Monday, July 6, 2009 10:40 AM

Canine Hip Dysplasia

This week I'd like to dedicate some time and space to our other favorite companion animal: The dog. Dogs tend to have more health problems than cats, perhaps due to the fact that dogs come in very many shapes and sizes. Another reason may be that dogs have had humans meddling in their reproductive behavior for longer than cats, resulting in genetic mutations that very often do not bode well for the species. One of these genetic glitches is hip dysplasia, a serious musculoskeletal defect that plagues the larger breeds more than the smaller and, on occasion, even affects cats.

Hip dysplasia is a congenital condition, meaning that the gene for this disorder is inherited. Dogs inherit a predisposition for the disease, as puppies are not actually born with hip dysplasia. Some pups, however, are diagnosed with dysplasia as early as 4 or 5 months. Others develop symptoms later in life.

This disease usually affects both hips and is a direct result of a "looseness" in the hip joint itself. Normally, the rounded ball at the top of the thighbone, or femur, fits snugly into the socket of the pelvic girdle. Strong muscles and ligaments hold this joint together, creating a sturdy joint with a fairly wide range of motion (which you know if you've ever seen your dog, um, cleaning up "down there"). The dyplastic joint, however, lacks the muscle strength and taut ligament structure of a normal hip. The ball may be just a bit flattened, and the socket might be more shallow than normal. Since new pups do not exhibit dysplasia symptoms and x-rays of their hips show no abnormality, it is unknown whether the laxity of the support structure cause the bone anomolies or they are present at birth. Also, like any disorder, hip dysplasia comes in various gradations of severity, and environmental stresses can speed up or slow down the displaying of symptoms. The actual degradation of the hip joint due to excess "play" is what ultimately brings about the symptoms and diagnosis of hip dysplasia.

The first symptoms of hip dysplasia are often pain and a disinclination to stand up. As the condition worsens, stiffness and a hopping or stilted gait are evident. When standing, the dog may drop its head and hunch its back in an effort to take the pressure off the hip joints. Eventually, muscle wasting of the hind quarters becomes evident.

Hip dysplasia is a chronic disease and is incurable. Careful breeding can be preventative and, in existant cases, treatment can relieve discomfort and slow the degradation of the joint itself. We'll take a look at some of these issues here as the week progresses.

Introducing: Today's pictorial features our pal Miss P.'s beautiful German Shepherd, D. He is a well-trained, lovable guy who absolutely worships his mom. He's pretty fond of J. and myself, too! He has hip dysplasia but, at 10 years old, is doing very well because of the excellent diet Miss P. feeds him and a well-defined exercise program. We'll be sharing some of his secrets in the next few posts.
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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