German Shepherds tend to be the poster child of hip dysplasia in the canine world, understandably making this a common concern for most GSD owners.
Today we’ll cover everything there is to know about hip dysplasia in German Shepherds, how common it is, what to look out for, and more.
Table of Contents
What Is Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia is a very common health problem found in German Shepherds. GSDs are certainly prone to this health issue, with nearly 20% of the entire breed population developing hip dysplasia at some point in their lives.
First up, what actually is hip dysplasia? Hip dysplasia in dogs is a joint condition that is classified by the abnormal formation of the hip joint. In a dog without hip dysplasia, the hip consists of a ball and socket joint that moves freely and smoothly.
However, when a German Shepherd has hip dysplasia, the irregular formation of the hip does not allow the joint to move as it should. The ball and socket will move abnormally together, causing the joint to run and grind with movement.
Not only does this make virtually all movements extremely uncomfortable, but it can cause damage to the joint over time. If the issue is never addressed, a German Shepherd will experience excruciating joint deterioration as time goes by.
What Causes Hip Dysplasia In German Shepherds?
There are a few factors that can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia in German Shepherds.
Most often, hip dysplasia is thought to be a hereditary condition that is exacerbated by other factors. This means that many German Shepherds with hip dysplasia inherit a susceptibility to the condition, and are then exposed to factors that make the condition worse.
The most common exacerbating factors include:
● Canine obesity
● Fast growth rates
● Inadequate nutrition during development
● Joint injury
Large breed dogs are already at risk to arthritis and joint pain, making hip dysplasia just another factor to be aware of. This is why it is so important to choose a reputable breeder that screens their puppies and breeding parents for any signs of hip dysplasia.
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Is Hip Dysplasia Common In German Shepherds?
Unfortunately, hip dysplasia is common in German Shepherds. According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, nearly 20% of all German Shepherds will develop hip dysplasia.
With such a large majority of the German Shepherd population having the joint condition, it means that it can easily be passed around with irresponsible breeding. If a German Shepherd with hip dysplasia is used for breeding, this puts even more Shepherds at risk down the line.
Signs Of Hip Dysplasia In German Shepherds
One of the best ways to help a German Shepherd with hip dysplasia is to be aware of the symptoms. The sooner you address your dog’s discomfort, the easier it will be to offer them the relief they deserve.
So what are the signs of hip dysplasia in our canine friends, and how do you know if your dog is in pain?
The most common signs of hip dysplasia include:
- Weakness in the hind limbs
- Stiffness of the joints
- Change in normal gait
- Difficulty getting up and down
- Difficulty getting off and on furniture
- Being hesitant to jump or engage in physical activity
- Limited mobility
- Sensitivity in the back end
- Disinterest in physical activities they once enjoyed
These symptoms will usually develop in mid-aged German Shepherds, but can develop much later in life as well.
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How To Know If Your German Shepherd Has Hip Dysplasia
If you notice your German Shepherd struggling with any of the above symptoms, it’s time for a trip to the vet to get to the bottom of their struggles. There are a few ways for your veterinarian to diagnose the painful hip condition, and help you create the best treatment plan going forward.
First, your veterinarian will likely perform a physical exam that involves a mobility check. The vet will manipulate the hind legs to test their mobility, checking for any sign of stiffness or grinding.
If your vet is suspicious of hip dysplasia in your German Shepherd, they will then perform diagnostic x-rays. X-rays are the only way to offer a definitive diagnosis, and determine the degree of their joint damage.
The vet will take multiple images of your dog’s hips from a few different angles. If your dog is too painful to have their legs manipulated, your vet can offer sedation.
Once your vet can diagnose hip dysplasia in your pup, they will create the best management plan for their specific condition.
Can You Treat Hip Dysplasia In German Shepherds?
Thankfully, there are ways to effectively manage hip dysplasia in German Shepherds. Ranging from changes in their standard routine to medical management, there is typically an option for every dog.
If your German Shepherd’s hip dysplasia is not too advanced, you may be able to effectively manage their condition at home. These options are often helpful for dogs who are first diagnosed with the condition, or those who are at risk of developing hip dysplasia.
Joint supplements are a wonderful tool in the fight against hip dysplasia and joint pain. These supplements contain ingredients that target inflammation, promote joint elasticity, and even prevent future joint damage.
Joint supplements can not only help a German Shepherd that suffers from hip dysplasia, but can be beneficial for large breed dogs in general. Larger breeds are always at risk of developing joint conditions, so many vets recommend them from one year and on in high-risk pups.
Excess weight can put a large amount of stress on a dog’s joints. This can make life challenging for a dog without hip dysplasia, but will be incredibly difficult for a German Shepherd with a joint condition.
If your German Shepherd has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, maintaining a healthy weight is crucial. This will not only prevent unnecessary pain due to stress on their joints, but can help them to remain active throughout their condition.
Low Impact Exercise
Hip dysplasia in German Shepherds will often lead to a decrease in strength and stability of their hind limbs. Due to this, it’s important to maintain their muscle mass as much as possible.
Low impact exercise can not only help your GSD build strength in their back end, but also maintain a healthy weight. The more strength they have, the better their quality of life when dealing with this condition.
If your German Shepherd is past the point of basic home care, there are ways to help pups with severe cases of hip dysplasia. These options will vary in success based on your dog’s specific difficulties with the condition, but most will at least offer some level of relief.
Some cases of hip dysplasia will become so painful that they require prescription medications. Most vets will prescribe an NSAID for dogs with severe pain, helping to target their joint inflammation at the source.
These medications are often helpful, but do require a bit of extra care with long-term use. Dogs taking NSAIDS should receive regular blood work, as these medications can impact their liver and kidneys over time.
Surgery is often the last step for German Shepherds struggling with severe cases of hip dysplasia. If your pup is unable to find relief with any of the options we discussed above, there are two surgical options that are beneficial for adult dogs.
German Shepherds can have a procedure that removes the entire femoral head of the femur (FHO), or receive a total hip replacement. These procedures are often successful, but do have a long recovery time.
Hydrotherapy or Other Physical Therapy
Hydrotherapy and other forms of physical therapy can be life-changing for German Shepherds with severe hip dysplasia. Rehab centers offer therapy ranges from water therapy to strength training, treating dogs with many types of mobility issues.
Physical therapy can help your German Shepherd maintain a healthy weight, improve joint rotation, and even gain muscle in the back end. If your pup is struggling day to day, physical therapy can be a wonderful solution.
Juvenile Public Symphysiodesis
This is a preventative option that only applies to “at-risk” puppies under the age of 1 year. This procedure does not treat hip dysplasia, but rather stops it in its tracks.
A JPS procedure was created to prevent the development of hip dysplasia in puppies that would likely develop the condition later in life. A JPS alters the canine hips before they can form abnormally, giving these pups a full quality of life as they age.
This prophylactic procedure destroys a portion of the growth plate in the pelvis, causing a halt in the normal growth. As the puppy continues to age, the hip socket will rotate over time, leading to better coverage of the femoral balls in the hip.
This procedure not only improves joint function in at-risk German Shepherd puppies, but prevents joint complications over time. The JPS has grown in popularity over the last decade, and is being used in high-risk Shepherds around the country.
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Hip dysplasia is a serious condition that plagues many of our German Shepherd friends. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can be on the lookout for this painful condition going forward!