Dog Hip Pain: Dysplasia or Arthritis?

Just like humans, dogs can have aches and pains that can come and go. But if your dog has been showing more signs of pain, especially in the hip area, there are a few important things to know. In some cases, dog hip pain can be a symptom of a larger issue known as hip dysplasia. It can also be just the normal arthritis that can happen as a result of the aging process. Is there an easy way to tell the difference? 

Here are a few tips, from the pet lovers here at WINPRO.

Signs of Dog Hip Pain

Before we can work to identify the source of the pain, it’s important to know the way to recognize that your dog may be dealing with pain in the first place. Not every symptom is obvious; some dogs will hide how much discomfort they are in until it is severe. 

Knowing your dog is essential, as you can catch those subtle changes in demeanor and movement that people who don’t know your dog may miss. However, regular vet visits (even when there are no obvious problems) really are key to catching issues before they can get out of control.

Here are just a few of the more common signs to look out for:

  • Limping, especially if your dog tends to limp on one side of his or her body.
  • Getting slower or having trouble when changing position.
  • More limited range of motion.
  • Less interest in going on walks.
  • Muscle atrophy in the hind legs, making your dog’s rear end look “skinnier”.
  • Loss of balance or wobbling.
  • “Bunny hopping,” which is moving both hind legs together at the same time.

While this isn’t a complete list and every dog shows their pain differently, it’s a good place to start. If you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior or how much they seem to be enjoying life, take a trip to your veterinarian. They can help you diagnose your pet’s health issues, and give you a solid guide to how to treat it. X-rays are one of the most common ways that dog hip pain is diagnosed and staged, and any prescription medications that your dog may need should always come from your vet as well.

Hip Dysplasia Vs. Arthritis

Hip dysplasia is actually a form of arthritis, which is a health condition involving either tenderness or swelling (or both) in the joints. With hip dysplasia, the arthritis is occurring specifically in the ball and socket joint of the hips. 

In many cases, hip dysplasia occurs in large breed dogs like Great Danes and Saint Bernards. There are also dogs that are more genetically prone to developing the condition, including German Shepherd Dogs and Labrador Retrievers. 

Hip dysplasia is normally caused by a general laxity (looseness) in that joint, which can cause too much movement. This is what leads to eventual arthritis and pain. This is not a reversible condition; in the best case scenarios it can only be slowed down and kept at bay.

What Can Hip Dysplasia Lead To?

Any condition that our furry friends develop can be incredibly scary. After all, they very quickly become important members of the family, and you likely can’t even imagine what life would look like without them in it. If your dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, or if you have adopted a breed known to have issues, you’re probably wondering what to expect. 

Veterinarians are your number one source of information, and you should schedule an appointment if you’re concerned that you may be dealing with dog hip pain of any variety. 

Management of dog hip pain may include several options, depending on your vet’s diagnosis and how advanced the condition is. Hydrotherapy has proven to be very useful, as it is easy on the joints while still allowing your dog to get his or her necessary exercise. Physiotherapy has also been used, as have more alternative forms of management like acupuncture.

For more advanced conditions, your vet may recommend surgery. There are normally three different surgeries to help manage dog hip pain - pelvic osteotomies (where the ball and socket joint are surgically placed in their correct positions), femoral head ostectomy (replacing the ball and socket joint entirely), and even total hip replacement. 

Preventative Care For Dog Hip Pain

If you own a large breed dog, or one that is known for being genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia, prevention is key. While nothing can stop your dog from developing the condition, putting some prevention techniques into place has the potential to help extend your dog’s quality of life as long as possible. Remember, always check with your veterinarian before making any major changes, and always consult with them as soon as you adopt a new dog (especially a larger breed dog).


Focusing on your dog’s nutrition, especially in regard to helping your dog maintain a healthy weight, can take excess pressure off the joints all over the body. Heavier dogs tend to have more problems with arthritis, overall, and overweight dogs also have other health conditions that can affect both their quality and the length of their life. 

Portion control is important, which also means not feeding him or her table scraps or excess amounts of treats. Fresh fruits and vegetables make great, healthy treats, as long as they are not on the list of potential dangerous foods (namely grapes, onions, and citrus fruits). Feeding your dog on a schedule can also help keep their nutrition on track.

There are also specifically formulated foods to help large breed dogs grow at a controlled pace. In some cases, quick or excessive growth can lead to all kinds of skeletal issues, including eventual hip dysplasia. Starting these formulas as puppies is a great place to start, as it can help reduce the risk of problems developing later on in life. 


Regular exercise, especially long before dog hip pain has set in, is another excellent prevention technique. However, too much exercise can actually do the opposite, especially if your dog is still growing. Walks are really the best exercise, because they can be taken at any distance or speed that you and your dog need. 

This should also be partnered with regular rest and relaxation time, preferably on a supportive, orthopedic dog bed that will be gentle on all of your dog’s joints (not just the hips). 

Learning to read your dog, and not pushing him or her when they’re tired, gives them the time to rest and recuperate that they need to not put too much stress on their bones, whether they are old, young, or somewhere in the middle.

In Conclusion

When it comes to dog hip pain, whether that comes from hip dysplasia or any other health issue that can impact your dog, being proactive is key. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight, knowing how much exercise they need, and being aware of the signs that hip dysplasia may be present is key to keeping your special friend as happy and healthy as possible for as long as possible. 

WINPRO is dedicated to improving the quality of life of every dog, because we know just how important the human/dog bond is. Here’s to your furry friend, and many, happy years to come!



Hip Dysplasia in Dogs - Musculoskeletal System | Merck 

Hip Dysplasia In Dogs: Prevention, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment | AKC

People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets | ASPCA