German shepherds make wonderful pets. They are smart, athletic, and loyal, making them ideal as both pets and working dogs. Unfortunately, however, like most large breed dogs, German shepherds are prone to a number of health problems.
One of the most common of these is hip dysplasia; according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, about 19% of German shepherds have the ailment. Hip dysplasia is a joint problem can cause your dog pain and mobility problems, and it can lead to the development of arthritis.
German shepherds can often live happily with hip dysplasia for some time, but it’s important to provide treatment and proper care to minimize their discomfort. Every German shepherd owner should be familiar with hip dysplasia so that they can look out for warning signs, keep their pet healthy, and pursue treatment options if necessary.
What Is Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder that occurs when the dog’s hip joint is not formed normally. In dogs that have hip dysplasia, the socket of the hip joint fits loosely around the ball, and the ligaments that connect and support the joint are not as strong as they should be.
This creates a joint that fits together loosely, meaning that the femur (the leg bone) moves around too much in the joint, causing pain and damage. Hip dysplasia can occur in one or both rear hips. Over time, hip dysplasia can lead to degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, and lameness. Some dogs with the disorder, however, only have mild symptoms.
Hip dysplasia can emerge at all different ages, sometimes as early as a few months. However, symptoms most commonly emerge when a dog is one or two years old. In some mild cases, you may not know your dog has hip dysplasia until they are old and begin to get arthritis.
Why Are German Shepherds Susceptible to Hip Dysplasia?
All kinds of dogs can be affected by hip dysplasia, but it is most common in large dogs such as German shepherds, golden retrievers, bulldogs, and Saint Bernards. German shepherds are at a particular risk for the disorder because they are highly active and because of inbreeding in the breed’s history.
Hip dysplasia is hereditary, meaning that it is passed on through genetics. If hip dysplasia is present in your dog’s lineage, it’s more likely that your dog will eventually get the disorder as well.
How to Minimize the Risk of Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds
Because hip dysplasia is hereditary, there’s only so much you can do to reduce the risk of your dog getting it. The most important step you can take is before you even bring your dog home. When choosing where to adopt your dog from, you should look for dog parents that do not have hip dysplasia.
Responsible breeders will not breed dogs that are known to have hip dysplasia. You should be able to view certification based on x-rays from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or PennHip. Unfortunately, it is not possible to guarantee that you will adopt a dog who will not get hip dysplasia.
Luckily, there are some other steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing the disorder or to keep symptoms less extreme if they do develop it.
Being overweight can place strain in your dog’s joints and aggravate hip dysplasia, so it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s guidelines for feeding. You should also make sure that your dog is on a specialized diet for large breed dogs.
A proper diet is especially important during your puppy’s first year, when they are growing quickly. You can also take steps to reduce risks from exercise. German shepherds are active dogs, but exercise that’s too extreme can cause joint damage. As much as possible, you should limit jumping, such as jumping for treats or Frisbees.
Running for a long time can also strain your dog’s joints. The ideal exercise schedule includes multiple short periods of moderate exercise each day, rather than one longer period. Exercise such as walking and swimming can help your dog to build stabilizing muscle without straining their joints. Of course, your dog will also love going out for walks multiple times a day!
Warning Signs of Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia causes pain and stiffness in the hips, so symptoms will cause your dog to have difficulty moving. In particular, your dog may be reluctant to get up from lying down or to go up stairs.
They may also be stiff or appear to be in pain after exercising or first thing in the morning. If you notice that your dog isn’t as active or doesn’t seem to be enjoying the same physical activities, it could be a sign that they’re beginning to suffer from hip dysplasia. One of the clearest signs of hip dysplasia is an altered gait.
If your dog hops with both rear legs together while walking or running, there’s a strong chance they are developing the disorder. You may also notice that your dog gains weight quickly, largely because physical activity has become painful.
If you notice any of these signs, set up an x-ray with your vet. If the vet identifies hip dysplasia, you can begin treatment that will make things much easier for your dog.
Treatments for German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia
There is no cure for hip dysplasia, but treatments can help to reduce pain, improve mobility and slow the disorder’s development. Treatments vary depending on the dog and the severity of the problem.
The most basic treatments are the same as the preventative measures to keep your dog healthy: monitor their diet to keep their weight healthy, encourage moderate exercise such as walking and swimming, and (with your vet’s advice), give your dog a daily supplement that keeps their joints healthy.
There are other things you can do to help around the house, such as placing rugs over slippery floors to make it easier for your dog to get around. Some dogs also benefit from a heated bed that can reduce pain while they sleep.
If your German shepherd is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, your vet will likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication. If your dog is experiencing moderate to severe pain, your vet may also prescribe pain relief medication. In more extreme cases, your vet can provide surgery to replace the hip.
It’s always best to consult with your vet about what the best options for your dog might be. By taking steps to keep your dog healthy every day, you can do a lot to reduce the symptoms of hip dysplasia and help your German shepherd live a long and happy life.