Hip dysplasia in dogs has many symptoms. Each dog is different because their pain is different and how they bear that pain varies. I’ve seen dogs with horrible X-rays who run and play like normal dogs and dogs whose X-rays look like “no big deal” who are in obvious daily discomfort.
Few dogs will have all these symptoms but, in general, the more symptoms they have, they more discomfort they are probably in. If you see any of these, please contact your dog’s veterinarian to determine what is exactly the matter and how it can be best treated. Some of these symptoms can point to things other than hip issues but they almost always, in my experience, point to some level of pain from something.
Here are hip dysplasia symptoms I keep an eye out for:
- Sits up to get up
When your dog is lying down, he sits up before he stands up. He sits up and then heaves/pulls himself forward in order to stand. This allows the hips to do the least amount of work possible in standing. An orthopedically normal dog can stand up from lying down by pushing up on all four feet at once.
- Groans when lies down
This one is what it sounds like: dog moans, groans or vocalizes when they lie down. When I’ve pointed this out to people I sometimes hear that it’s not a problem, this is what their dog has always done. That, sadly, means the dog may have been in pain for years. This isn’t a sign just for hips, other ortho pain can cause this one as well.
- Plays and then seeks shelter
Your dog plays well for others then wants to leave, or gets snarky, or hides their rear in a corner or under a chair/bench or presses up against you. Dogs with bad hips can get tired quickly or start to get achy after play.
- Head whip when petting
Your dog loves petting but not on their hind end. They may scoot away, swing their rear away or swing their head around to stare or nose butt at your hand. That is dog for “Hey, be careful, that hurts!“
- Snarks at rough/young dogs
Your dog used to love all dogs but suddenly (and this can happen at any age even quite young) they get snarky with/avoidant of dogs who play roughly.
- Has to think about hopping up on to couch, bed or car
Your dog pauses before they jump up. They may shimmy a bit or hesitate. Look for putting their front feet up and then hauling the rear up behind them instead of jumping.
- Chooses to hop into the wheel well of the car rather then up onto the seat
Your dog hops into the floor of the backseat rather than up onto the seat itself.
- Tires easily
Does not play long before they must lie down. Then they lie down for a long time in the same spot.
- Lies down rather than sits
Because sitting is hard on their hips, they lie down often and sit rarely.
- Stands/walks with head low
To keep their weight forward, off their sore rear legs, they stand with their head down—about even with their back. The sorer they are, the lower they carry their heads. Look for large neck and chests on these dogs as the muscles gain size carrying this load. (See: Seeing Pain in Dogs: Hindquarters)
- Hops up stairs and when they run.
A common sign of hip dysplasia in dogs is “bunny hopping” up stairs instead of striding up one leg per stair. By hopping, they can use both legs and their back to pull them up there stairs rather than painfully relying on one leg/hip.
And.. as I have discussed before, avoids slippery flooring.
There are many ways to handle hip dysplasia in dogs. For a few thoughts from one of my favorite experts, read Dog Arthritis: 3 Ways to Help with Debbie Gross Saunders.
Smile at your dog for me. – Sarah