6 Common Hip Problems in Dogs [+Signs, Causes & Prevention]

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vet checking labradors hips

Because dog hips have moving parts, the joints can be vulnerable to various problems. Fortunately, most are treatable if you know how to recognize them early.

Common hip conditions in dogs include:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Osteochondrosis
  • Hip dislocation
  • Hip subluxation
  • Legg Calve Perthes Disease
  • Osteoarthritis

In this article, we’ll go through common hip conditions you might see in your dog so you understand the signs, preventative measures, and treatments. Then, I’ll explain in which part of the life cycle each condition usually occurs. Finally, we’ll look at signs of hip trouble in dogs and offer some tips to help you care for your pooch.

Common Hip Problems

The ball and joint sockets in a dog’s hips are prone to different problems. We’ll evaluate some of the common issues below.

Hip dysplasia

Dogs with hip dysplasia have a malformation of the hip socket that causes excess joint movement, degenerative changes, and pain.

With hip dysplasia, the joint forms improperly during the growth stage, so veterinarians often diagnose the condition in puppies or young adult dogs up to 4 years old. Signs of degenerative arthritis usually manifest in middle-aged to senior dogs.

Signs of hip dysplasia include:

  • Evidence of a shallow hip socket on radiographs
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty or reluctance when climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture
  • Difficulty rising from a prone position
  • Sitting with a leg out to the side
  • Chronic pain

Hip dysplasia is usually a genetically linked disease with contributing causes like growth rate, muscle mass, diet, exercise, and environment. Large breed dogs, including Newfoundlands, Alaskan malamutes, German Shepherds, Old English Sheepdogs, and Retrievers, are predisposed to developing the condition. Some cases of hip dysplasia also occur due to cartilage damage from a traumatic fracture.

Without supportive care and treatment, hip dysplasia tends to grow progressively worse and causes pain and mobility issues in dogs.

Preventative measures for hip dysplasia in your dog include keeping your dog at a healthy body weight, selecting puppies from parents that are OFA-certified for hips, and supplementing your dog’s diet with supplements that promote joint health like glucosamine and chondroitin.

Usually, hip dysplasia can be medically managed with anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, pain medications, joint fluid modifiers, restricted activity,  and weight management.


Osteochondrosis involves abnormal cartilage development during the growth phase. The condition causes inflammation and severe pain. 

This condition affects puppies in the growth stage, usually between 6 and 9 months.

Signs of osteochondrosis include:

  • Limping
  • Joint pain/stiffness
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Changes in gait/posture
  • Joint instability

Causes of osteochondrosis include genetics, rapid growth, trauma, dietary imbalances, and repetitive stress. Predisposed breeds include Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Bassets, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, and Old English Sheepdogs.

Without treatment, osteochondrosis will cause your dog severe pain and could progress to osteoarthritis.

Preventative measures for osteochondrosis include selective breeding, providing a properly balanced diet, avoiding overfeeding, and avoiding high-impact exercise during the growth stage.

Treatment for osteochondrosis may be medical or surgical, depending on the severity of the condition. Conservative measures include anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise restrictions, and dietary management. If the condition is severe or doesn’t respond to medical treatment, arthroscopy or open surgery is the treatment of choice.

Hip dislocation

Hip dislocation occurs when the head of the femur pops out of the hip socket. 

Dogs of any age can suffer from dislocated hips.

Signs of a dislocated hip include:

  • Acute non-weight bearing lameness
  • Extreme pain
  • One leg appears shorter than the other
  • Swelling and warmth around the hip joint

Causes of hip dislocation are hip dysplasia or trauma such as being hit by a car.

Leaving a dislocated hip untreated will cause your dog to experience severe pain and lameness. 

Preventative measures for dislocated hips include maintaining a healthy weight, treating underlying conditions that can cause a dislocation, and leash walking your dog.

Veterinarians treat dislocated hips by open or closed reduction. With closed reduction, the head of the femur is popped back into the socket manually while your dog is under anesthesia. Open reduction is surgical replacement and stabilization of the hip joint. 

Hip subluxation

With hip subluxation, the femoral head becomes partially displaced from the hip socket and then pops back into the joint.

Subluxation can occur at any stage of a dog’s life.

Signs of hip subluxation include:

  • Sudden limping/lameness
  • Reluctance to jump/walk
  • Popping or clicking sound when your dog walks
  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling/warmth
  • Persistent licking of the hip joint
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

Causes of subluxated hips include a shallow joint socket (hip dysplasia) and trauma. 

Prevention of subluxations includes treating underlying conditions and preventing your dog from running loose in the streets.

Treatment of subluxations often involves a closed reduction of the joint while your dog is under anesthesia. Supportive bandaging and exercise therapy can help to prevent future subluxations.

Legg Calve Perthes Disease

In Legg Calve Perthes Disease, the femoral head dies and degenerates, causing severe pain.

The condition usually occurs in puppies between 5 and 8 months old.

Signs of Legg Calve Perthes Disease include:

  • Slowly progressing hind-limb lameness
  • Joint pain
  • Non-weight bearing
  • Wasting of the thigh muscles

The cause of Legg Calve Perthes Disease is unknown, but it is more common in small breeds like Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Pomeranians, and Shih Tzus. 

Without treatment, Legg Calve Perthes disease can lead to bone fractures and increasing pain. 

The best way to prevent this condition is to get your puppy from a reputable breeder that won’t breed stock with a family history of the disease. 

Treatment for Legg Calve Perthes disease in dogs involves surgical removal of the head and neck of the femur, followed by physical therapy.


As in humans, osteoarthritis is an inflammatory joint condition that tends to grow progressively worse over time.

Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD) usually occurs in middle-aged to senior dogs.

Signs of DJD include:

  • Lameness or limping
  • Stiffness when rising
  • Lethargy
  • Pain when petted
  • Irritability or behavior changes

Causes of osteoarthritis include genetics, repetitive stress, obesity, age/degenerative changes, injuries, poor conformation, poor nutrition or injuries.

Without treatment, your dog will experience increasing pain and lameness and have a decreased quality of life.

Prevention of osteoarthritis in dogs includes maintaining a healthy weight, feeding a well-balanced diet, giving your dog supplements to support joint health, and avoiding stressful athletic activities.

Treatment for osteoarthritis includes dietary and weight management, joint supplements, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy.

Hip Health Problems across the Lifecycle

Hip health problems can occur at any age in dogs, depending on the condition. Issues like Leff Calve Perthes disease affect puppies, while other conditions like osteoarthritis are more common in older dogs.

Hip Health Problems in Puppies

Certain hip health problems affect dogs when they are puppies. Hip dysplasia is a developmental condition that can be detected by x-ray in the puppy stage of life.  Another condition that develops during the puppy growth stage is osteochondrosis. Finally, Legg Calve Perthes disease usually manifests in juvenile dogs around 5-8 months of age.

Hip Health Problems in Adult Dogs

Other hip health problems occur in adult dogs. In some cases, hip dysplasia may not be detected until a pup reaches adulthood because the symptoms are mild to non-detectable. Because hip dislocation and subluxation are often due to trauma or hip dysplasia, they’re usually more noticeable in active young adult dogs.

Hip Health Problems in Senior Dogs

Although veterinarians usually diagnose hip dysplasia in puppies or adult dogs, signs of degenerative change become more pronounced with age. Similarly, osteoarthritis generally appears in senior dogs.

Hip Problem Signs Dog Parents Should Beware of

Because hip conditions can be painful and progressive, it’s beneficial to recognize them early. Below are common signs of hip problems in dogs:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty or reluctance when climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture
  • Difficulty rising from a prone position
  • Sitting with a leg out to the side
  • Joint pain/stiffness
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Acute non-weight bearing lameness
  • Extreme pain
  • One leg appears shorter than the other
  • Swelling and warmth around the hip joint
  • Popping or clicking sound when your dog walks
  • Lethargy

Common causes of Hip problems

There are various causes of hip health issues in dogs.

  • Genetics
  • Trauma/Injuries
  • Nutritional imbalances
  • Obesity
  • Repetitive joint stress
  • Underlying conditions

Hip Health Care Tips and Problem Prevention

You want your furbaby to have the best possible quality of life. The tips below can help you take care of your dog.

  • Maintain a healthy weight by feeding your dog a well-balanced diet
  • Feed age and breed-appropriate formulas that are designed for their growth patterns
  • Offer supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health
  • Schedule regular health checks for your dog and stay up-to-date on vaccinations
  • Deal with a reputable breeder who doesn’t use stock with hip health issues
  • Provide age-appropriate exercise. Avoid prolonged runs or hikes with puppies 

The Final Woof

Hips have a ball and socket structure that’s prone to different problems. Most can be treated, particularly with early recognition. Different conditions may surface at different stages in your dog’s lifecycle. Understanding the common hip health issues dogs face and knowing the top signs of trouble can help you support your furbaby.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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