If you have or are planning on getting a German Shepherd, you are probably aware that hip dysplasia is something to worry about.
Canine hip dysplasia is an orthopedic disease that affects the hip joints of dogs. In a normal hip joint, the femur (thigh bone) fits perfectly into a socket on the hip bone. In hip dysplasia, this fit is disturbed resulting in wear on the bones.
Hip dysplasia affects dogs differently with some barely experiencing any signs and symptoms while others may have to be put down. It is extremely helpful to educate yourself on the condition so you can make the best decisions for your dog.
Why are German Shepherds Prone to Hip Dysplasia?
As you may know, hip dysplasia mostly affects large breed dogs. German Shepherds are no small dogs. Large breed dogs are prone to hip dysplasia because of their large bodies.
When upright, the joints are tasked with the job of supporting the body weight. The heavier the body, the more pressure the joints have to withstand. The application of extra pressure on the joints increases the risk of developing joint diseases one of which is hip dysplasia.
Canine hip dysplasia being a genetic disease also contributes to its higher prevalence in certain breeds such as the German Shepherd.
Nearly 20% of German Shepherds suffer from hip dysplasia. This implies that the chances of a German Shepherd developing hip dysplasia are 1 in 5. This probability goes even higher for dogs whose parents had the disease.
Warning Signs of Hip Dysplasia
As your dog’s hip joints deteriorate, you will begin to notice certain signs and symptoms. Being a mobility disease, many of the signs are related to the dog’s ability to move. Some of the signs you should look out for in your German Sheperd include:
- Limping or lameness
- Bunny hopping gait. You may notice your dog use her front legs more as she moves giving her a bunny hop-like movement
- A lazy sit or puppy sit. Dogs with hip dysplasia tend to sit with their legs on one side as they rest on one side of the hips.
- Trouble moving particularly getting onto higher surfaces like stairs and the car.
- Reduced interest in physical exercise
- Popping sound at the hip joint when the dog moves
- Difficulty getting up
You should see a vet as soon as possible after noticing one or more of these signs and symptoms in your German Shepherd. Early diagnosis and treatment will greatly improve your dog’s chances of recovery.
Prevention of Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds
While it is true that genetics play a big role in hip dysplasia, your dog’s environment can also greatly influence your dog’s joint health. There is so much you can do as a dog owner for your German Sheperd to lower its risk of getting the disease.
Pick a Responsible Breeder
A dog’s health journey starts the day it is bred. If a dog is properly bred, it stands a higher chance of living a healthy long life and vice versa.
When choosing a German Shepherd, ensure to use a responsible breeder. Due to the genetic nature of hip dysplasia, good breeders can reduce the prevalence of the condition in the breed by not breeding affected dogs.
Breeders that are money-hungry ignore this practice and go ahead to breed sick dogs. Some of them do not bother to inspect their breeding stock at all.
To reduce the risk of hip dysplasia, get your German Shepherd from a reputable breeder that certifies his/her stock.
What is Hip Certification?
Hip certification is a practice that involves examining the hips of dogs before breeding them. During hip certification, the breeder takes specialized x rays of a dog’s hips at around two years to determine the state of his/her hips.
At two years of age, a dog that will develop hip dysplasia in the future shows certain signs. If a German Shepherd is found to show any of these signs, it is not bred. If one is found to have healthy hips, it is bred. This helps to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia in the dogs’ offsprings.
The tests are not 100% accurate. Some dogs may still develop canine hip dysplasia even when they did not show any prior signs. Hip certification has however been proven as an effective strategy as a means of reducing the chances of hip dysplasia in dogs.
Try your best to stay away from dog breeders that do not certify their dogs.
Part of the appeal of having a large breed dog is to watch her grow into a giant mature dog. Some dog owners may get tempted to overfeed their dog so she can grow very fast and get that big frame German Shepherds are famous for.
Overfeeding your dog may cause your dog’s bones to grow at a very fast rate resulting in complications like hip dysplasia. Overfeeding will also cause uncontrolled weight gain. Overweight dogs have a much higher chance of developing canine hip dysplasia and other joint complications like arthritis.
Feed your dog just adequate amounts of food for her to grow at a normal pace. Provide high-quality nutritious food for your dog. For good bone growth ensure to provide foods rich in nutrients that support bone strength like vitamin D and calcium.
Overweight dogs should be put on a nutritious low-calorie diet to help them lose weight. Seek the help of a qualified nutrition expert before putting your dog on a calorie-restricted diet.
Physical exercise is essential for the health of the body in general. It is especially beneficial for physical body health. Encourage your dog to get some physical activity every day or whenever possible.
Engage in fun active games with your dog. Take her along when on a walk for her to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise in.
When exercising your dog, ensure not to overdo it. If you think your dog is tired, either take a break or end the session completely. Too much exercise is as much of a risk factor for joint disease as too little exercise.
Start Supplements Early
Some dog owners view supplements as drugs. The think dog supplements are for sick dogs. This could not be further from the truth. Supplements are beneficial to both healthy and sick dogs alike.
Two main categories of supplements will benefit hip joint health in German Shepherds; Natural Supplements and Nutritional supplements. Nutritional supplements are supplements with nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Natural supplements are made from foods that are rich in nutrients particularly herbs. Such supplements include turmeric, ginger, and apple cider vinegar.
The best supplements for German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia
While all supplements will benefit your German Shepherd in one way or another, some will do a particularly good job in preventing hip dysplasia. Such supplements include:
Glucosamine is a sugar amino acid that is a key component in connective tissue and cartilage. Cartilage is a soft rubbery tissue that surrounds bones at the joint to prevent them from rubbing against each other.
Just like glucosamine, chondroitin is also a component of cartilage and connective tissue. It is used in the treatment of joint diseases like osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia. Supplementation of chondroitin and glucosamine may increase the production of collagen reducing the friction between the femur and hip bone.
MSM is a sulfur-containing compound that is used for relieving joint pain. MSM may also relieve inflammation at the joints.
Most joint supplement brands will contain at least two of these compounds so you do not have to give your dog three separate doses. It is highly advisable to get a supplement that has both glucosamine and chondroitin because they have a synergistic effect on each other.
Remember that supplements are meant to work with a healthy diet, not in place of it.
Treatment Options for German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia
You can help your German Shepherd’s hip dysplasia by providing therapies that improve joint strength and mobility. Physiotherapy is a type of treatment that only uses touch and movement to provide relief to the body. It is one of the most effective treatments for joint diseases.
Hydrotherapy, a form of therapy that involves performing movements and exercises underwater is also great for joint mobility.
Finally, massage can also help relieve some signs and symptoms of hip dysplasia. You can perform these therapies at home or take your dog to an expert. It is however highly advisable to at least see a professional first for some guidance.
Supplements can provide some relief for your dog’s hip dysplasia. Supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids and turmeric that have an anti-inflammatory effect can help alleviate pain at the joints.
Supplements that promote bone health like vitamin D may also improve your dog’s hip dysplasia. Ensure to get the best quality supplements for your dog from a reputable brand.
If your German Shepherd is overweight, losing the extra weight should be one of the first steps taken to manage her hip dysplasia.
For overweight dogs, you can help them lose weight by putting them on a low-calorie diet. A low-calorie diet and physical exercise should be good enough to help your dog lose weight.
Do not push your dog to do too much exercise because you want her to lose weight. Too much exercise will do more harm than good for your dog’s hip dysplasia.
Surgery is the most effective treatment for hip dysplasia. In fact, all the other options are great for delaying the progression of the disease but not for treatment.
There are three main types of surgeries used in hip dysplasia:
- Double or Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (DPO/TPO); This is performed on the pelvis to change its shape so it can fit the femur perfectly. Pelvic osteotomies are usually done in newly diagnosed puppies.
- Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO); This surgery involves cutting or shaving the femoral head to make it fit the hip socket better. This can be done in both young and mature dogs.
- Total Hip Replacement (THR); The entire hip is removed and replaced with an implant. This is the most effective treatment for hip dysplasia. It is usually done in older dogs.
Our Final Thoughts
German Shepherds have a high risk of developing canine hip dysplasia because of their large size. When choosing a German Shepherd, use an experienced reputable breeder since hip dysplasia is more likely to occur in dogs whose parents had it.
You can reduce your dog’s chances of getting hip dysplasia by providing a healthy diet, encouraging your dog to get physical exercise, and giving supplements.
For German Shepherds that already have hip dysplasia, weight loss, physical therapy, and supplements can provide relief. Surgery is the only way through which hip dysplasia can be completely cured.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can a German shepherd live with hip dysplasia?
If well managed and treated, a German Shepherd can live a long healthy life with hip dysplasia.
How old are German shepherds when they get hip dysplasia?
German Shepherds usually develop hip dysplasia when more mature. However, signs of hip dysplasia can become apparent on x rays as early as the age of 2.
Can hip dysplasia be cured?
Yes, through surgery, a dog can be completely cured of hip dysplasia.
What does it look like when a dog has hip dysplasia?
A dog with hip dysplasia will usually have issues with mobility. Certain movements like walking, climbing the stairs, getting into the car, and getting onto the bed will become unusually challenging.