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German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia ~ What you should know

Before purchasing or adopting a GSD (or any other dog breed), there are essential facts you should know. Caring for the dog and its potential health issues should be a priority. Any German Shepherd owner should know about diseases that their chosen breed is susceptible to. With German Shepherds, the most common is Hip Dysplasia.

What is Hip Dysplasia?

Hip Dysplasia is a common condition that is associated with large breed dogs, especially German Shepherds. They are susceptible to canine hip dysplasia (CHD), a skeletal condition that is often genetically inherited or caused by a fracture, among other environmental conditions.

Hip Dysplasia can be termed a congenital disorder. In such a case, the hip sockets become too loose, and damage is caused to the femur. Normally, the hip joint acts as a ball and socket. In hip dysplasia, the joint doesn't develop properly and causes the ball and socket to grind rather than sliding smoothly, for they do not fit.

Many times, Hip Dysplasia runs in the genes, and therefore dogs do inherit it from their parents. In other cases, however, it is not about genetics. Hip dysplasia can start as a hip injury then progress. German Shepherds are highly susceptible to injuries since they are so active and big-bodied.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia?

Aside from genetics, several factors could lead to Hip Dysplasia. Excessive growth rate, improper weight, nutrition, and types of exercise are some of the factors that could intensify the genetic predisposition.

The fact is, dogs have special nutritional requirements depending on their breed. Large breed puppies like German Shepherds have such requirements to help regulate their growth rate and hence reduce chances of skeletal disorders. The breed gets to develop its joints properly with a slow growth rate.

Lack of proper nutrition increases the likelihood of the dog getting Hip Dysplasia. When a dog is not fed correctly and develops conditions such as obesity, it creates room for other conditions such as skeletal disorders. Excessive weight demands a lot of pressure on the dog's joints. This, in turn, could magnify a pre-existing condition like Hip Dysplasia.

We advise that you speak with your vet to determine your dog's best diet and exercise regimen.

At what age are dogs susceptible to Hip Dysplasia?

Hip Dysplasia can be witnessed or diagnosed in a dog as early as four months. In some, the condition develops over time as they age and get exposed to other environmental factors.

Signs of Hip Dysplasia can be seen in dogs in their early months, but most common detection is in one to two-year-old dogs.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia as per age?

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia do vary with several factors. For example, the dog's age, the level of inflammation, the intensity of the condition, and length of time the dog has had the condition, and the looseness of the joint. Hip Dysplasia typically begins in puppyhood, but most dogs only develop clinical signs later when they are older.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in puppies (visible as early as few months old):

  • Weakness and pain in the hind legs

  • The puppy appears wobbly

  • Reluctance to climb stairs

  • Limping

In adults, the signs include:

  • Decreased activity and amount of motion

  • Hesitancy to running, climbing, jumping, or rising

  • Enlargement of the shoulder muscles due to compensation on pain in the hips

  • "bunny hopping"

  • Lameness in the hind end

  • pain

  • Decrease in thigh muscle mass

  • Stiffness in the back limbs

  • Hind legs appear bent

If you witness any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your vet to examine your dog—the earlier the treatment, the better for you and your pet.

Diagnosis of Hip Dysplasia

In many cases, Hip Dysplasia can be known to your vet during your pet's regular check-ups. In other instances, it is your responsibility as the pet owner to be keen and let your vet know in case you suspect any form of discomfort in your dog.

Your vet will check on the dog's hind legs for any looseness of the joint. The physical examination could also include blood sampling in cases of inflammation.

It is always important to keep records of your dog's medical histories, including injuries and the dogs' background, as they help with diagnosis.

An x-ray is done to determine the extent of the disease and the best course of treatment to ascertain this condition.

Treatment Options for Hip Dysplasia

There is no actual cure for Hip Dysplasia in dogs. Treatment options available include lifestyle modifications and surgery. The kind of treatment used depends on the severity of the condition and the degree of joint looseness.

If your dogs' condition is mild and doesn't qualify for surgery, here are some recommendations:

  • Physical therapy

  • Managed and restricted exercises

  • Joint supplements

  • Medications to help with inflammation

  • Joint fluid modifiers.

  • In the event of slippery floors, provide traction

  • Provide a heated bed to relieve pain and ease sleep

For dogs that require surgery, there are different options. For severe cases in medium to large dogs, the surgery can be quite expensive. The options include:

1.Double/Triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO)

This surgery is preferred for dogs less than 10 months old. The surgery seeks to improve the function of the ball and socket. It involves the cutting and rotation of the pelvic bone.

2. Femoral head osteotomy (FHO)

This surgery is suitable for both young and adult dogs. As the name suggests, the surgery involves cutting off the femoral head of the hip joint. The surgery focuses on reducing the discomfort Hip Dysplasia causes as it creates a false joint.

3. Total hip replacement (THR)

Termed to be the most effective treatment for Hip Dysplasia in dogs is total hip replacement. In this process, the dog is implanted with either metal or plastic implants to replace the hip joint. The replacement hip functions pretty much as the original one, thus a solution for most discomforts that come with Hip Dysplasia. This is the most expensive surgical treatment option available for Hip Dysplasia in dogs.

Some vets would consider using orthopedic dog braces to slow the progression of Hip Dysplasia to a chronic issue. This is a reliable option to reduce the pain for your German Shepherd dog.

What can I do to put off or avoid having this problem with my dog?

If you own a German shepherd dog (GSD) or looking to get a puppy, there are some preventive measures against Hip Dysplasia you can take. Taking good care of your dog's joint goes a long way to reducing the risks of Hip Dysplasia and even easing the severity of the condition.

Here are some steps to take:

  1. Find a certified German Shepherd breeder- dogs with questionable joints should not be bred. Before any breeding is done, look at their hip certification to determine if it is a viable breed.

  2. Control calorie portions- consumption of too many calories lead to puppies growing very fast. This means that their hips are likely not to develop well, leading to Hip Dysplasia. You must provide your dog with the appropriate amount of calories that your vet recommends.

  3. Weight management- ensure that you keep your dog's weight checked. Obesity contributes significantly to Hip Dysplasia. Ensure that your dog's weight is within a healthy range.

  4. Moderate exercise- German Shepherds tend to be hyperactive dogs. Moderating your dog's exercise as the vet recommends is essential. If you are dealing with a puppy, limit their activity to short walks and minimize rough play.

Importance of Getting Pet Health Insurance

Any pet owner would want their pets to live healthy and long. The reality, however, is that there are unanticipated accidents, illnesses, and other medical conditions. Veterinary medications can be quite expensive, depending on the kind of condition the pet has. Hip Dysplasia surgeries, for example, can be costly.

Many pet owners have not embraced the pet insurance system. This means that their pet's medical costs are covered out-of-pocket. In some cases, owners cannot afford the treatments needed. See our comparision post on 4 different health insurance plans for your furry best friend.

Pet insurance is important and has many benefits to the pet owner. The fact with pet health insurance is that you transfer risks and medical expenses to the party you are paying premiums to. The amount of premium paid will depend on the kind of coverage you want and also your dog's breed.

With an insurance cover for your pet, you can rest assured and confidently make the best health care decision for your pet. Pet insurance provides you with financial protection from unexpected medical costs. Therefore, you can focus on other important things knowing that your pet's health needs are well taken care of.


German Shepherds' ailments often result from hip and hindquarter weakness. Besides Hip Dysplasia, see our post on ten other common health issues with German Shepherds. Remember that Hip dysplasia and German Shepherd knee problem are manageable if detected early. If you own a German Shepherd dog, ensure that you know how to care for the breed specifically, especially on issues related to the joints.

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