How Does Hip Dysplasia Affect Small Breed Dogs?

Hip Dysplasia in Small Breed Dogs

Hip Dysplasia is a dreaded disease and the most common cause
of rear leg lameness in dogs. 

though it is most common in large breed dogs, it can also occur in small

A quick lesson in anatomy is recommended. 

Feel free to click ahead, if this doesn’t
interest you.

Anatomy Lesson

In normal hips, the top of the leg bone or femur fits
tightly into the hip socket of the pelvis with little room in between. 

The hips in both dogs and humans are made up of a ball and
socket joint.  The ball part is the head
of the femur or large leg or thigh bone. 
The socket is the acetabulum of the pelvis.  The top of the leg bone is in the shape of a

Hip Dysplasia in Small Breed Dogs

Under normal conditions, this “ball”
fits nicely into its socket, the pelvis. 
There is slick coating of cartilage in the joint provides for a nice
smooth cushioned fit and allows the joint to move freely. 

When a dog is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, the socket part
of the joint or acetabulum is poorly developed and shallow.  This misshaped socket causes abnormal
friction when it moves. 

The muscles do
not develop as fast as the skeletal system and, as a result, weight bearing
exceeds the support of the muscle and connective tissue making the joint loose
and unstable. 

There is more free play in
the dysplastic joint promoting abnormal wear and tear.  This in turn causes inflammation and pain and
further damage.  A vicious cycle!

Causes of Hip Dysplasia  in Small Dogs

Hip dysplasia is thought of as a genetic disease caused by a
polygenic trait.   This means that more
than one pair of genes is involved. 
There are no genetic tests for this disorder.  There are, however, other factors that
contribute to the problem.


High calorie diet fed to growing puppies can exacerbate the
problem in puppies predisposed to the disease. 
Rapid weight gain in some puppies places more stress on the hips.  Poor diet can lead to obesity which further
increases the risk.  Diets that do not
have the proper balance of calcium and phosphorous are bad for bone


Inappropriate exercise during the period of rapid growth can
bring on the problem, especially in puppies who love to jump up and down from
heights landing on their back legs.  This
is especially a problem in puppies who love to jump up to catch a ball or Frisbee.  Puppies are born with normal hips, but slowly
show the signs of hip dysplasia between the ages of 4 and 12 months.

Affected Small Breed Dogs

As mentioned early, it is more common in large breed dogs,
but it does occur in small breed dogs too. 
Breeds affected according to Orthopedic Foundation for Animals

They are listed in descending order according to OFA from Pugs being the most affected to Tibetan Terriers being least affected.


In the early stages, there may be no symptoms at all. 

As the degeneration occurs, the first signs
you might notice is in the way the dog walks. 
When a dog uses both of his hind legs at the same time, you might think
he looks like he’s hopping like a bunny. 
This may not be a good sign. 

Also, the hind legs might wobble, or the dog begins to limp, favoring
one leg over another.  Pain and inflammation
occur, but not at first.  Sometimes the
owner will observe stiffness after the dog arises from sleeping.  Sometimes the dog will not want to stand at
all, jump up on furniture or climb the steps.

Signs of Pain in Dogs

  • Dogs are less active
  • Dogs have more trouble getting up and lying down
  • Dogs have difficulty climbing steps
  • Dogs have an unusual gate

How Hip Dysplasia is Diagnosed

The only reliable way to a definitive diagnosis is an X-ray.  Often the veterinarian will recommend that
the dog be sedated or anesthetized to get a good quality x-ray.  Unfortunately, an X-ray cannot predict the
level of pain a dog might be suffering. 
According OFA, there are many dogs suffering with severe dysplastic hips
that run, jump and play as if nothing is wrong. 
Then, there are dogs will little obvious changes on the X-ray that are
lame, limping and in obvious pain.

The veterinarian will also want to evaluate how the dog
walks and moves.  Other conditions can
cause limping and pain including lower back problems, cruciate ligament tears
and elbow dysplasia. 

How Hip Dysplasia is Treated

Often medical treatment is all that is necessary to make the
dog more comfortable, but there is no cure. The goal of treatment is to keep
the animal comfortable while maintaining his quality of life. 

A veterinarian will recommend that the dog’s
activity be restricted and may prescribe a medication such as a non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory, to relieve pain and inflammation. 

If the dog is overweight, low calorie diet
will help.

Sometimes a supplement such as Glucosamine is given to help
with joint repair. 

Dogs should be exercised on a leash and not allowed to run,
jump or play hard.  Swimming is great if
the dog loves the water.  Walking on
unpaved, grassy areas is easier on a dog with hip dysplasia than hard stone or
paved surfaces.

Pet owners can also make the dog more comfortable by
providing pressure reducing beds (orthopedic foam) to sleep on, ramps and
stairs for getting on and off of furniture.

Other forms of physical therapy such as massage or hydrotherapy
help reduce pain.  Underwater treadmills
can be effective in reducing swelling and pain. 
Usually these forms of treatment are available at university and specialty
veterinary hospitals.

Sometimes surgery is recommended.  Surgery is often done in puppies to prevent
degenerative joint disease.  Sometimes
surgery is indicated for dogs that do not improve on pure medical treatment.  There are various surgical techniques that
can be done including the reshaping of the joint, to hip replacement

How to Prevent Hip Dysplasia

The best prevention for puppies that may be predisposed to
hip dysplasia is preventing excess weight gain and preventing the puppy’s
activities, so they do not put undue stress on their hips.


There are currently no genetic tests that breeders can do on
the mother and father to assure perspective puppy buyers that their dog will
not get hip dysplasia.  There is a
genetic component, but environmental factors also play a role in whether any
one dog will develop hip dysplasia. 
There are, however, ways that breeders can begin to control the disease.

OFA Orthopedic Foundation for Animals maintains a database
of radiographs for pure bred dogs.  At
two years of age, a breeder can submit X-rays taken by their veterinarian for
evaluation. The OFA certified radiologist will review the X-rays and certify
the dog as Excellent, Good, or Fair and assign a number.  This only allows the breeder to know what
condition their breeding stock is in at the time of submission. 

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