Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

dog hip dysplasia

11 Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

| 61 Comments

hip dysplasia in dogsHip 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Tires easily
    Does not play long before they must lie down. Then they lie down for a long time in the same spot.
  9. Lies down rather than sits
    Because sitting is hard on their hips, they lie down often and sit rarely.
  10. 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)
  11. 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

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61 Comments

  1. A simple thank you and a wish I had found this article before.
    Thank you.

  2. Sarah…

    My 13 y.o. aussi mix was just dx. with knee dysplasia. We also asked to have his hips xrayed just to be certain his hips were not affected but apparently they are clear. He holds his back right paw up at all times now. I would like your advice regarding how to keep him the most comfortable . It breaks my heart to see him holding that back leg up at all times.

    Essentially he is a three legged dog and I fear he is hurting. We have a great VET and he has him on a NSAID.

    Will this ever go away? How can we keep him more comfortable? What more can we do for him?

    He is on an antihistamine and a anti seizure med. He has had seizures since he was a young dog. He was a rescue dog our son and his wife saved and he is probably the smartest pet we have ever had. We kept him when they moved to San Diego because we were worried about that long flight and him in a strange place/ caged/ by himself. None of us could bear that so our son let us have him.

    We love him so much. How can we keep him the most comfortable?

    He always sleeps on a thick carpeted area( on my hubby\’s

    • Oh 🙁 – Any dog who keeps one leg entirely off the ground is in some sort of pain. Talk to your vet about K9 PT or acupuncture, of there aren’t good medical or surgical options. {{{ }}}

  3. Sarah-

    Thank you for the wonderful and very informative article. My dog sleeps on his side and has his hind legs almost bent at his waist so they almost touch his chin- he looks like a Kangaroo. Have you ever related sleeping position to HD? I have a picture I could send.

    Any guidance would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Catherine and Henry – I know that pose well and no, I have not seen that associated with hip issue. Could just be your dog’s habit or might consider knees or back. How does he stand? Head up (above the spine) or low (even with or lower than the spine)?

  4. Ohh noo…my 10 yr old Golden has recently started a deep groan everything he lays down. He has been diagnosed with arthritis in past year. This is very upsetting if your saying he is in pain. 🙁

    • If it’s a change in behavior at his age, there probably is some discomfort. There is a LOT you can do: keeping him lean, good fatty acids, long walks and swims (when possible), minimizing rough play and some pain relief after active days will all help.

  5. I just rescued a dog from Greece and she clearly has hip dysplasia. In three months I am already at over €1000 in vet bills and addressing the hip dysplasia is the next step. Her blood work came out good, so it’s just the hips to deal with. She is only ~9 months old 🙁

    I am concerned about this being a life sentence. Is there anything that I can do to try and correct the situation while she is still growing? She had rapid growth after coming to us as she was very malnourished in Greece. I have never seen a dog in such a condition and I don’t feel confident that I have the time/energy/money to care for her, which breaks my heart.

    My children love her, but they also want a dog they can play with and she can’t be active very long. Ten minute walks tops…

    • Hi Leslie – from having dogs with HD, they tend to look the worst at that age, then the body does what it can to stabilize the joints. Depending on what is the nature of the HD – shallow sockets, malformed head, etc. – I’ve had dogs look a lot better by 18 months or so. There is nada you can do to “correct” it now but helping build muscle with long walks and tossing toys up slight hills as well as gently rocking her back and forth and front to back as you pet her can build that body. Endurance should come, I would think, as she recovers from starvation. Lastly, the dogs I’ve had with HD lived long, happy lives without surgery being kept lean and exercised with appropriate activities. Hope that is helpful. – Sarah

  6. My three yr old poodle has always been playful athletic and happy BUT I took him to a groomer and now he whines in pain, doesn’t want to walk, it’s like he can’t he will wait and if I’m out of site for too long he’ll bark once for me not to forget him (very out of character) also he’s never done this before but after a few steps his whole back end curves and sometimes he tries to grab the end of his tail just for a second then just sits. He has had his anal glands expressed, is eating and drinking but not as much. He licks me when he can, what does it sound like to you?

    • Sounds like he’s in pain. I wonder if he’s got clipper burn under his tail (ouch)? I’d take him to your vet and see what’s up. Sorry he’s unhappy and hope all is well quickly.

  7. Thank you so much for caring enough to reply – Would there be red marks if he has clipper burn? When I picked him up she said he had a nip At the clippers and she told him no and he stopped But he’s never nipped anything. His tail is shaved close and he smelt of petrol, or kerosene and I had to wash him and his harness. I won’t ever take him ther again But that’s no consolation to him now. I feel so guilty and I saw some videos of him and I’m worried if he’ll ever be like that again. He can be active but doesn’t want to. Does his curving his back sound like hip dysplasia?

  8. Hi. I have a 16 week old cocker spaniel. I’ve noticed he tends to turn his back hind paw inwards when he walks. He shows no sign of being in pain and he is lively and bouncy. He does bear weight on that paw. I am paranoid that he has hip dysplasia. His other three legs look entirely normal.

    • Hi Rachel – It would be odd for HD to cause that particular symptom. I’d talk to his vet because something is amiss but the good news? Your pup isn’t concerned and that’s good. – Sarah

  9. My 6 ½ year old poodle/cocker spaniel mix started having pain today!
    When I left in the morning, she was completely fine, jumping, running and barking at cats. But when I got home from work, she didn’t greet me like always. She always always always runs up to the door and barks and spins and jumps up on the couch and fetches her toy. This time though, she was just quietly sitting on her bed. I called her and she didn’t respond, not even when I got her leash. I go up to her and she’s not even happy to see me, just sitting there with her tail tucked in and ears down low. When I finally got her to stand up, she wined a little. I was already on high alert that something was wrong. I took her to do her business outside and she was hesitant to walk, she even cried when I put her harness on :'(
    It broke my heart seeing that she couldn’t stand up. She kept sitting down and when I took her to her bed (which is a toddler’s bed) she couldn’t jump up those few inches (which she normally does) and so she decided to put her front paws up first, but when she tried her back paws, she cried again. I put her mattress on the floor instead and feed her on the mattress because she can’t stand not even to eat. She can’t move from one spot to the other, she won’t come when called. She’s won’t come even if I’m offering treats!
    I know she’s in pain, but can’t figure out from where. I’m thinking its probably HD

    Oh! And she does groan when she’s lying down or trying to get comfortable :”'(

    I gonna call in sick to work tomorrow and take her to the vet instead, but I just wanted to see if you had any advice for me

  10. On July 3rd this year my 10nyr old boxer jumped off the back 3 steps and just had a slight yelp barely audible. However he is very active and became less active. Well I took him to get whonpyt him on meds and then after two doses he fell coming down steps inside my carpeted house. He has since limped or carried so to speak his left hind leg. I have had him to vet 9 times since this started. His leg is cery flaccid and sometimes his toes bend under. I am trying to get him into specialist she referred me to this week. Any suggestions. His xrays show very slight arthritis and his bloodwork is all normal.

    • The toes curling under is the symptom I would latch on to. Myelopathy could be a possibility with his age and breed. So sorry.

  11. My poodle is a medium size poodle and I have had her since 1997 and she was about a year old when I got her but she is diabetic and has two .5 ml shits daily, she is also blind. Her hearing is not that great either,but I have noticed that her back is very sway back and it hasn’t been like that, I took her to the groomer today and after he trimmed her and I can seen how swayed her back is I would like to know what if anything bc I can do to make sure she isn’t suffering.

    • At 21 +/- years of age, keep her comfortable, keep her nails trimmed, give her carpet runners to walk on and keep her warm. That would be my priority. There really isn’t much I’d do exercise-wise with an ancient, sick pupper beyond loving her and keeping her comfy.

  12. I have a poodle she about 15 maybe 16 years old. She is diabetic and blind and hard if hearing. I noticed when I took her to get beauty appt. that her back appears to be really swayed and it’s not been like that can you tell me what it is and if she is suffering. Thank you

  13. I have a 3 year old female pitbull. Within the last 5 or so months she has been a bit hesitant to get up from laying position. She sits fine, at times lays and gets up fine. She acts like an old lady yet plays hard in the yard. I’ve had her since she was a puppy and she’s had no injury. I’m concerned as she is so young.

    Tia any advice you can give

  14. I have a 7.5 mo german sheapard puppy. I’m fairly sure she is a pure bred so very common to get HD. Ever since she was 4 months we noticed her back legs seemed to wobble. Now that she’s larger she will sit on her butt instead of her hind legs and seems to have difficulty jumping into our car (usually the worst after a long day). She has always been clutsy on our hard wood floors, but as a puppy she slips and just keeps going and never seems to tire. We have started to do daily exercise routines with her on top of her daily walks and dog park visits. We have her chase a laser pointer up and down the stairs, as well as jumping up on a chair with only her front legs. Do you have any other suggestions that can help strengthen her back legs?

    • Glad you are aware of the risks. Yes, up her exercise thoughtfully. Yes, keep her lean and strong. Yes, talk to her vet for suggestions and guidance. But…do NOT use a laser and I would not run her up and down stairs. The laser can cause a light obsession that is extremely hard to change and the stair pounding could make matters worse. Good luck –

  15. I have a 3 yr old, 14 lb Maltese. He maybe a mix, not sure though. Anyway, he is hesitant climbing stairs but will do so very slolwy. He runs, walks, eats, drinks water, pees and poops all well, just concerned about climbing and jumping as he is so hesitant n when he does jump or climb, he contemplates a bit prior to doing so. Would u suspect HD?

    • Hi, Leen – Something is up. Given his mix, is the hair out of his face so he can see? Are the stairs carpeted or slippery? Slippery floors can make a dog cautious – and they should – but don’t point to a pain issue. I’d certainly run it all past his vet.

      • Thx Sarah for ur feedback. My nurse friends who are also dog owners said to monitor him for at least a day or two given he’s not in pain, as they suspect he might have had a pulled a muscle. He’s definitely better. My father massaged him lol and omg he loves it!! Spoiled lil pup I tell ya! Anyway, thx for ur prompt feedback?
        P.S steps are carpeted and hair around eyes are trimmed so he is able to clearly see.

  16. I have an 8 month old Yorkie/Bichon mix. She has had mobility issues since we got her at 2 months. Some days she can’t even get up (although not for about a month). My vet put her on Rymidyl and that definitely helps. Instructions are just to take as needed. When she sits her back paws are spread eagle. She can’t climb steps and has to be lifted on and off of the couch. Does this sound like signs of hip dysphasia and if so why wouldn’t our vet have picked this up after several X-rays? Should I start her on a joint supplement? If so which one? She only weighs about 8lbs.

    • Definitely not normal; I’d find a good veterinary physical therapist to do an assessment or a canine chiropractor – either should have insight into what is happening with your little one.

  17. My jack russell/Chihuahua is gonna be 7 this april. He hasn’t been acting himself lately. He usually jumps on me when I come home and is always excited. Now he doesn’t he is losing weight and the other day he jumped on a chair which he never has a problem jumping on. He just when backwards. He barely eats all he wants to do it lay in bed. I have been giving him a half of a baby aspirin here and there seems to be helping a little. But you can see the pain in his eyes. He walks up and down the stairs sideways. He is skinnier than normal.

  18. Hi ihave a 1 yr old he is standing on his hind legs like tipy toes and im worried, i noticed it a days go and keep keeping n eye on him seems to have increased a bit.. its also winter here nd in the -.

    • Hi Erin – If you mean he is barely putting any weight on a hind leg the off to the vet you go. He’s hurt and you need to know what’s going on. Hope all improves quickly. – Sarah

  19. My Great Pyrenees was fine yesterday and when I came in today she acts like she’s in pain with her back legs and front legs . Can hip dysplasia come on that fast?

  20. Hi Sarah
    I have 6 months old American Bulldog , it’s beautiful and big boy (38kg right now)
    The last month he started worried me more and more… I can observe all your 11 signs on daily basis and he started walking more often on stiffy back legs .
    Do you have any suggestions that can help

    • Hi Arthur – Talk to his vet, keep him lean, swim him if you can safely, supplement as you can. These rapid growth months can be the most painful as the body hasn’t compensated for the issue yet, and it usually does.

  21. Hi, I have a 6 maybe 7 year old Pitt bull. He is sold black and big and beautiful. Maybe 97 ponds. Anyway last night at like 9pm. He was laying down then got up but was whimpering as he started walking. Nothing happened before this and he is very active so it blew my mind. Then my husband had to pick him up to put him on the bed cause he cried when he stood up to walk. I am at a loss here can you help.

    • Hi Priscilla – Sorry to hear this. With pits, I always guess knee issues before hips but knees he would probably limp, or hold up the leg. Regardless, he needs a vet assessment. Could be some tick-borne illness, too. They can come on fast and cause a lot of soreness. – Sarah

  22. Hi I have a German xmastiff whose 12 years old he had a fit in Feb we took him vets his bloods were clear and we were to,d tokeep an eye on him for more fits,since then he’s been incontinent although he’s been pooing in the house for a year or so he’s now started to wee in the house every day and night,his back legs have suddenly got weaker over the last few months he’s got arthritis ,but he can’t stand for to long without his rear going down and I have to hold him for himto eat his dinner,he can walk , but his is slow and his back end sometimes sways , I can hear his nails scratching the pavement at times he’s not a vocal dog but sometimes he does pant at night and gets a little bit vocal I feel he could be I. Pain can you advice plesae

    • {{{ }}} Giant breeds can “fall apart” rather suddenly and, at 12 years old, he’s a well loved, well cared for, very old Mastiff x. When he no longer can get around and/or you can no longer manage him physically, you will know and you will help your old friend one more time. The hardest time but less hard than allowing him to suffer. Been there; you have my support and sympathy.

  23. How can one be sure if symptoms are hip dysplasia or a spine issue if hip xrays only show small gap in hip? Would treatment be any different for one or the other. Is physical therapy good for either diagnosis?

    • Yes, Farina, PT is great for either and a good PT pro will be able to sort out what’s going on. With dogs, as with people, pain is personal. A “small gap” which doesn’t slow down one dog can make another one quite sore so go by your dog’s actions rather than the x-rays. Hope this helps.

  24. I have an 8yr old Maltese. All of a sudden last night she seems to be in some discomfort and kept looking at her one side (couldn’t tell if it was her leg or hip). Today she is eating, drinking and walking around fine, but still doesn’t seem to be the same active dog. She normally jumps up in joy to see everyone, but she will come up and wag tail but not jump up. She also does not want to jump up on couch, as she always does.

    • Hi Cathy – That sounds like pain of some sort. Ask her vet to sort out what’s going on, until then, limit her chances to jump and let her rest. Hope you get answers soon – Sarah

  25. We have a 11 year old Eurasia who has had and it is getting worse. He does not seem to be in pain. Walks a short distance than drops ,pants. How long can a dog live like this.
    Does’t eat well but drinks a lot of water.

    • Hi Edith – what does his vet say? What you describe could be many things. Kidney failure springs to mind. Symptoms include:
      lethargy, increased thirst, lack of appetite. Get your friend checked out.

  26. My 7 month old goldendoodle was xrayed and found out his hips are bad. He bunny hops to run and to go up stairs. He tires easily, wants to play, but lies down every time he retrieves the ball. He sits on his butt more than his legs. What can I do for him besides surgery? I walk him a mile or two a day.

    • Hi there – Sorry to hear about your pup. Here are some things you can do: keep him lean, use supplements to support his body, walk him up, down and across hills (if he can), work sit/stand/sit/stand, teach him to back up (to build muscle in his rear), swim him when you can and keep loving him. That’s the main thing, as far as he is concerned.

  27. Hi, my 4 year old GSD went to day care yesterday for the first time in a month. They told us he had a very active day. When we picked him up we noticed his back legs almost shakey or wobbly. They informed us they had some new rocks down and it hurt some of the dogs feet and they noted the difference in his back legs at the end of the day. He seems to be lying down a lot today not walking much but again his back legs are wobbly. I can’t see anything around with his feet and question if it’s coming from his back. He ate his supper and some treats but seems a bit off ? It was a very hot humid day as well. Does it sound like anything??

    • Well… could be a few things one of them is muscles are tired. New “rocks” may mean deeper footing and, like us playing hard on sand, he could have overdone it a bit. Talk to his vet about concerns. Hopefully, if it’s muscles, he’ll mend up in about the time it takes us to mend up.

  28. When my dog lays next to me he now puts his hindquarters up on my lap. He is a 16 year old beagle and I’m wondering if it is due to hip pain. He he has recently started to have trouble with our hardwood floors as well.

  29. Hello, We have a 8 month old Bloodhound female dog and after reading your article I notice shes been showing all those signs, I didnt notice before. Anyhow, yesterday at her vet appointment and x ray she was diagnosed with early stage HD, the vet gave me pain medication called Artrin Plus for 8 days and then Artrin for 3 months….the vet also said she should rest, but shes still very active and wants to run with her brother and they play very rough…I wonder if theres anything else we can give her and if its ok for them to play together like that…thank you, Amalia

    • Hi, Amalia – It’s a common issue with Bloodhounds. Pain relief is great but will also make her feel better than makes her want to play more. To rest her, you’ll need to crate them one at a time and use gates the rest of the time. Rough play that torques those hips will be hard on her. 🙁 Time for training – with both of them! Good luck! – Sarah

  30. Hi! I have a 9.5 month black lab. He doesn’t like to swim using his back legs and he usually lays down as soon as I tell him to sit. He also loves to go under things when playing and has short spurts of energy. We have an older lab and he was much more energetic as a puppy. He also sighs a lot when he lays down. He also usually sits and then gets up. Do you think this could be hip dysplacia? Thanks!

    • Hi Kathy – Could be his nature, could be an ortho issue. Swimming is usually great exercise. It can take a dog a while to figure out how to paddle with the rear but, if he’s been at that for a couple of months and still no rear use, I’d sure check in with his vet. HD is often at its worst toward the end of the first year so hopefully, whatever is going on, will stabilize a bit some vet guidance and tincture of time. Hope so. Sarah

  31. Hi Sara. I have an 11 year old yellow lab. She weighs about 80-85 lbs., and has always done the “bunny hop” with her hind legs. I’m now realizing this may have been signs of HD. It’s gotten worse the last couple of days. Symptoms like moaning & groaning are present, and inability to climb steps. She has loss of appetite, but does drink water. We can’t even feed her any medication because of the appetite loss. If she does eat anything, she almost immediately will vomit. Not sure if PT is an option in my area (extremely rural). At her age, I’m not sure paying the high cost of surgery would be beneficial. What are your thoughts on harnesses or braces I’ve seen for dogs with HD?

    • Hi Dave – Sounds like you may have more than one thing going on. The not eating/vomiting is not typically a part of orthopedic pain. Her moaning and refusal to climb stairs could be part of some other illness/pain cycle related to the throwing up. Vet ASAP!

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