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What You Need to Know About Canine Hip Dysplasia

First, what is canine hip dysplasia? Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a developmental disease of the bones in which the head of the thigh bone poorly fits the hip socket, causing damage to the cartilage, gradual destruction of the joint, pain and swelling. This disease should not be confused with hip arthritis. Rather, it is the most common cause of arthritis in the hips. Canine hip dysplasia is one of the most frustrating diseases in veterinary medicine today simply because it is so difficult to prevent and treat.

Second, how is canine hip dysplasia transmitted? CHD cannot be transmitted as it is an inheritable disorder. It is passed on by the parents to the offspring. Therefore, the only effective measure to eliminate the disease is to prevent dogs with hip dysplasia from breeding. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, because not all dogs with hip dysplasia show signs of the disease. Seemingly normal dogs still carry the gene for CHD and are bred, which keeps the disease in the gene pool.

Third, how do you know if a dog has hip dysplasia? A dog with hip dysplasia generally exhibits less energy and activity. These dogs will also have difficulty rising from a sitting position, lameness in the back legs, may hop like a rabbit when running, and are reluctant to go up stairs. However, these symptoms are typically not apparent until a dog reaches middle age. In severe cases, though, some dogs display noticeable hip problems as early as 5-6 months of age.

Fourth, how does a veterinarian confirm if a dog has hip dysplasia?
Regrettably, there is no blood test or genetic test yet that will determine whether a dog is a carrier of CHD or not. Diagnosis of the disease is normally done through physical examinations and x-rays. X-rays help in assessing the extent of the condition and, through comparison with future x-rays, they can also provide a gauge of how well the chosen treatment is working. Here are two techniques for taking x-rays of CHD-afflicted dogs:

1. Hip-extended ventrodorsal view x-ray – Provides a frontal view of the pelvis and hip-joints and best assesses the level of severity of arthritis present.
2. PennHIP radiography technique – Used to identify hip looseness in dogs as young as four months of age.

Fifth, what are the treatment options for canine hip dysplasia? Currently, there is no real cure for CHD, but there are conservative, or non-surgical, ways to alleviate its symptoms. These include the use of drugs to relieve pain and inflammation. Rimadyl, Ectogesic and Deramaxx are effective and have given many suffering dogs the relief necessary to live a normal life. Depending on a dog’s physical characteristics, weight loss programs, controlled exercise and physical therapy can also be quite effective.

When conservative treatment is not sufficient, the only other choice is surgery. Surgery can be very effective since it corrects the underlying cause of hip pain (a malformed joint).

When confronted with hip dysplasia, surgery is approached in two different ways. Prophylactic surgery is done to prevent the progression of arthritis while therapeutic surgery aims to treat already arthritic hips.

Triple pelvic osteotomy is the main preventive procedure available. It requires cutting the pelvis in three places and rotating the hip sockets to provide improved coverage. This procedure is effective as long as it is done before arthritis sets in or before the joint is damaged.

Another kind of preventive surgery is pubic symphysiodesis. Still being studied for its effectiveness, pubic symphysiodesis involves manipulating the way the pelvis grows to ensure a tighter hip. This procedure is typically performed on very young dogs.

Therapeutic procedures include total hip replacement and femoral head ostectomy. Total hip replacement is performed primarily on larger dogs. High density, medical plastic is used to replace the socket and a premium, non-corrosive alloy is used for the ball. This procedure has a high success rate, nearly completely eliminates pain, and enables the dog to fully resume activity.

Another therapeutic procedure for hip dysplasia is femoral head ostectomy. It entails the removal of the top of the femur, thereby eliminating the painful grinding at the hip joint. The femur is then permitted to float freely. This results in the formation of scar tissue which then serves as a false joint. This procedure is not advised for mild cases of arthritis and is usually effective only on smaller, well-muscled dogs.

Lastly, can canine hip dysplasia be prevented? The onset of hip dysplasia can be delayed in many dogs with a genetic predisposition by preventing excessive weight gain during the early months and by making sure that the puppy does not place undue stress on the hips.

The most effective means of prevention is, of course, careful breeding since hip dysplasia is an inheritable condition. OFA and PennHip offer information on breed risk. Before buying a puppy, it is strongly recommended that you check pedigrees for OFA, PennHip, or GDC certifications

About the Author: Dan Irwin has been 'in love' with the Golden Retriever breed for nearly twenty years now. For a limited time, receive a free copy of "101 Ways to Spoil Your Dog for Under " when you sign up for his free golden retriever newsletter.

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