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Understanding the Different Grades of Hip Dysplasia in My Dog

Understanding the Different Grades of Hip Dysplasia in My Dog

The Grades of Hip Dysplasia in My Dog

Hip dysplasia varies in severity. To the layperson, describing hip dysplasia in stages of severity keeps it clear and simple for everyone to understand:

  • Early stages: No visible signs, however joint changes are present
  • Mild: Occasional discomfort, and slight joint changes can be observed
  • Moderate: Increased discomfort, and joint changes are becoming more apparent
  • Severe: Significant joint changes, pain, and mobility issues

The Technical Hip Dysplasia Grading

However, you may have received a grading from your vet or veterinary orthopaedic specialist, which is a little more technical.

  • Grade I (Mild): There are slight changes in the hip joint, perhaps looseness or irregularities in the joint structure. However, it’s likely that there aren’t any significant signs of arthritis or discomfort. These changes that are present don’t necessarily cause clinical symptoms or lameness.
  • Grade II (Moderate): Moderate changes in the hip joint are present. There are possibly more pronounced irregularities in the joint structure, and mild to moderate arthritis and evidence of cartilage wear may be present.  A dog with Grade II hip dysplasia might show signs of discomfort, lameness, or stiffness. These symptoms may be more apparent especially after exercise or prolonged activity.
  • Grade III (Moderately Severe): Dogs with Grade III hip dysplasia have significant abnormalities in the hip joint. There may be noticeable looseness, joint instability, and more advanced arthritis. These dogs often experience lameness, difficulty rising, stiffness, and pain, particularly during and after physical activity.
  • Grade IV (Severe): The most severe form of the condition. This grading means that the hip joint is severely malformed. Your dog will be suffering from significant instability, deformity, and advanced arthritis. Pronounced lameness, severe pain, stiffness, and difficulty in moving will all be present and obvious. There may also be muscle wastage in the hindquarters. This is due to reduced mobility.

Beyond grading systems for diagnosis, there are also hip dysplasia scoring systems to check that it’s responsible to breed from a specific dog.

Different Scoring Dog Hip Dysplasia Systems

Worldwide, there are various scoring dog hip dysplasia systems which are used:
  • OFA - Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (US)
  • FCI - Fédération Cynologique Internationale (European)
  • BVA - British Veterinary Association (UK/Australia)
  • SV - Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde (Germany) 

The BVA Scoring System (UK / Australia)

The BVA scoring system was developed because the BVA are active in trying to eliminate, as far as possible, hip dysplasia as a product of genetics/irresponsible breeding. Obviously environmental factors, such as inappropriate puppy nutrition, hormonal factors, and overexercising, are less controllable.

Your vet can send your dog’s x-rays to the BVA Hip Dysplasia Scheme for them to be assessed by ‘scrutineers’, a panel of expert veterinary surgeons who work in pairs. They will then give the hips a score.

There are matrices online which help translate scores from one particular system to another.

  • The lowest (best) score a dog can get under the BVA system is 0 - ie 0 in each hip
  • The highest (worst) score a dog can get under the BVA system is 106 - ie 53 in each hip

It’s better for both hips to have a similar, lower score. Hip dysplasia even in one hip can cause problems for a dog.

Hip Dysplasia in Dogs - Diagnosis

If you’ve noticed signs of hip dysplasia in your dog, your dog will need to see a vet. Hip dysplasia is diagnosed by a vet.

Initially a physical examination will be done by the vet. The Ortolani Test might be employed, which is an accurate manual method of diagnosing developmental hip dysplasia. Diagnostic imagery may be used to determine the extent and severity of the hip dysplasia. Your vet might recommend an X-Ray, CT scan or an MRI. This is to get more complete information about the hip joint and relevant soft tissues, tendons, ligaments and muscles. These take place under sedation or anaesthetic. Understand more about hip dysplasia here:

Hip Dysplasia in Your Dog -  A Guide

What is Dog Hip Dysplasia?

Dog hip dysplasia is a condition where a dog’s hip joint becomes unstable. This can cause, or be caused by, poor bone conformation - the ball of the femur might be misshapen, the socket of the hip joint is too shallow, or both at the same time. Hip joint ligaments will also likely be too lax, so aren’t providing the necessary stabilisation. The thigh bone (femur) isn’t held securely in the hip socket (acetabulum) and so moves about excessively. This movement also means it might be rubbing the surface of the hip socket in the wrong place, causing damage and degeneration of the joint cartilage (accelerated wear and tear). Bone fragments can also chip away from the bone. Bone will be rubbing against bone, causing a lot of pain and eventually osteoarthritis.

The condition develops for a variety of reasons. Some breeds of dogs are more genetically vulnerable; however, it’s possible for dogs of any breed or age to develop it.  It’s known as a ‘multifactorial’ disease i.e. there can be any number of reasons why a dog suffers from it, which aren’t necessarily genetic.  Sometimes a dog, who has two parents who’ve been cleared of any signs of the disease through diagnostic imaging, can develop it because of environmental factors. This is the multifactorial element. Certain lifestyle habits can be adopted in order to try and avoid the disease, minimise the severity with which it occurs, or slow it once it’s begun. 

However, sometimes preventing hip dysplasia in dogs is impossible, whatever strict precautions are taken. Whether or not it develops isn’t 100% under an owner’s control, however careful and rigorous they are about taking steps to prevent it.

It’s also worth understanding that hip dysplasia in puppies isn’t uncommon. Puppies as young as 4 months old can be diagnosed with it. Mid-life is often the other time dogs get diagnosed. This is because the osteoarthritis that’s developed as a secondary condition, makes it obvious there are hip joint issues.

Dog hip dysplasia is incurable unfortunately. However, treatment for hip dysplasia in dogs can often be effective in alleviating the symptoms. 

Your three priorities as an owner of a dog with hip dysplasia are:

  • Slowing the progression of the disease
  • Finding the right dog hip pain relief to lessen the pain of hip dysplasia (and the osteoarthritis that accompanies it)
  • Minimising the impact of the disease on your dog’s wellbeing, mobility, and quality of life

Hip Dysplasia in Your Dog -  A Guide


Once your dog’s been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, and got a grading, you and your vet/veterinarian orthopaedic specialist can devise a treatment plan for hip dysplasia which will best suit your dog’s needs. This may involve surgery, or conservative management (e.g. weight control, hip dysplasia braces for dogs, or physiotherapy / hydrotherapy) might be preferable. A hip dysplasia grading gives more specific parameters, from within which it’s easier to design the right treatment for hip dysplasia for your dog.

Different countries use different grading systems. There are also hip dysplasia scoring schemes which are very useful if you’re thinking of responsibly breeding from a particular dog but want to check that they won’t be passing down a predisposition towards hip (or elbow) dysplasia. These scoring schemes are voluntary.

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