dysplasia.

    Going further, it seems that puppies born during summertime have a lower risk of developing hip dysplasia. Since puppies born in warm weather are more likely to spend much more time outdoors than puppies born during cold weather, this suggests that outdoor exercise has something to do with hip dysplasia pathology.

    But these studies come with an interesting caveat. Dogs aged 12-24 months who play a lot of fetch (such as chasing a ball or stick) were at higher risk of developing the condition. This in turns suggests that high-intensity running such as sprinting may have a negative impact on doggie hips when done regularly before the age of 2.


    So let's just go over the takeaways:

    • Puppies who spend more time playing on soft and uneven ground outside are at a lower risk of hip dysplasia
    • Puppies who spend more time inside playing on hard slippery floors and going up and down stairs are at higher risk of hip dysplasia
    • It's best to promote outdoor play up to 3 months (and beyond of course)
    • It's best to reduce going up and down stairs and playing/running on hard slippery surfaces before 3 months (and perhaps longer as puppies continue to grow)
    • Puppies and young dogs who play a lot of fetch or similarly engage in high-intensity sprints before the age of 2 are at higher risk of hip dysplasia
  5. The Role of Nutrition

    Puppies grow fast, and proper nutrition is essential for strong and healthy development. At the same time, for the reasons discussed above, overeating can become an immediate problem during the critical stages of joint and bone growth when the hips are most vulnerable to dysplasia.

    Not only is it important that puppies don't overeat, but it's also important they don't get an excessive intake of certain nutrients. This can happen if puppies eat too much or are being given nutritional supplements while growing and also consuming plenty of food.

    As long as puppies have a healthy, balanced and nutritional diet, they should not be given supplements. Doing so can cause excessive intake of certain minerals, such as calcium, and may lead to various health problems. We don't recommend doggie supplements until later in life or unless prescribed by a veterinarian under unique circumstances. As far as hip dysplasia goes, research has not found any evidence suggesting that supplementation of vitamins or nutrients can reduce the risk of development.

  6. Early Intervention is Super Important

    Like with so many things, it pays to nip it in the bud. Hip dysplasia tends to develop very early in a dog's life. By 4 to 6 months old, puppies can already be showing symptoms of lameness, pain or discomfort in the hips.

    But hip dysplasia is also tricky. What happens is that once the damage is done, the microfractures begin to heal. The puppy can start feeling better, playing more and behaving normally after a few weeks. Concern turns to relief, and all seems well. But unfortunately, that's not the case. Even as the joint "heals", the malformation remains. The dog will feel better, but the joint is no longer the shape it's supposed to be. As a result, the condition continues to worsen throughout the dog's life.

    Years can go by before the dog shows any symptoms of hip dysplasia again. This makes the condition very easy to overlook. And unfortunately, when treated later in life, the damage is much more significant. But the whole point of this article is to give dog owners an advantage over a progressive condition by catching it early. The great thing is that hip dysplasia is much easier to treat for puppies and young dogs. Success rates are much higher. There are more options.

    Depending on the dog breed, full skeletal growth can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. As long as the puppy is still growing, a lot can be done to minimize dysplasia. With the help of a veterinarian, it's possible to detect joint laxity as early as 4 months old. Once a diagnosis and prognosis has been made, intervention can begin immediately to promote healthier development of the joints.

    Intervention can involve everything from weight management to specific exercises and even surgery. And while this might seem like a lot for a puppy, everything you do now to treat hip dysplasia can give your dog a healthier and more active lifetime. That's why it's so worth it.

    If you see any of the signs of hip dysplasia such as lameness, weakness, discomfort, pain, swaying or hopping of the hips, get in touch with your veterinarian and schedule a visit right away.

In Conclusion

As research continues, we expect to see more slow and steady progress in genetic selection that helps filter out hip dysplasia from doggie gene pools. Meanwhile, responsible puppy breeders like us are always hard at work doing our part through EBVs and other selective breeding practices designed to promote dog wellness, longevity, and, in our case, wonderfully healthy Goldendoodles.

As we've discussed in this article, even owners can contribute to preventing and treating dog hip dysplasia through management of environmental factors such as weight, exercise, nutrition and early detection and intervention. Together, we can use this knowledge in the fight against dog hip dysplasia and help reduce its incident rates, severity, and likelihood at different stages of the doggie lifespan.

If Our Puppers Could Talk, They'd Say Thank You!