Hip Dysplasia: No Longer Just for the Big Guys

Patty Khuly, DVM
July 20, 2006
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Hip dysplasia is a disease of the hip where a dog’s normal ball and socket joint don’t allow for a normal, smooth fit. Instead, painful rubbing and instability results in a messy, ineffective joint incapable of bearing a dog’s weight effectively.

Most dog aficionados consider hip dysplasia to be exclusively a large breed phenomenon. German Shepherd and Retriever breeds are overrepresented, to be sure, but this disease is no longer just a big dog problem.

In recent years, I’ve seen more than my share of severe hip disease in Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, and even Yorkies. But most veterinarians seem still to consider hip disease in small dogs as atypical or generally non-clinical (meaning, in this case, that there’s no pain involved). My experience is quite to the contrary.

Small dogs and even cats suffer from hip dysplasia not infrequently. While it’s true that the crippling disease has historically not been as prevalent in small dogs and cats, it’s being diagnosed with alarming frequency.

Perhaps I’m more attuned to its effects now that I have a small breed in my household, or perhaps dating a veterinary surgeon has colored my outlook, but I see nearly as many cases in big dogs as in small ones.

One reason for this might be that vets have worked hard to enlighten dog breeders and pet owners  Another is that, as a dog-loving society, we no longer tolerate orthopedic pain in dogs like we used. We now look hard for signs of musculo-skeletal discomfort across all breeds, sizes and species. And with dogs living well beyond their previous lifespans, we begin to see even more of our small dogs suffering the stiffness and lameness of their big-dog counterparts.

I believe the emergence of this disease in smaller pets is also because we have more of them. Small dogs have become tremendously popular in a very short amount of time. That means breeding these dogs has become more of a business than ever before. As such, irresponsible or simply ignorant breeders have overrun the marketplace. Not attuned to the consequences of breeding orthopedically affected animals, these breeders have propagated negative traits our pets may feel for generations.

Regardless of cause, the increasingly prevalent diagnosis of hip dysplasia in small dogs has resulted in the adoption of new tools to treat it. Pain relieving drugs are now available in small dose formats for very small pets. And orthopedic surgeries once reserved for the big guys are now available for the little ones as well.

One of the first total hip replacements in a tiny breed (a Yorkie) was performed two weeks ago at the specialty hospital across the street (Miami Veterinary Specialists). The poor dog could hardly walk before the procedure. Les than 24 hours later she was standing and walking beautifully.

The dramatic success of procedures like this means that vets all over the world will become more attuned to the distress of these small patients. When we know we have treatments available, finding disease becomes more than just an academic exercise—it becomes a mandate for us to do our jobs better than ever before.