Hip Dysplasia

What is Hip Dysplasia?

The literal translation of dysplasia' means ‘bad formation' and in the case of Hip Dysplasia it refers to an abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its more severe form, can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints. It is a polygenic (of or relating to an inheritable character that is controlled by several genes at once) trait that is affected by environmental factors in the production of the final phenotype (physical appearance). It is a common condition found in many dog breeds, particularly the larger ones. It is also one of the most studied veterinary conditions in dogs.

What does a normal hip look like?

In the normal anatomy of the hip joint, the femur (thigh bone) is connected to the pelvis at the hip joint. The almost spherical (rounded) end of the femur head fits into a concave (curved in/hollow) socket called the acetabulum, located in the pelvis. The bony surface of the femur head and of the acetabulum is covered by cartilage. While bones provide the strength necessary to support body weight, cartilage ensures a smooth fit and a wide range of motion. Normal hip function can be affected by congenital (present since birth) conditions such as dysplasia, by trauma (injury), and by acquired diseases such as arthritis.

How do I find out if my dog has Hip Dysplasia?

If your dog should show signs of stiffness or soreness after rising from rest, reluctance to exercise, bunny-hopping or other abnormal movement, lameness, pain, reluctance to stand on rear legs, jump up, or climb stairs, he/she might be suffering from Hip Dysplasia, we recommend that you visit your Vet for a consultation for a proper confirmation of a diagnosis for HD.

You cannot rely solely on pain recognition as a possible sign that your dog might be suffering from HD, as dogs suffering with HD do not usually cry out with pain, but rather adapt to it. Therefore, it is important for the owner to note changes in the dog's behaviour, physical mobility etc. Observe for example if the dog suddenly and abnormally sits down when walking, or suddenly refuses to walk or climb objects that normally they would. Always check first for any other cause (e.g. thorn in the foot, temporary muscle strain/pain).

Your Vet might suggest the use of X-ray to confirm the presence of hip dysplasia. Often the animal will be anaesthetised or sedated to achieve clear diagnostic results.

Since the condition is to a significant degree inherited, it is important to consider making sure that the hip scores of parents are professionally checked. For this, it is recommended that any stock selected for breeding purposes should be screened via the use of the official BVA/KC Hip Dysplasia Scheme. Further information can also be found on the BVA website.

All X-ray photographs submitted to the BVA/KC Hip Dysplasia Scheme are assessed through means of awarding a number, which is referred to as ‘scoring'. The hip score is the sum of the points awarded for each of nine radiographic features of both hip joints. The lower the score, the less the degree of hip dysplasia present. The minimum (best) score for each hip is zero and the maximum (worst) is 53, giving a range for the total (i.e. both hips added together) of 0 to 106. The average score of the breed, or the 'breed median score', is calculated from all the scores recorded for a given breed and is shown alongside its range, thereby giving a representation of the overall hip status of the breed. All breeders wishing to try to control HD are advised to breed from animals with hip scores at or below the breed median score.

The 5 year median score for English Springer Spaniels (to 31st December 2019) is 9.

The 15 year median score is 10, the scores ranging from 0 - 92 (from a total of 732 ESS tested).

A full list of official BVA/KC breed specific Hip Dysplasia test statistics across all breeds can be found HERE.

Radiographic (X-ray) features may not be present until two years of age in some dogs. Whilst many affected dogs do not initially show clinical signs, some dogs manifest the problem at an early age, with others not showing it until well into adulthood. The minimum age of the dog at the time of the hip X-ray is 12 months; there is no upper age limit. Dogs may not be scored under the Scheme more than once.

A dog may have good X-rays and yet be in pain, or may have very poor X-rays and apparently almost no problems. The hip condition is only one factor to determine the extent to which dysplasia is causing pain or affecting the quality of life. In mild to moderate dysplasia it is often the secondary effects of abnormal wear and tear or arthritis, rather than dysplasia itself, which is the direct causes of visible problems.

The underlying hip problem may be mild or severe, may be worsening or stable, and the body may be more or less able to keep the joint in repair well enough to cope. Different animals have different pain tolerances and different weights, and use their bodies differently, so a light dog that only walks will have a different joint use than a heavier or very active dog.

Each case must be treated on its own merits, so this is why it is important that you consult with your Vet at the earliest opportunity, if you are having any concerns.

Please note that, despite the fact that the condition is inherited, it can occasionally arise even in animals with impeccable hip scored parents. Therefore, there is good reason to keep track of current genetic research in this area (the chance to establish a DNA test for example).

What is the treatment?

The bad news is that there is no total cure, but the good news is that there many options available to alleviate the clinical signs, often with the use of drugs, such as non steroidal anti inflammatory (NSAID) (e.g. Rimadyl and Metacam). Let your Vet be the best judge of what drugs best suit your dog and its symptoms. It might also be the choice of your Vet to select the use of a glucosamine based nutritional supplements to give the body additional raw materials used for natural joint repair.

This regime can usually be maintained long term, for as long as it is effective in keeping the symptoms of dysplasia at bay. All treatments are focused on enhancing the quality of life of the affected dog. As the condition is likely to change during the dog's lifespan, any treatment must be subject to regular review or re-assessment, as or when the symptoms worsen or change significantly.

In cases, where drugs cannot control the symptoms, surgery might have to be considered. Traditionally, there are two types of preferred surgery. Those which reshape the joint to reduce pain or help movement and hip replacement for the complete replacement of the damaged hip with an artificial joint, very much similar to human hip replacements.

There are also currently several products on the market to help dogs suffering from HD to help them get around better (pressure reducing beds, ramps) or even the specialised treatments such as Hydrotherapy. For further information, visit the Canine Hydrotherapy Association website.

Watching the weight of your dog, its feeding and exercise schedule, should all be kept in equal balance, as it is vital to help alleviate the symptoms and/or the onset of arthritis. Reasonable exercise can stimulate cartilage growth and reduce degeneration.

We would also strongly recommend visiting the Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) website, which has a wealth of information on managing the symptoms of arthritis, which often arises as a secondary consequence of hip dysplasia.

Are there any other conditions which can mimic or replicate the symptoms of Hip Dysplasia?

Yes, there are, which is why it is so important that you consult a Vet for a proper diagnosis to provide you with specific clinical evidence. Any dog may misuse its rear legs, or adapt its gait to compensate for a pain in the forelegs, hocks, stifles or spinal area.

Other conditions, such as cranial (anterior) cruciate ligament tears, where usually the dog holds its affected leg up (which is unusual with HD) or other rear limb arthritic conditions can also be masked by mild dysplasia.

If any ESS owner and/or breeder needs help or further information relating to your ESS being diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia, we would be happy to hear from you. We would also be grateful if you can contact us to report a diagnosis of this condition or report it online HERE. All information provided will be treated in the strictest confidence.

For further information or advice about Hip Dysplasia, please contact the

ESS Breed Clubs Health Co-ordinators