How to spot a flare-up of your dog’s hip dysplasia

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Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner shares his tips on noticing flare-ups in the joints and how to help keep your dog healthy.


As you’ll know from your own dog’s experience with dysplasia, it’s a disease that affects the elbow and hip joints in young pets, mostly those under 18 months old. It happens when the hip or elbow joints fail to develop normally. Many owners are surprised that their dog can develop arthritis when he’s barely out of puppyhood as we often link this with old age in people.

Larger breeds, like Retrievers, German Shepherds and Rottweilers as well as giant breeds like the Great Dane and St Bernard, are more prone to it, but medium breeds can also develop it.

Your vet will, no doubt, have offered you lots of advice on your options. The main thing to remember is that dogs with dysplasia can lead happy lives. Here are our top tips on spotting signs that the condition might be progressing:

1. Keep tabs on activity levels

Dogs with joint dysplasia are often more reluctant to run, jump or climb stairs, which can be unusual for a young dog that you’d expect to have boundless energy. If your dog seems less keen to exercise, it’s worth checking with your vet whether another flare-up of joint pain could be the cause.

2. Watch for stiffness

Keep an eye out for stiffness in young dogs that are usually bouncing around. You might notice they are stiff when they get up after a period of rest. This stiffness often disappears after a little movement and exercise.

3. Look out for limping

You might notice that your dog limps towards the end of exercise. Hip dysplasia happens when the ball in the hip does not sit well within the socket and the end of the bones rub against each other, instead of sliding smoothly.

Elbow dysplasia develops when cracks appear in the cartilage. In both instances it can be painful, which explains why your dog may be trying to keep weight off it.

4. Be aware of bunny hopping

In severe cases where both hips are affected, some dogs ‘bunny hop’ to avoid moving their hip joints. You might start to notice that your dog moves with an odd swaying motion on his hind legs.

5. Get regular check-ups at the vet

Dogs with hip or elbow dysplasia rarely yelp, cry or lick the affected areas, so changes in the joints are subtle and often hard to detect. It is also unlikely that owners will feel any abnormal swellings. But your vet will know exactly what to look out for during a physical examination, so make sure you take your dog for frequent check-ups.

6. Monitor their weight

The more weight your dog is carrying, the more work damaged joints have to do and the worse the dysplasia can become.

As your dog may not want to exercise as much, weight can gradually creep on. Getting dogs on the scales regularly can help you stay aware of this. Stick to a balanced diet and try to stay away from calcium supplements as these can make things worse. If in doubt as to the best kind of food to give your dog, ask your vet to help you make a nutritional plan.

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