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Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Have you noticed your dog walking a bit strangely recently?

Maybe something about their gait has caught your attention as seeming odd, unusual, or out of the ordinary. It seems to be originating from their hind legs and you’re unsure what the problem is, but there does seem to be an issue.

If you observe anything unusual about how your dog’s walking it’s definitely recommended that you see a vet to understand what the issue is and what, if anything, needs to be done about it. Rear leg weakness can have many causes - some of which are fatal - so even if you think it’s just old age, do get a vet to take a look.

Hip dysplasia in dogs is one of the most common reasons for rear leg weakness. ‘Dysplasia’ means abnormality of development. 

The hip joint is unstable and this can be caused by poor conformation of the hip bone (usually a hip socket that’s too shallow) or the ball of the thigh bone being misshapen. There can also be ligament laxity. The ‘ball and socket’ relationship of the hip joint and thigh bone doesn’t work well. 

Normally the surfaces of the two glide together well. With hip dysplasia they rub together uncomfortably which results in inflammation, possible microfracturing of the bone and degeneration of the hip cartilage, swelling, and eventually arthritis (i.e. accelerated wear and tear). All of this is painful for your dog.

Hip Dysplasia in Puppies - Symptoms

However it’s also worth bearing in mind that hip dysplasia often develops when a dog’s still a puppy and immature. So these symptoms aren’t restricted to middle aged or older dogs. You may also see them in a puppy - symptoms can present as early as 4 to 6 months of age, and 6 months is when a diagnosis is typically made in a puppy with hip dysplasia.

Here are some apparent signs of hip dysplasia in a puppy:

  • Early Symptoms: in mild cases of hip dysplasia in puppies, symptoms can manifest as early as 4 to 6 months. Symptoms include slight lameness, stiffness after rest, or reluctance to engage in vigorous physical exercise or play.
  • An adolescent puppy: as your puppy grows and becomes more active, symptoms of hip dysplasia may become more noticeable. These will become evident between 6 and 12 months of age. You may see your puppy having difficulty rising from a lying down position, exhibiting a ‘bunny hopping’ gait, or intermittent laziness.
  • Young Adulthood - A young adult dog - between 1 and 2 years of age - will have more pronounced symptoms of hip dysplasia.  Your dog may show signs of chronic lameness, decreased range of motion, muscle atrophy, and pain.

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

So what are the symptoms of hip dysplasia in your dog that you should be aware of? Some are more subtle than others. This is why it’s always a good idea to familiarise yourself with your dog’s habitual patterns of walking and movement, and the normal appearance of their musculature.

  • Decreased activity levels - Dogs with hip dysplasia can be less active than normal. Your dog might seem reluctant to engage in physical activities like running, jumping, or playing.
  • Stiffness or lameness - Your dog might seem stiff or lame, especially after resting or after periods of activity.
  • Limping - You may notice your dog limping on one or both hind legs
  • Difficulty Rising or Sitting - Hip Dysplasia often makes a dog struggle to rise from lying down, or to sit comfortably.  
  • “Bunny Hopping” gait - Your dog is using both hind legs together when moving, rather than independently, resulting in what looks like a “bunny hop”.
  • Pain or discomfort - A dog with hip dysplasia will, depending on its severity, will be suffering from varying degrees of pain or discomfort. You might notice your dog showing signs of discomfort when being touched around the hip area - perhaps uncharacteristic snapping - or when they move in a particular way.  Your dog may even whimper or cry when trying to get up, or walking.
  • Decreased range of motion - If your dog has hip dysplasia, they may have a reduced range of motion in their hind legs. This means they might not be able to extend or flex their hips fully,
  • ‘Skinny hips - hip muscle atrophy/wastage - Muscle atrophy and wastage in the hind legs can be a result of hip dysplasia. This is because of the decreased use of the affected muscles, and can contribute to further weakness and instability. Simultaneously your dog’s shoulders may be being bulked up and getting more dense and muscular, as your dog shifts their weight to cope with the dysplasia.
  • Noticeable Change in Back Leg Strength - Your dog’s rear legs may seem weak, wobbly, or unstable.
  • Audible clicking or popping sounds - Possibly you’ve heard literal clicking or popping coming from your dog’s hip joint when moving. Often this indicates joint instability and inflammation.
  • A ‘grating’ feel in the joint - In some cases, it’s possible to feel the top of the femur (thigh bone) grinding against the hip socket surface.
  • Behavioural Changes - your dog may show changes in their usual behaviour or temperament. Even an even tempered, placid dog can become irritable and aggressive when in pain. If your dog’s showing a reluctance to be touched, signs of depression, anxiety, aggression, or irritability, it may well be because they’re actually suffering from the pain of hip dysplasia.


As soon as you notice any of these symptoms of hip dysplasia in your dog, get them to the vet. As with all things, the earlier the condition is dealt with, the better. Get to know your dog’s physical movements and habits, which will allow you to detect anything out of the ordinary sooner.

To learn more about hip dysplasia in dogs, and the best ways to treat it, read more here:

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