Skip to content
Next Day Delivery £15 Available
Next Day Delivery £15 Available
Hip Dysplasia in Your Labrador - A Guide

Hip Dysplasia in Your Labrador - A Guide

What is Hip Dysplasia in Your Labrador? 

Who doesn’t love a Labrador? Regularly cited as the ideal family dog, their temperaments mean that they’re generally huge fun, very affectionate and friendly, have a huge zest for life and are immensely playful, but can also be relaxed and calm too. They inspire love and devotion in their owners, and are loyal and responsive in return. This makes them one of the most popular dog breeds globally.

They were originally working dogs, bred to retrieve game, so are hard wired for physically demanding exercise. It’s generally agreed that once fully grown they need, on average, an hour of exercise a day. 

Your labradors weight

The right amount of exercise will keep your Labrador healthy and engaged with life, and also at the right weight. Keeping your Labrador at the right weight - most Labrador owners will also tell you that they’re very keen on their food - is really essential for their health and wellbeing. 

A quick way to check whether your Labrador’s weight is within the right zone is to run your hands down their body. As you do this, you should be able to feel the definition of their ribs.  You should also see that their waist ‘nips’ in just before their hips, and that there’s an upward sloping line going from the base of his chest to his thighs. Maintaining your Labrador at the correct weight will help minimise health problems, such as musculoskeletal issues.

Labradors have predispositions to some health conditions

Although Labradors are perceived to be a generally healthy breed, data collected shows they do have a predisposition to some health conditions. These include:

  • osteoarthritis
  • otitis externa (inflammation of the external ear canal)
  • lipoma (harmless fatty lumps)
  • gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach/intestines
  • causing diarrhoea and vomiting)
  • obesity
  • osteochondritis dissecans
  • hip dysplasia
  • elbow dysplasia

The good news is that Labradors are less likely to develop heart murmurs, degenerative mitral valve disease, anal gland blockages, blocked tear ducts, and patellar luxation.

Hip Dysplasia is one area of concern for Labrador owners

Hip Dysplasia is one area of concern for Labrador owners. Some estimates put the number of Labradors affected with hip dysplasia, to some degree, at 25%. Another statistic says a Labrador, by virtue of being the breed alone, is ten times more likely to develop hip dysplasia. Although these statistics are generalisations, and of course the susceptibility of an individual dog will be based on their specific genetics, lifestyle, and how risk factors are managed, it’s worth being educated about hip dysplasia in Labradors so you can be prepared if your Labrador does develop it.

If your Labrador is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, your priorities are:  

  • to slow the progression of the disease
  • to help lessen the pain that hip dysplasia is causing your dog (osteoarthritis / arthrtis is an inevitable secondary condition of hip dysplasia, and also contributes to any pain your dog’s experiencing)
  • to minimise the impact of the disease on your dog’s wellbeing, mobility and quality of life. The right strategies can, in most cases, help with all of these objectives 

Hip dysplasia is a progressive disease that can’t be cured.

This Guide will take you through the condition, how to look out for it, what to do if your Labrador is diagnosed, and what steps to take to minimise the likelihood of your Labrador developing it. 

Labrador Hip Dysplasia - Definitions and Causes

It’s important to understand hip dysplasia in Labradors, so that you’re able to recognise the signs should your dog become afflicted, and know how to manage it if your dog does develop it. Even with hip dysplasia, by following the right strategy, your Labrador can still thrive and maintain a good quality of life.

So what is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is when the ball of the thigh bone (femur) doesn’t sit properly in the ‘socket’ of the hip joint. Usually they sit together very well to allow smooth and easy movement. 

With hip dysplasia however, the bones rub together painfully, instead of gliding smoothly against each other. This can happen because the hip ligament is too lax (loose), which means the joint is unstable and results in the hip and thigh bones meeting each other in the wrong place and with the wrong amount of pressure, resulting in the hip socket becoming deformed. Or it can happen because the hip socket is already abnormally formed e.g. too shallow or the ball of the femur not properly formed.

Either way, the hip joint ends up being loose and unstable. It moves too much. This ends up causing pain, swelling, and arthritis. It can also cause the hip cartilage to be damaged and deteriorate, making the situation even worse. 

The Most Common Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Labradors are:

  • Being reluctant to exercise
  • A wobbly or swaying gait, or back legs crossing over
  • Bunny-hopping (using both hind legs together)
  • Stiffness, lameness or limping, particularly in the hind legs
  • Difficulty in getting up or lying down, as well as difficulty in going up or down stairs or jumping
  • “Skinny hips”, a sign of a reduced thigh muscle mass and weakness in the hind quarters and/or noticeably enlarged shoulder muscles
  • Pain or sensitivity in the hip area
  • Audible clicking or popping sounds in the hip joint
  • A ‘grating’ feel in the joint during movement
  • Sensitivity to being touched in the hip region during grooming or bathing
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Signs of being in pain

If you see your Labrador displaying any of these signs, take them to the vet for a check-up. As with many conditions, the longer hip dysplasia is left untreated, the harder it is to manage and the worse it becomes. Prompt veterinary attention can make a significant difference. Hip Dysplasia Can Show in Puppies

Some labradors will display signs of hip dysplasia while they’re still growing. Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition. Onset of clinical signs vary but it’s most commonly diagnosed between 6 and 12 months of age. These signs can start from as young as 4 months. So if you notice your puppy is displaying any of the below signs, take them for a veterinary check-up. 

Hip Dysplasia symptoms vary, depending on its severity

Inflammation levels, joint laxity, and length of time your dog’s been suffering from it, will also affect how symptoms present themselves.

In older Labradors, hip dysplasia is often diagnosed alongside osteoarthritis which inevitably develops as a secondary condition to hip dysplasia.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Labradors?

There are a number of causes of hip dysplasia, including genetic and environmental factors. These include rapid growth, excessive weight gain, poor nutrition, hormones and genetic factors. It’s currently estimated that there are roughly 100 gene codes for hip dysplasia.

Environmental factors on their own are less likely to cause hip dysplasia. However, they can influence the likelihood that it'll develop in genetically predisposed Labradors. 

These factors will also influence the level of severity at which it’ll develop. One very important factor is nutrition. A Labrador puppy's growth rate and weight have an effect on how the hip joints develop. So it's important to get nutrition right. 

While the exact cause of hip dysplasia is not fully understood, these are currently recognised as contributing factors:


  • Genetics play a significant role in the development of hip dysplasia. Individual Labradors with a family history of the condition are more likely to inherit the predisposition. 

Most Labradors who develop hip dysplasia inherit the condition from one or both of their parents.  It’s seen much more commonly in pedigree dogs than in cross-breeds. Cross-breeds from pedigree parents are also at risk. 

Breeds known for a higher prevalence of hip dysplasia include large and giant breeds (including Labrador Retrievers), German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Great Danes.

Because of the known genetic link, it’s possible to screen for hip dysplasia before two dogs are mated. Parents’ hip (and elbow) scores are worth checking before buying a puppy. Parents with poor scores will likely produce offspring with an inherited predisposition to developing hip dysplasia.

Joint laxity:

  • Hip dysplasia involves abnormal development of the hip joint, leading to instability and laxity. This laxity can result from a genetic predisposition that affects the formation and structure of the joint.

Fast Growth/Excessive Weight Gain:

  • Fast growth and excessive weight gain in puppies can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia. This is particularly relevant for large and giant breeds, as rapid growth can outpace the development of the joint structures.


  • Poor nutrition during a dog's early development, including an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus, may contribute to the risk of hip dysplasia. Providing a well-balanced diet appropriate for the dog's age and size is crucial for skeletal health. Dogs which are overweight while young are at an increased risk of hip (and elbow) dysplasia.

Environmental factors:

  • Environmental factors, such as inappropriate exercise during a dog's growth phase, can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia. Over-exercising or doing activities that put excessive stress on the hip joints, such as jumping or running on hard surfaces, will either increase the chance of hip dysplasia developing, or exacerbate the condition.

Hormonal factors:

  • Hormonal influences, including sex hormones, can affect the development of hip dysplasia. For example, females may experience increased laxity in the hip joint during their estrous cycles.

Early detection, appropriate nutrition, controlled exercise, and regular veterinary check-ups are essential for managing and preventing hip dysplasia in dogs. 

Getting a Hip Dysplasia Diagnosis

When your Labrador’s at the vet, they’ll undergo a physical examination and X-Rays will be taken. Your vet will also possibly recommend blood tests. Generally changes in the hip joint show up on the X-Rays, although that’s not 100% guaranteed.

It’s likely that your vet will refer your dog to a specialist Orthopaedic surgeon.  The Orthopaedic surgeon will carry out a thorough assessment, including the ‘Ortolani’ test - a manipulative test for evaluating hip joint laxity.  To do this, your dog will have to be heavily sedated or put under general anaesthetic.

The ‘Ortolani’ Hip Dysplasia Test

The ‘Ortolani’ test started being used on human children in 1937. It’s considered the ‘gold standard’ early diagnostic test for hip dysplasia. Vets began using it on puppies in 1985. It’s been shown that if the Ortolani Sign is present, it confirms that the puppy will have hip arthritis by the time it’s 1 year old. This exam can be performed by many vets on puppies as young as 10 to 16 weeks of age.

Additional diagnostic imaging might be recommended. X-Rays, CT, and MRI scans are all done under general anaesthetic. At this stage, you’ll probably be given a provisional diagnosis.

When the Orthopaedic surgeon has gathered all the information needed, you’ll be able to discuss a treatment plan.

What Can You do Once Your Labrador is Diagnosed?

The approach you take to manage your Labrador’s hip dysplasia will be determined by the severity of the condition, your Labrador’s age, and the Orthopaedic specialist’s guidance on whether or not surgery is appropriate.

There are broadly two routes:

  1. Conservative
  2. Surgery

Conservative Management

This means to manage hip dysplasia without surgery, including lifestyle adjustments and rehabilitation. Components of conservative management include:

  • Pain management (including LED therapy wraps) and anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS)
  • Supplements for joint health e.g. Winstons and Omega 3s 
  • Appropriate levels of low impact exercise
  • Appropriate nutrition
  • Physiotherapy and Hydrotherapy
  • Laser Therapy
  • A hip brace for dogs
  • A dog wheelchair
  • Weight control
  • Complementary treatments including stem cell therapy, extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), CBD oils, canine massage therapy, hyaluronic acid injections, PEMF bed, and acupuncture should be experimented with to see whether they improve symptoms and lessen pain. Ask your vet if you’d like more information, or their opinion on any of these options 

It’s worth noting that post-surgical care often looks similar to conservative management.

Hip Dysplasia Surgery

If your Labrador requires surgery for their hip dysplasia, then much of their ongoing care post-operatively involves the same treatments as outlined above. Limited and controlled exercise, physiotherapy, weight control, use of a supportive hip dysplasia brace for dogs, anti-inflammatory painkillers, and joint supplements to help support healthy joints and mitigate the onset of arthritis. 

There are different types of operations your Labrador could potentially undergo. Some modify the hip anatomy. Some are to arrest the damage being done, and are known as ‘salvage’ surgeries. Your dog’s age, condition, and lifestyle will determine what type of surgery is undertaken.

  • Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis (JPS) 

Part of the pelvis is fused in order to alter growth, so that the location of the ball part of the ‘ball-and-socket’ hip joint is improved. Surgery is simple and involves electrical cauterization of part of the pubis (on the underside of the pelvis). Dogs must be a maximum of 5 months of age for the surgery to be effective. To be eligible,  mild-to-moderate laxity will have been confirmed using manipulative and radiographic tests. Dogs usually develop clinical signs when they’re at least 6 months old, so JPS is usually a prophylactic (preventative) surgery. Dogs treated by JPS have to be neutered at the same time.

  • Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO/TPO) 

Young dogs less than 10 months old (clinically immature) are usually the most suitable recipients of this surgery. The objective of the operation is to improve the function of the ball and socket joint by selectively cutting and modifying the pelvic bone and rotating the segments. As a result, the ‘capture’ of the ball by the existing socket is improved. A custom plate and screws are then used to fix bone segments into their new position. Healing of the bone takes approximately 4-6 weeks. TPO is only effective in dogs that have hip laxity. There can’t be any osteoarthritis or secondary bone remodelling. Suitability for this operation is assessed by a specific series of manipulative tests and radiographs. These tests are  performed by both experienced orthopaedic surgeons and advanced diagnostic imagers. Pre-surgery, it’s also recommended that arthroscopic examination confirms there’s no cartilage damage to the joint. This technique has been recently refined so that the pelvis is only cut in two places (double pelvic osteotomy) rather than three.

  • Femoral head ostectomy (FHO)

It’s possible for both young and mature dogs to have the FHO operation, which is a salvage procedure. The “ball” of the femoral head is cut off. The body then creates a “false” joint and the pain associated with hip dysplasia is significantly reduced. This operation won’t restore normal hip function. Rather, its objective is pain management, because painful contact between the bones of the “ball” and the edge of the hip socket is removed. An FHO is often done when a THR isn’t possible, either for financial reasons or because an individual dog’s makes them ineligible as a candidate for the surgery. Clinical outcome isn’t assured and can be unpredictable. This is especially true for bigger dogs. Intensive physical rehabilitation is essential after this surgery to make it worthwhile, so that your dog’s able to return to a meaningful level of mobility and activity.

  • Total hip replacement (THR)

This is the most effective canine hip dysplasia treatment. The entire diseased hip joint is cut out and replaced with plastic (“the socket”) and metal (the “ball”) implants. Hip function returns to a more normal range. This surgery also eliminates most of the pain and discomfort of hip dysplasia, because bony surfaces are no longer in contact with each other. There’s a high success rate for THR - up to 90-95% of dogs. Most will return to full levels of activity.

Other considerations

As part of managing your Labrador’s hip dysplasia, it’s worth addressing their diet and nutrition to ensure that they’re at the right weight and get the right food to ensure that they’re getting the right nutrition. Consult with your veterinarian and physiotherapist about an appropriate exercise routine. Any high impact exercise, such as jumping or twisting to catch balls, should be avoided. Labradors generally love to swim, and hydrotherapy is one way you can maintain your Labrador’s cardiovascular fitness and start re-building any lost muscles, without putting undue pressure on their hip joints. It’s likely your physiotherapist will give you exercises that your dog can do at home under your supervision, to keep their core muscles activated and engage the correct muscles to support the biomechanics of the hip.

Living with a Labrador with Hip Dysplasia

  • Quality of life - It’s essential your Labrador’s quality of life is good. In particular, the osteoarthritis that accompanies Labrador hip dysplasia, can be excruciatingly painful. If your labrador’s mobility is being compromised, it might be time to consider a wheelchair. Labrador wheelchairs take the weight of a dog’s pelvis so that it’s not having to bear too much weight, while still allowing the rear leg muscles to activate. This allows dogs to regain their mobility and independence, without putting stress on the hip joints. Being mobile will contribute to your Labrador’s well being and overall enjoyment of life.

Generally, well managed hip dysplasia shouldn’t impact your Labrador’s life expectancy. Labradors with hip dysplasia can generally expect to live long and happy lives. However, if you’re worried about quality of life, discuss everything with your vet. This questionnaire asks the right questions to help you assess your Labrador’s quality of life.

Adapting your Labrador’s environment

There are adaptations you can make to your home to ensure that your Labrador with hip dysplasia is as comfortable as possible, and minimise the likelihood of any injuries associated with the hip dysplasia occuring. 

  • Orthopaedic dog bed - Keep your Labrador comfortable while they’re resting or sleeping, by ensuring that their bed provides good joint support
  • Non slip socks or put down floor rugs - If you have wooden or slippery floors it makes it harder for your Labrador with hip dysplasia to get up because they have less purchase. As the hip dysplasia weakens the muscles of their rear end, they also have less control over their back legs. This means their rear legs can also slide and splay out sideways, potentially causing them pain and discomfort.
  • An adjustable dog ramp - If your Labrador is keen on being on the sofa, or sleeping on your bed, a ramp means that they can get on and off easily without the impact on their hip joints of jumping up and down.
  • A rear-lift harness - Lifting a labrador with hip dysplasia in and out of the car is so much easier on both you and your dog with a rear lift harness. They’re also useful for helping your dog up if they need to go outside to do their business but find it a struggle to get up from lying down. The Help ‘Em Up Harness is particularly popular.
  • Snuffle mats - If your Labrador is used to being more active and is finding life a little boring because of exercise limitations that come with hip dysplasia, try a snuffle mat or other enrichment toy to keep them mentally stimulated.

Prevention of Hip Dysplasia in Labradors?

As hip dysplasia in Labradors is often an inherited genetic condition, it can sometimes be impossible to prevent. However, limiting the factors (e.g. overexercising, obesity etc) that contribute to its development can make a significant difference to the level of severity with which hip dysplasia presents.

In particular, consider:

  • Screening - If you’re thinking of buying a Labrador, ask to see the hip and elbow scores of both parents. In the UK, A hip score is when the hips have been x-rayed and graded by a panel of expert BVA vets. The lowest score is 0 and the highest is 53 - so for both hips the lowest score is 0 and the highest score is 106.  The lower the score, the better. Parents with poor hip scores are likely to have offspring with joint issues. You should get a puppy with parents who’ve got good scores, according to the breed-specific statistics. The mean score of a Labrador tested at 5 years of age is 10 and the median score is 9.

Likewise, if you’re thinking about breeding, it’s recommended that you should only breed Labrador parents who’ve both got hip scores below or close to the published breed median.

  • Rate of growth in puppies - Controlling how fast your Labrador puppy grows can mean  the difference between them developing hip dysplasia or not. When a Labrador puppy grows too fast, it means bones can develop at different rates. If different bones grow at different rates out of sync, that’s when problems occur (such as the ‘ball’ of the thigh bone not fitting properly into the hip socket). So Labrador puppies should be fed an appropriate diet and kept at a lean weight during their growing years. Don’t give in to the temptation to overfeed your Labrador puppy so that they become ‘big and strong’. Studies have shown that 70% puppies who were overfed then developed hip dysplasia. 
  • Weight control - From puppyhood onwards, keep your Labrador at the right weight. A lean labrador means that there’s no extra stress or pressure being put on the hip joints. Extra stress on the hip joints is closely connected to the development of hip dysplasia.
  • Appropriate exercise - It’s generally understood that overexercising a puppy can lead to hip dysplasia. Not every vet agrees with this theory, citing a lack of evidence to prove it, but what is certain is that exercising your puppy the right amount is important for their health and wellbeing. Ask your vet for guidance on how much exercise your Labrador needs at each stage of their life, particularly as Labradors are energetic and playful characters.
  • Spaying / Neutering - Consider waiting to neuter your dog until they’re fully mature. Evidence suggests that spaying or neutering at a young age might lead to a higher incidence of hip dysplasia. This might be because hormones, or lack of, may influence ligament laxity.

Zoomadog Case Studies:

Zoomadog has helped many dogs with hip dysplasia, including a number of Labradors. The following products are all helpful for Labradors with varying levels of hip dysplasia. If you’re unsure about what your dog needs, please contact us by phone or email us at

  • Non Slip Socks - These will give your Labrador purchase on slippery floors. Anti Slip socks will help your Labrador get up from lying down and will also prevent their back legs from splaying out and potentially causing more injury to the dysplastic hip.
  • Supplements - There are many joint supplements on the market. Zoomadog stocks those that contain premium ingredients and have successful track records.
  • Winstons Joint System 100% Natural Dog Joint Repair is a popular supplement made of natural ingredients. 


    Mindy the Maltese: Our six year old Maltese, Mindy, was diagnosed with dysplastic hips last year. She was in pain, lethargic, and constantly held her right leg in the air. We wanted an alternative to surgery and anesthesia; we also wanted something natural, and not animal tested. We decided your product was worth a try, and within three weeks, she was walking normally again. She’s happy and she can run and play again. Thanks ever so much.

    • Winstons Pain Formula is a natural formula that can be taken alongside prescription pain medication and then, as it starts to take effect - because it’s natural it can take a few weeks for visible improvement in pain - you can then start to taper off the prescription medication. 


    Elderly Labrador with Arthritis: I have to say that I have found this company extremely helpful with the diagnosis and treatment for my elderly lab with arthritis… The products have helped us no end, and the supplements (Winstons) have given our boy a new lease of life…. Thank you to the Zoomadog team for helping him in his older years

    • YuMove Joint Care + is a higher strength formula of YuMove’s best selling joint supplement. This strength supplement isn’t available to buy on Amazon or other retailers. 
    • Flexerna Omega 3s Omega 3 oil are anti inflammatory, as well as being good for your dog’s coat and skin. Flexerna Omega 3s use green lipped mussel oil for full efficacy.


    Dog with bilateral hip dysplasia: Best product!! My dog has bilateral hip dysplasia and this has helped her tremendously!!! Great product !!! 

    • Glycan Aid HA Glucosamine and Hyaluronic Acid for dogs: Trials have shown that Glucosamine can positively affect dogs with joint pain and osteoarthritis. This supplement has both glucosamine and hyaluronic acid, another substance that’s believed to help with joint pain through lubricating and cushioning the joint.


    Kim the Dog: Just dropping you a note to let you know that Kim is doing great on your Glycanaid supplements! The stiffness and weakness in her back legs are almost gone. I would recommend these to anyone whose dog suffers from joint problems, I will be using them on both my dogs now.

    • Hip Dysplasia Brace for dogs - Dog hip braces are designed to draw and hold the femurs back into the hip sockets, as well as giving support to your dog’s lower back. They’re helpful as part of a conservative management plan, or pre- and post-surgery. If your dog’s having hip surgery, consult with your vet about when’s the appropriate time for your dog to start using a hip brace.
      • Balto Life - Dog Hip Dysplasia Brace This dog hip brace is suitable for all degrees of hip dysplasia, and can also help with osteoarthritis in the hips. The brace is designed to reduce pain by exerting compression on your Labrador’s hips. Made of breathable, washable material.
      • Orthodog Dog Hip Brace This hip brace for dogs stabilises your Labrador’s hips and lower back area. If your Labrador likes swimming, as many do, they can swim wearing this brace. Just make sure you rinse it afterwards with lukewarm water and a gentle detergent, and drip drying it (don’t put it in the dryer).


    Labrador with hip dysplasia and arthritis “Absolutely fantastic for my 12.5 years old Labrador which has hip dysplasia and arthritis, it’s given him a new lease of life. Thank you. 

    • Wheelchair - wheelchairs are amazing for giving your Labrador back their independence and mobility. As long as your Labrador has two strong, good front legs, and a desire to keep seeing the world, then a wheelchair can be transformative for a Labrador with severe hip dysplasia. 

    Labrador Wheelchair You will need to give us your Labrador’s weight, back leg length (measured as if your Lab is standing normally - not fully extended - this measurement can be taken with your Labrador lying down) and your Labrador’s ATR (armpit to rump measurement). 


    Dotty the labrador: Our 14 year old Labrador who has arthritis in his spine and is losing the use of his back legs, took to it very quickly.  We have been walking him using a harness for the last year so he is very strong in his front end which I think has helped…We are building up to a 10 minute walk slowly, but signs are good that it will help him walk a bit further and help our backs too! 


    Seeing your beloved Labrador in pain, and losing their usual bouncy, energetic and playful manner, because of hip dysplasia can be stressful and upsetting.  However, taking the correct steps, with a focus on reducing pain, halting the progression of the condition, and maintaining your dog’s mobility and quality of life, means that you can make a significant difference to your Labrador’s experience of hip dysplasia. Even making simple changes, like ensuring your Labrador is at the right weight, and getting non-slip socks if you have slippery floors, can make life much easier for a Labrador with hip dysplasia.

    Previous article 5 Signs of Hip Dyplasia in Dogs
    Next article Treatment for Hip Dysplasia in your Dog

    Best Dog Hip Braces

    Best Hip Braces
    Looking for help with your dog?

    Looking for help with your dog?

    We can help find the right solution for your dog

    Feel free to give us a call on 01730 622544

    or email us at