We usually associate bone and joint problems with older dogs, but puppies also have their own skeletal issues. By far the most well known joint problem – hip dysplasia – is most commonly seen in larger dogs, but can occur in any breed.
Those commonly affected include Labrador and golden retrievers, Newfoundlands, great Pyrenees, great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, and of course, German Shepherds.
Hip dysplasia results in looseness of the hip joints. While some dogs do not show symptoms, those with severely loose hips show signs of lameness, usually in one hip, though both can be affected.
This condition can affect dogs of any age, but is often a common cause of lameness in young puppies. It has both a genetic and environmental component. Large dogs intended to be used for breeding should be screened via the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and preferably PennHip testing to determine their hip structure. Those with signs of dysplasia should not be bred.
Even adult dogs with normal hip structure can still have puppies with bad hips, so all puppies should be checked for hip dysplasia. This is easily done at the time of spaying and neutering at four to six months of age. A simple radiograph of the hips, done when the puppy is sedated, usually allows diagnosis.
There Are Several Surgery Options For Hip Dysplasia
Treatment varies with the severity of the disease. Puppies found to have hip dysplasia during routine screening, but who are not showing symptoms, often need no treatment other than a joint supplement to minimize cartilage damage.
Puppies with clinical signs can be managed with restricted exercise, joint supplements, and limited use of NSAIDS to control pain. Those that do not respond to medical therapy will usually require surgery.
The type of surgery done depends on the skill and preference of the surgeon, the cost of the procedure, the age of the puppy at the time of diagnosis, the degree of hip looseness, and the dog’s size.
1) Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO)
This involves surgically removing the head of the femur (the long bone of the leg involved in the disease). This relieves pain and creates a false joint between the femur and acetabulum (hip bone). This is an excellent procedure for puppies, however the leg will be slightly shorter than its opposite and a slight non-painful limp may persist.
2) Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO)
This is a procedure in which the pelvis is cut in three places and then rotated to give greater coverage to the head of the femur. This resolves the dysplasia, the pain, and returns the dog to normal function. It is a very involved operation and not every surgeon is trained to do it. It is also limited based on the size and age of the dog, as well as the amount of dysplasia present at the time of surgery.
3) Total Hip Replacement (THO)
Considered the gold standard of hip surgery, total hip replacement is also the most expensive, averaging $3,000 or more per hip. In this procedure, your dog literally receives a new hip (head and neck of the femur and new acetabulum). Again, not every surgeon is trained to perform it and not every dog is the ideal candidate. However, it is the surgery of choice for many patients and gives excellent results in most cases.