If you have a German shepherd, you’re well aware that there’s plenty to love about these exceptional canines. Brilliant, beautiful, and affectionate, their naturally protective nature and fierce loyalty make them ideal companions for many. They’re also incredibly obedient and a cinch to train. Is it any wonder they’re capable of everything from assisting the police to starring in films?
But unfortunately, German shepherds are also prone to a specific German shepherd hip dysplasia—a prevalent though no less painful skeletal complication that can affect your pooch’s gait, energy levels, and happiness.
Read on as we cover how to recognize if your German shepherd suffers from hip dysplasia—and the treatment options that are available.
What is Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia can be a common orthopedic issue regardless of whether the German Shepherd is a small young dog or an old large dog (though these hip problems do become common with age).Within canine hip dysplasia the complication affects the ball of your pup’s hip—or the head of their femur bone—and the pelvic socket, or acetabulum, that holds the bone in place and enables your pup to run, walk, jump, and, yes, perform an enviable downward facing (literal) dog.
When the hip and its socket fit together as they should, they work in concert, sliding with ease and allowing for mobility. But with hip dysplasia, the socket joints are “loose,” causing hip pain due to the femur and joint jam and grind against each other.1
This hip pain can be as agonizing as it sounds and may result in:
- Bone deterioration
- Bone spurs, or osteophytes
- Advanced degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis
- Loss of function
What Are the Causes of Hip Dysplasia?
The reasons behind hip dysplasia are as varied as the demeanors of different dog breeds. All of the following can play a part in its development:2
- Traumatic injuries
- Excessive or abnormal growth, such as the femur growing at a faster rate than the acetabulum
- Insufficient nutrition3
- Overly vigorous exercise when your German shepherd is still in their puppy stage, and specific types of exercise, such as running on hard surfaces
But the number one cause? Genetics.
Indeed, hip dysplasia is a ubiquitous hereditary condition among German shepherds and other “large breed” hounds like Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Bernese mountain dogs, Mastiffs, and Rottweilers.
Yet some pint-sized pooches are prone to hip dysplasia as well, including:
- French bulldogs
- Basset hounds
What Are the Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia?
Alas, pets are notorious for hiding their pain–and the fact that they can’t express when, why, and where they are aching can be excruciating for both pups and their parents.
With hip dysplasia, though, the signs are more obvious than for an ear infection or hyperthyroidism.
One of the most recognizable warning signs of hip dysplasia is lameness—limping and/or an odd hop, and not a pep, in your German shepherd’s step, particularly after exercising. Such lameness can range from mild and subtle to severe and conspicuous.
If your German shepherd has hip dysplasia, they may also show reluctance when they encounter a set of stairs. As you can imagine, climbing is especially uncomfortable when the ball of the hip and the socket are rubbing against each other. And when you do get them to climb stairs? They’ll have difficulty doing so.
Are your German shepherd’s hind legs looking thinner and less muscular than they once were? This could also be a symptom of hip dysplasia.
You might also find that their back has a slope to it, or they’re not jumping on your couch for cuddles as often as they once did. They may also move slowly after being roused from a nap.
Other symptoms of hip dysplasia include:4
- Sensitivity in their hind legs
- Curbed interest in playing, going for a walk, or heading outside
- Unintended weight gain
- Swollen hips
- A “pop” sound when your German shepherd moves
- Behavioral changes, such as heightened aggression or despondency
- Alterations in the way they sit (or what’s known as the puppy sit, with both legs on one side)
- Larger, disproportionately muscular shoulders–an effect of using their front legs more often
If any of this sounds familiar, it may be time to pack your German shepherd in the car and head to the vet.
How is Hip Dysplasia Diagnosed?
Your vet will jumpstart their investigation into hip dysplasia by performing a comprehensive physical exam that will involve manipulating your dog’s legs to assess their range of motion. In some cases of hip dysplasia, the grinding of bone against the joint is audible. This, combined with an exam, may be all they need to make a diagnosis.
Other times, your vet will perform X-rays to ascertain hip dysplasia, measure its severity, and examine for joint deterioration.
Typically, X-rays will require sedation as your vet will have to put your pooch in different positions to obtain a clear picture.
What is the Treatment for Hip Dysplasia?
Fortunately, advances in veterinary medicine, paired with lifestyle changes and natural treatments, can enhance the quality of your German shepherd’s life, restore them to health, and help them live long, joyful lives.
Each case of German shepherd hip dysplasia will have a unique treatment plan. It should be mentioned that the following treatments may not be as relevant for other dog breeds hip pain issues like the Labrador retriever and the Golden retriever. With that said, below, you’ll find the most common forms of treatment.
Natural treatments will not “cure” your German shepherd of the issue, but they will aid in the severity of their condition and potentially mitigate their pain and other symptoms:
- Weight loss and management – If your German shepherd is tipping the scale in an undesirable direction—which would be expected if they’ve been hesitant (or downright against) exercise—your vet will likely recommend weight loss. An excess of poundage can put tension on your German shepherd’s joints and femoral head exacerbating the pain caused by hip dysplasia. To ensure your pup is at an appropriate weight, you may have to change their diet, reduce the amount of dog food they’re fed, and encourage light, low-impact exercise.
- Mild exercise – High-impact exercise, like running on asphalt, will only worsen your German shepherd dogs hip symptoms. Swimming—and hydrotherapy in general—is golden, as it enhances joint mobility.
- Physical therapy – Physical therapy may help improve joint mobility, too, as well as joint laxity. You can also massage your German shepherd or bring in a dog masseuse (yes, they exist!)
- CBD oil – CBD oil, much like other treatment options like vet-prescribed pain medication has the potential to ease inflammation and the joint pain that arrives with it.5 It might also spur your pooch to get more exercise.
- Supplements – Your vet may also prescribe supplements to increase the health of your dog’s bones and bad hips. Glucosamine, for example, is a joint supplement used to decrease pain and potentially ease the wear on your dog’s joints.4 Supplements are most commonly used in young dogs as a preventative measure, although they may also be used to help with managing the symptoms of hip dysplasia.
If your German shepherd is still limping or exhibiting any of the other signs of hip dysplasia, your vet may recommend surgery. The type of surgery will depend on the severity of the condition, your dog’s age, and other factors. The three most prevalent forms are:1
- Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO) – It may sound wince-inducing, but during this type of surgery, your vet’s surgeon will either cut or shave down the ball of the hip so that the joint glides as it should. While it doesn’t revitalize complete hip function, it can help your pooch manage the pain created by the condition.
- Double or Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (DPO/TPO) – With this surgery, the shape of your German shepherd’s pelvis will be altered to accommodate the hip femur. These surgeries are normally performed on dogs ten months old or younger.
- Total Hip Replacement (THR) – A total hip replacement is exactly as it sounds: the whole hip is taken out of the hip socket and replaced with bionic parts (aka, metal implants). This type of surgery is typically used on older pup patients, and it’s thought of as the most effective remedy for hip dysplasia. This surgery may not be the perfect fix to restoring a normal hip but is extremely effective nonetheless.
Can German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia Be Prevented?
The most common cause of hip dysplasia is genetics. So, in these cases, the condition cannot be prevented.
However, you can take measures to ease the progression of the disorder and alleviate your dog’s symptoms. A healthy diet, proper exercise, regular vet appointments, the use of supplements, and good old-fashioned love (or so we would like to think) can do wonders for your German shepherd’s health—including that of their joints.
If you have or are about to adopt a German shepherd puppy (lucky you), remember that a healthy, balanced diet is key to their development. Excessive calcium, for instance, can cause your puppy’s bones to grow too rapidly, which is a huge contributing factor to hip dysplasia.
Give Your German Shepherd The Vitality They Need With Bark
Bark was built because we, quite simply, love dogs and want the best for them. With that mission in mind, we’ve created a line of nutrition tailored to specific breeds and designed to encourage their wellness—as pups, as teens, and well into their golden years.
Our specialty dog food is infused with top-shelf, healthy ingredients—like farm-raised chicken, fish, natural fiber, and brown rice—to provide your pup with the nutrients they need to thrive. We also carry supplements, doggy fashion, toys, treats, chews, and accouterments–all to promote your dog’s ultimate wellness and contentment.
- Veterinarians.org. Top treatment for hip dysplasia in dogs: how to help your canine companion. https://www.veterinarians.org/treatment-for-hip-dysplasia-in-dogs/
- Merck Veterinary Manual. Bone, joint, and muscle disorders of dogs, hip dysplasia. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders-of-dogs/hip-dysplasia
- Emergency Vets USA. Hip dysplasia in dogs. https://emergencyvetsusa.com/hip-dysplasia-in-dogs/
- American Kennel Club. Hip dysplasia in dogs. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/hip-dysplasia-in-dogs/
- Frontiers in Veterinary Science. Pharmacokinetics, safety, and clinical efficacy of cannabidiol treatment in osteoarthritic dogs. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30083539/