Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds
I am a writer with a great interest in German Shepherds, cats, and animals in general. I hope you enjoy my articles.
German Shepherds make wonderful pets. They are smart, athletic, and loyal, making them great pets and working dogs. Unfortunately, like most large breed dogs, they are prone to a number of health problems.
One of the most common of these problems is hip dysplasia; according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, about 19% of German Shepherds have the ailment. Hip dysplasia is a joint problem which can cause pain and mobility problems for your dog and lead to the development of arthritis later in life.
German Shepherds can often live happily with the condition for some time, but it’s important to provide treatment and proper care to minimize their discomfort. Every owner should be familiar with hip dysplasia so that they can look out for warning signs, keep their pet healthy, and pursue treatment options if necessary.
What Is Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder that occurs when a dog’s hip joint is not formed normally. In dogs that have hip dysplasia, the socket of the hip joint fits loosely around the ball, and the ligaments that connect and support the joint are not as strong as they should be.
This creates a joint that fits together loosely, meaning that the femur (the leg bone) moves around too much in the joint, causing pain and damage over time. Hip dysplasia can occur in one or both rear hips. Over time, hip dysplasia can lead to degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, and lameness. Some dogs with the disorder, however, only have mild symptoms.
The condition can emerge at any age and sometimes becomes apparent as early as a few months into a dog's life. However, symptoms most commonly emerge when a dog is one or two years old. In some mild cases, you may not know your dog has the condition until they are old and begin to get arthritis.
Why Are German Shepherds Susceptible to Hip Dysplasia?
All kinds of dogs can be affected by hip dysplasia, but it is most common in large dogs such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Bulldogs, and Saint Bernards. German Shepherds are at particular risk for the disorder because they are highly active and because of inbreeding in the breed’s history.
The condition is hereditary, meaning that it is passed on through genetics. If it is present in your dog’s lineage, it’s more likely that your dog will eventually get the disorder as well.
How to Minimize Your Dog's Risk
The condition is hereditary, so there’s only so much you can do to reduce the risk of your dog developing it. When choosing where to adopt your dog from, you should look for a dog whose parents do not or did not have hip dysplasia.
Responsible breeders will not breed dogs that are known to have the condition. You should be able to view certification based on x-rays from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or PennHip. Unfortunately, it is impossible to guarantee that your adopted dog will not develop the condition later.
Luckily, there are some other steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing the disorder or to keep symptoms less extreme if they do develop it. Being overweight can place strain on your dog’s joints and aggravate hip dysplasia, so it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s guidelines for feeding. You should also make sure that your dog is on a specialized diet for large breed dogs.
A proper diet is especially important during your puppy’s first year when they are growing quickly. You can also take steps to reduce risks from exercise. German shepherds are active dogs, but exercise that’s too extreme can cause joint damage. As much as possible, you should limit jumping, such as jumping for treats or Frisbees.
Running for a long time can also strain your dog’s joints. The ideal exercise schedule includes multiple short periods of moderate exercise each day rather than one long period. Exercise such as walking and swimming can help your dog to build stabilizing muscle without straining their joints. Of course, your dog will also love going out for walks multiple times a day!
When to Be Concerned
Hip dysplasia causes pain and stiffness in the hips, so symptoms will cause your dog to have difficulty moving. In particular, your dog may be reluctant to get up from lying down or avoid going upstairs.
They may also be stiff or appear to be in pain after exercising or first thing in the morning. If you notice that your dog isn’t as active or doesn’t seem to be enjoying physical activities as much as usual, it could be a sign that they’re beginning to suffer from hip dysplasia. One of the clearest signs of the condition is an altered gait.
If your dog hops with both rear legs together while walking or running, there’s a strong chance they are developing the disorder. You may also notice that your dog gains weight quickly, largely because physical activity has become painful. If you notice any of these signs, set up an appointment to have an x-ray and evaluation with your vet. If the vet identifies hip dysplasia, you can begin preventative treatment that will make things much easier for your dog.
Treatment Options for German Shepherds With Hip Dysplasia
There is no cure for hip dysplasia, but treatments can help reduce pain, improve mobility, and slow the disorder’s development. Treatments vary depending on the dog and the severity of the problem.
The most basic treatments are the same as the preventative measures to keep your dog healthy: monitor their diet to keep their weight healthy, encourage moderate exercise such as walking and swimming, and (with your vet’s advice) give your dog a daily supplement that keeps their joints healthy.
There are other things you can do to help around the house, such as placing rugs over slippery floors to make it easier for your dog to get around. Some dogs also benefit from a heated bed that can help reduce pain while they sleep.
If your German Shepherd is diagnosed, your vet will likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication. If your dog is experiencing moderate to severe pain, your vet may also prescribe pain-relief medication. In more extreme cases, your vet may offer to surgically replace the hip.
It’s always best to consult with your vet about what the best options for your dog might be. By taking steps to keep your dog healthy every day, you can do a lot to reduce the symptoms of hip dysplasia and help your German Shepherd live a long and happy life.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on June 06, 2019:
Good food, moderate exercise like swimming at a place where he can walk in and out easily. For medications it is best you talk to the vet, I prefer not to give advice on painkillers and supplements or supportive medication in these cases. Our dog got a lot of anti-inflammation painkillers when he had severe issues at old age, they helped him with the pain and walking, but it damaged his kidneys after some time. He was already very old when this started, but with a dog that is only 5 years old, I would be very careful not to damage essential organs because of medication, but that you've to talk over with a vet and depends on the seriousness at this point.
Ann on April 02, 2019:
My shepard is almost 5 years old, he has been diagnosed with arthritis in his left back leg, and his back. Is there anything we can do to help him please. Thank You
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on March 24, 2018:
I'm sorry, but I have no knowledge about good herbal remedies. In most cases I would rely on a vet. In our own case when trying to help an aging dog (no hip dysplasia) we used supplements and in the end even painkillers, but all have very serious downsides. Stomach issues from continued painkiller use etc.
Peeing issues from supplements. Because older dogs start can get renal issues etc.
Especially the painkillers was sad, because you would see the dog was 'happier', but you know it wasn't good for general health. You try to give him a painless last couple of years (12-13 years of age), but you know it's not very healthy either.
linda on March 21, 2018:
My german shepherd is now 12yrs old. she has mostly been healfhy all her life. at 8 months she did have a lump removed from her back leg on her foot. she does go to the vet and is on rimadyl but her muscles in her back legs have started to descinegrate. are there herbs i can give her to help her? We live in pennsylvania. any help would be appreciated. Shes my best friend. thank-you.
Pam on March 15, 2018:
What happens next, my dog has become lame however she can get outside with this special leash that supports her back legs. Its getting hard just to get her out. She does eat and sleep fine, I realize my options are not good.
Statement: “All GSDs have bad hips/will get hip dysplasia as they age.”
Truth: Absolutely false.
If anyone owns a German Shepherd, they will undoubtedly hear this statement from other people who know little about the breed (or who think they know a lot about GSDs because they had one, once). People often witness the angulation of the rear legs and the motion of their walk, and assume that the dog has hip dysplasia, even when the dog does not. This is “verified” by many of the overbred American and German show line dogs, who may have such severe angulation that it creates a very odd “frog-like” walk. This is created by the change in the length of the stifle and the positioning of the croup, not necessarily by the morphology of the hip joint itself. These dogs may still show normal hips via x-ray, and in fact many of them do have “a” normal hips. But the difference in their structure and the way they move has created this myth that “all GSDs have bad hips.”
German Shepherd Dogs will not suddenly “develop” hip dysplasia as they age. They may get arthritis in their hips or in the lumbosacral region of the spine, but this is not to be confused with dysplasia (malformation of the actual hip joint). Many people believe their dogs have “good hips” (not verified by x-ray), when they may actually have mild or moderate dysplasia that starts revealing itself as the dog hits six, seven, or eight years of age. The laxity of the hip joint and the improper fit of the ball and socket have created arthritic changes that now are manifested as pain, stiffness, and uneven muscle development as the dog alters its gait to protect the most painful joint. Arthritis develops over time, until it finally is painful enough for the dog to show it. Thus, the arthritic changes began years ago, created by the poor morphology of the hip and the excessive laxity (looseness) that has allowed the bones to bump and grind and move excessively. But since this does not show until the dog ages, the belief becomes that the dog “developed bad hips in old age”. In reality, the dog has always had bad hips, but is just now showing it. A dog with good, tight hips will age better with much less arthritis overall there are many GSDs with good hips who are still running and jumping and even working well into their golden years!
The truth of the matter is that anyone wishing to breed their dog should x-ray both hips and elbows first and certify them with OFA or the SV, to conclusively prove that their dog is free of hip and elbow dysplasia. And puppy buyers should ensure that their potential breeder has valid hip and elbow certificates for their dogs. Hip ratings can be checked on the OFA database if a breeder’s dogs do not show up in the database, ask to see proof of valid hip ratings.
Hip dysplasia is a common genetic problem among many large breeds of dogs, including German Shepherd Dogs. This condition affects the structure of the hip joint, and can range from being very mild to severe and crippling. While there is much information on hip dysplasia available, there are still many myths and half-truths surrounding the condition that continue to circulate among the general public and among many of the backyard breeders for German Shepherd Dogs (for more information on breeders, please see our blogs on Breeder Websites, Backyard Breeding, and Large-scale Commercial Breeding Operations.). In this blog, we will tackle some of the more common statements out there about hip dysplasia.
Canine Hip Dysplasia Example
The hip joint is not the only area of a dog that may be affected by this disease.
Knee, shoulder, and spinal joints can also show evidence of changes. The gradual loss of cartilage, joint inflammation, bone spurs, and pain can all result from osteoarthritis or dysplasia.
How to Treat Dysplasia in German Shepherds
This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.
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German Shepherds are large, lovable dogs. They are also intelligent, protective, and athletic.  X Research source Unfortunately, German Shepherds are prone to developing a joint condition called dysplasia in their elbows and hips in fact, nearly 20% of German Shepherds will develop hip dysplasia during their lifetimes.  X Research source If your German Shepherd isn’t able to move around like he used to, he may have dysplasia and will need veterinary treatment.