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Understanding Canine Hip Dysplasia

The First Step in Helping is Understanding

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) is commonly known to effect large breeds of dogs, but there are so many questions that are left unanswered. What is CHD? Who does it effect? How do we fight it? Research has proven that CHD can effect dogs of any size, breed or age, and that it can sometimes be a contributing factor to conditions such as canine osteoarthritis, making CHD an important subject that all dog owners should familiarize themselves with. CHD research often seems contradictory; while it is known to be a genetic disease, researchers are unable to pinpoint the gene responsible, instead claiming that the condition is polygenetic, or caused by many genes. Dogs effected by this disease also have a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from virtually undetectable signs, to a crippling of the dog’s hindquarters. Additionally, environment and diet also seem to play a contributing factor as to whether or not a dog will develop hip dysplasia. Fortunately, registries are now available, to promote the breeding of quality dogs that do not suffer from CHD. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), one of the best known registries in the United States, grades all joints as severe, moderate, fair, good and excellent.

Certifying all dogs, above the age of 2 years, OFA provides breeders with a means to make informed choices about their breeding stock. Keep in mind that each country has its own registries, and the hip evaluation process may vary, so always check with your local kennel associations and breed registries for the best options available. The only way of determining that a dog has CHD, is to have them taken in for a radiographic (X-ray) evaluation. While many veterinarians will make a diagnosis on the results of the x-ray, it is usually best to send the x-rays to an organization that is able to properly evaluate, certify and register your dog, based upon the findings. Potential breeding stock should always be tested for signs of this disease and animals that are prone to it should be sterilized, so they do not enter the breeding circuit. The first step, to helping control CHD, is ethical breeding. Nutrition has also been found to play a part in hip dysplasia and the symptoms shown. While a dog can develop this disease, regardless of nutritional intake, dogs that are overweight tend to show more symptoms, as the added weight puts pressure on affected joints. Additionally, puppies that are fed an overabundance of high protein/high caloric diets, promoting rapid growth, tend to show an increased risk of crippling CHD. Due to the accelerated growth, joints are prone to weakness and may not develop as strongly as a puppy whose diet is well-balanced and healthy. Exercise may also prove to be another risk factor in the development of hip dysplasia.

Research has discovered that, if a dog is genetically susceptible to CHD, he may be more risk of developing the disease if he is over-exercised at a young age. Interesting to note, however, is that dogs with large and well-developed muscling in the legs tend to be less likely to develop dysplasia. What this suggests is that exercise should be limited, to healthy doses, until your dog reaches one year of age, and that there are certain exercises, such as running and swimming, that are preferable to jumping or rough-and-tumble play. Teaching your pet not to jump up on the sofa, therefore, may not only help protect your furniture, but also the health of your dog.

Hip dysplasia can affect any dog; there have been cases of it in mixed breed dogs, as well as purebreds, and there are also cases of it affecting all sizes of dogs, from the giants, right down to the toy breeds. While symptoms of this disease can often be seen in adult dogs, the only sure way of determining whether or not your dog suffers from canine hip dysplasia is through x-ray; under no circumstance can the presence of CHD be determined by the gait, stance, or general examination of your dog. Equally important, is that simple stiffness or lameness does not always mean that a dog has CHD either; there are many different injuries and disorders, that can trouble a dog, other than CHD. If your family pet is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, it does not mean that he will eventually end up crippled or that he needs to be put to sleep. Hip dysplasia can affect both young dogs and old, and the degree of severity can vary just as widely. With some dogs, this may merely mean a slight stiffness, early in the morning, that fades as the dog ‘warms up’ or, in some cases, dogs can have hip dysplasia and never show any sign of discomfort. Additionally, there are many treatments available, for dogs that suffer from CHD.

Numerous types of surgeries are available, to help prolong the life of the joint and to ease any discomfort that dogs may feel, while watching your dog’s weight and level of exercise can also help to alleviate discomfort. Dogs that suffer from joint degeneration or osteoarthritis, resulting from CHD, strongly benefit from both warmth and comfortable surroundings, that do not require him to climb stairs or jump up, and your veterinarian can usually prescribe or administer medication that will help him with any pain that he may feel. Some instances can also be neutralized with Vitamin C or a daily dose of aspirin (consult your veterinarian, to determine what is best for your pet). Depending on who you consult, there are many different theories on preventing the progression of canine hip dysplasia.

As we have discussed, nutrition, weight and exercise have all proven to have some bearing on whether or not a dog will develop CHD, but none of these will guarantee that your dog will not develop this disease. Whether a researcher or a breeder, most will agree on one thing; ‘selective breeding is crucial‘. Whether your dog is a pet or a breeder, have him properly tested for CHD and ensure that, if he does suffer from it, that he is neutered so that he cannot continue to pass it on to his offspring. Always remember that buying from breeders who have their dogs certified by OFA, or other approved registries, not only assures that you have a healthier dog, but also promotes ethical breeding practices.

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