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German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia: Signs & Treatments

hip dysplasia in german shepherds

Hip dysplasia is a common joint disorder that affects German Shepherds, causing pain and mobility issues. This condition specifically targets the hip joints of this breed, making it crucial to understand its implications and management.

As a devoted pet parent myself, I understand the heartache that comes with seeing our furry companions in pain. My own beloved German Shepherd battled hip dysplasia, prompting me to explore alternative and non-surgical solutions to alleviate his discomfort.

While genetic factors play a significant role in the development of hip dysplasia, early detection is key to effective intervention.

What is Canine Hip Dysplasia?

According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Canine Hip Dysplasia or CHD is:

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) is a condition that affects dogs as they grow, resulting in instability or a loose fit of the hip joint. This laxity in the hip joint can lead to various clinical signs such as hip pain, limb dysfunction, and progressive joint changes.

The hip joint itself is a ball and socket joint, and continuous abnormal movement of the femoral head (ball) can deform the acetabulum (socket).

Over time, this joint laxity can cause the loss of cartilage, the development of scar tissue around the joint, and the formation of bone spurs around the ball and socket.

According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, 15% – 20% of German shepherds suffer from hip dysplasia.

Early Signs Of German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia

German Shepherds are known for their strength, agility, and athleticism. However, they are also prone to certain health issues, one of which is hip dysplasia. Recognizing the early signs of hip dysplasia in German Shepherds is crucial for early intervention and treatment.

1. Rapid weight gain

If you notice that your dog is gaining weight despite a consistent diet and exercise routine, it could be an indication of hip dysplasia. The discomfort caused by this condition can lead to decreased activity levels, resulting in weight gain over time.

2. Hip pain

You may observe your German Shepherd showing signs of distress when getting up or lying down. They may whimper or yelp when pressure is applied to their hips or attempt to avoid activities that put strain on their joints.

3. Trouble standing up

Your dog may struggle to push themselves up using their hind legs and require extra effort to get on their feet. This can be particularly noticeable after periods of rest or prolonged physical activity.

4. Limping

German Shepherd limping because of hip dysplasia

Limping is a classic symptom associated with hip dysplasia in German Shepherds. As the condition progresses, you may observe your dog favoring one leg over the other while walking or running. This limp can become more pronounced after strenuous exercise or long walks.

5. Favoring one leg

In addition to limping, dogs with hip dysplasia often favor one leg more than the others during daily activities such as standing, sitting, or climbing stairs. This uneven weight distribution is an attempt to alleviate the discomfort in their affected hip joint.

6. Swaying gait

A swaying gait, also known as a wobbly or unstable walk, can be indicative of hip dysplasia in German Shepherds. You may notice your dog’s hind end swaying from side to side as they move, indicating weakness and instability in their hip joints.

7. Difficulty climbing stairs

Climbing stairs can become a challenging task for German Shepherds with hip dysplasia. They may hesitate or struggle when attempting to ascend or descend steps due to the pain and limited range of motion in their hips.

8. Running or walking with a “Bunny hop”

As hip dysplasia progresses, dogs may develop a compensatory movement pattern called a “bunny hop.” Instead of using each leg independently while running or walking, they will use both hind legs together simultaneously.

9. Trouble or hesitation running

Dogs with hip dysplasia may exhibit reluctance or difficulty running, as the condition causes discomfort and limits the smooth movement of the hind limbs. This can be particularly noticeable during play or exercise.

10. Atrophy, loss of muscle in the thighs

Hip dysplasia can lead to muscle atrophy in the thighs due to reduced use and support from the affected hip joint. The loss of muscle mass is a result of the dog’s altered gait and decreased activity levels.

RELATED: How To Make German Shepherd Back Legs Stronger?

11. Increased shoulder strength to compensate for weak hips

Dogs may develop increased strength in their front shoulders as they try to compensate for the weakness or discomfort in their hindquarters caused by hip dysplasia. This altered weight distribution is a natural adaptation to maintain mobility.

12. Reduced general activity

Dogs with hip dysplasia often become less active, avoiding strenuous physical activities that involve the hind limbs. This reduction in activity is a protective response to minimize pain and discomfort associated with movement.

13. Hesitation on stairs

Dogs with hip dysplasia may hesitate or show difficulty when navigating stairs. The uneven distribution of weight on the hind limbs can make climbing or descending stairs uncomfortable, leading to caution or reluctance.

14. Aggression, especially if the hip area is touched

Pain and discomfort associated with hip dysplasia may lead to increased sensitivity, and dogs may become aggressive or show signs of discomfort, especially when their hip area is touched. This defensive behavior is a response to the pain caused by the condition.

RELATED: Are German Shepherds Dangerous?

How is Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) diagnosed?

To accurately diagnose Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD), there are three types of diagnostic tests that veterinarians use. These tests can help determine the severity of the condition and guide treatment options to alleviate pain and improve quality of life for affected dogs.

1. PennHIP Distraction Method

The PennHIP distraction method is considered the most accurate x-ray method for diagnosing CHD at an early age. It measures the actual amount of hip laxity in puppies, which can predict whether they will develop CHD later in life.

By assessing hip laxity, veterinarians can also determine what surgical options are available to prevent crippling arthritis.

This method involves a series of specialized radiographs taken under sedation. The images capture the position of the hips during manipulation, allowing for precise measurements.

Based on these measurements, a distraction index is calculated, indicating the degree of hip looseness or tightness.

One advantage of using the PennHIP distraction method is its ability to predict CHD even before visible signs or symptoms appear.

This early detection enables proactive measures to be taken, such as dietary changes, exercise modifications, or potential surgical interventions.

RELATED: German Shepherd Elbow Dysplasia

2. Ortolani Sign or Palpation Method

Another diagnostic method commonly used since 1985 is the Ortolani Sign or palpation method. This test involves gently manipulating the hips while observing for any signs of instability or subluxation.

It is typically performed under light sedation and can confirm if a puppy will have CHD by one year of age.

The Ortolani Sign test helps assess joint mobility and identifies any abnormalities in hip conformation.

If positive, it indicates that there may be underlying issues with hip development and increases the likelihood of developing CHD later on.

Many primary care veterinarians can perform this exam on puppies between 10-16 weeks old as part of routine check-ups.

Early detection through the Ortolani Sign or palpation method allows for timely interventions and management strategies to minimize the impact of CHD.

3. OFA X-ray Exam

The third type of diagnostic test commonly used by breeders is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) x-ray exam.

Unlike the previous methods, this exam is performed on dogs at one to two years of age. However, it has limitations in predicting whether a young puppy will develop CHD.

The OFA x-ray exam focuses on evaluating hip conformation and joint integrity based on specific criteria established by the organization. The radiographs are then reviewed and graded accordingly.

While this method can provide valuable information about an adult dog’s hip health, it may not be as effective in identifying early signs of CHD in puppies.

It is important to note that all these diagnostic tests should be conducted by qualified veterinarians who specialize in orthopedics or have extensive experience with canine hip dysplasia.

How To Prevent Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds?

1. Selecting puppies from reputable breeders with health screenings

The first step is to ensure that you are selecting your puppy from a reputable breeder. Reputable breeders prioritize the health and well-being of their dogs and conduct health screenings to identify any potential issues, including hip dysplasia.

These screenings involve X-rays and other diagnostic tests to assess the hip joint’s structure and function.

RELATED: How To Buy a German Shepherd Puppy

2. Avoiding breeding dogs with known hip dysplasia history

Breeding two dogs with hip dysplasia increases the likelihood of passing on the genetic predisposition for this condition to their offspring.

Responsible breeders carefully select breeding pairs based on their health records, specifically avoiding pairing dogs with a history of hip dysplasia.

RELATED: German Shepherd Health Issues: Symptoms & Treatments

3. Portion control for puppies

Proper nutrition plays a vital role in preventing hip dysplasia in German Shepherd puppies. Overfeeding or rapid weight gain can put excessive stress on growing joints, potentially leading to an increased risk of developing hip dysplasia.

It’s important to follow feeding guidelines provided by your veterinarian or breeder to ensure that your puppy is receiving the appropriate amount of food for their age, size, and activity level.

Monitoring their weight and adjusting portion sizes accordingly can help maintain a healthy growth rate and reduce the risk of developing hip dysplasia.

4. Providing a balanced diet for proper growth and development

A diet rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals supports healthy bone and joint development, reducing the likelihood of hip dysplasia.

Consulting with a veterinarian or canine nutritionist can help you determine the best diet for your German Shepherd puppy.

They may recommend high-quality commercial dog food specifically formulated for large-breed puppies or provide guidance on preparing homemade meals that meet their nutritional needs.

RELATED: How Much To Feed a German Shepherd: GSD Feeding Chart

5. Regular exercise to maintain muscle strength and weight control

Regular, moderate exercise helps prevent hip dysplasia in dogs by maintaining a healthy weight, promoting muscle development for joint support, and engaging in low-impact activities like swimming or walking.

Avoiding excessive high-impact exercises and incorporating a balanced routine tailored to the dog’s breed and age contributes to overall joint health.

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How To Non-Surgically Treat Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds?

massage for german shepherd hip dysplasia

If your furry friend has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, there are several treatment options available to help manage their pain and improve their quality of life. Here are some effective non-surgical ways to treat hip dysplasia in German Shepherds:

1. Reduce weight, if needed

Excess weight can put additional strain on their joints, exacerbating the symptoms of hip dysplasia. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the ideal weight for your dog and develop a plan for gradual weight loss if necessary.

2. Modify diet with your vet

Working closely with your veterinarian, you can modify your German Shepherd’s diet to support their joint health. There are specialized dog foods available that contain ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin, which help promote joint health and reduce inflammation.

3. Exercise modification, such as low-impact or controlled walks only

While exercise is important for maintaining overall health, it’s crucial to modify activities for dogs with hip dysplasia. High-impact exercises like running or jumping should be avoided as they can worsen the condition.

Instead, opt for low-impact exercises such as controlled walks or swimming, which provide gentle exercise without putting excessive stress on the joints.

4. Supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin

Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can play a significant role in managing hip dysplasia symptoms in German Shepherds. These supplements help support joint function and reduce inflammation.

Talk to your veterinarian about the appropriate dosage and type of supplements that would be beneficial for your dog.

5. Physical therapy

Physical therapy can be highly beneficial for German Shepherds with hip dysplasia. It involves exercises and techniques that help improve muscle strength, joint stability, and range of motion.

A professional canine physical therapist can develop a personalized therapy plan for your dog to alleviate pain and enhance mobility.

6. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment option that has shown promising results in managing pain associated with hip dysplasia. By stimulating specific points on the body, acupuncture helps release endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving hormones.

Many German Shepherd owners have reported positive outcomes from incorporating acupuncture into their dog’s treatment regimen.

7. Massage

Massage therapy can provide relief to dogs with hip dysplasia by reducing muscle tension and promoting relaxation. Gentle massages around the affected area can help improve blood circulation, relieve pain, and increase flexibility.

You can learn basic massage techniques from a professional or consult a certified canine massage therapist for more specialized care.

8. Cold laser therapy

Cold laser therapy involves the use of low-intensity lasers to stimulate cellular activity and promote healing. It can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain associated with hip dysplasia, offering a non-invasive and drug-free treatment option.

9. Adequan injections

Adequan is an injectable medication containing polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, which can help improve joint lubrication and reduce inflammation.

Administered regularly under veterinary supervision, Adequan injections aim to enhance joint function and slow the progression of hip dysplasia.

10. Chiropractic care

Chiropractic adjustments may be used to address musculoskeletal imbalances in dogs with hip dysplasia. While not a cure, chiropractic care can help manage pain and improve mobility by focusing on the spine and associated joints.

11. Medications for inflammation and pain

In addition to NSAIDs, other medications like analgesics or joint supplements may be prescribed by a veterinarian to manage inflammation and alleviate pain associated with hip dysplasia, contributing to the overall comfort of the dog.

12. Provide scatter rugs on hard floors

Placing scatter rugs on hard floors creates a more stable surface for dogs with hip dysplasia to walk on. This helps prevent slipping and provides better traction, reducing the risk of falls and further stress on the hip joints.

13. Provide dog beds and pads for comfort

Comfort is essential for dogs with hip dysplasia, and providing supportive dog beds or pads can relieve pressure on the joints. Orthopedic beds with memory foam or other supportive materials offer added comfort and help manage discomfort.

13. Provide ramps or stairs for accessibility

Ramps or stairs can assist dogs with hip dysplasia in accessing elevated surfaces like cars, furniture, or beds. These aids reduce the need for jumping, minimizing impact on the hip joints and making daily activities more manageable for the dog.

Surgical Treatments for Hip Dysplasia

While there are non-surgical treatment options available, sometimes surgical intervention becomes necessary to provide long-term relief and improve the quality of life for affected dogs.

1. Total Hip Replacement Surgery

Total hip replacement surgery is considered one of the most effective treatments for severe cases of hip dysplasia. This procedure involves replacing the entire hip joint with artificial components that mimic the natural structure and function of the joint. It provides excellent pain relief and allows dogs to regain normal mobility.


  • Provides long-term pain relief
  • Restores normal range of motion
  • Improves overall quality of life


  • Expensive procedure
  • Requires specialized surgical skills
  • Longer recovery time compared to other surgeries

Femoral Head Ostectomy (FHO)

Femoral head ostectomy (FHO) is a surgical procedure that involves removing the femoral head, which is the ball-shaped top part of the thigh bone. By removing this damaged portion, it eliminates bone-on-bone contact within the joint and reduces pain caused by hip dysplasia.


  • Relatively less invasive compared to total hip replacement
  • Shorter recovery time
  • Can be performed on younger dogs with less severe symptoms


  • May result in reduced range of motion
  • Some dogs may develop muscle atrophy or weakness post-surgery
  • Not suitable for all cases of hip dysplasia

Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO)

Triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) is a surgical procedure typically performed on young dogs with mild to moderate hip dysplasia. It involves cutting and repositioning specific parts of the pelvis to improve the alignment and stability of the hip joint.


  • Suitable for young dogs with developing hip joints
  • Can help prevent or delay the progression of hip dysplasia
  • Improves joint stability and reduces pain


  • More complex procedure requiring specialized training
  • Longer recovery time compared to other surgeries
  • Potential risk of complications such as infection or nerve damage

Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis (JPS)

Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS) is a surgical procedure performed on very young dogs, usually between 12 and 20 weeks of age. It involves fusing part of the pelvis to redirect forces away from the hip joint, allowing for better development and reducing the risk of future hip dysplasia.


  • JPS aims to address hip dysplasia at an early stage, potentially reducing the risk of progression as the dog matures.
  • Compared to some other surgical options, JPS is a less invasive procedure, which may result in a quicker recovery for the young dog.
  • The surgery is performed on puppies at around 16 weeks of age, allowing for early intervention and potentially more effective prevention of hip dysplasia development.


  • The success of JPS in preventing hip dysplasia may vary among individual dogs, and some may still develop hip issues later in life.
  • JPS must be performed at an early age (around 16 weeks), making it essential for early detection of hip dysplasia for timely intervention.
  • While JPS can help with alignment, it may not provide as comprehensive a solution as other surgeries like total hip replacement in more severe cases.

Does hip dysplasia occur in German Shepherd puppies?

Yes, hip dysplasia can occur in German Shepherd puppies. It is a genetic condition, and while the signs and symptoms may not be immediately apparent in young puppies, the malformation of the hip joint often becomes more evident as the dog grows.

Hip dysplasia can affect puppies as young as five months old.

Factors such as genetics, nutrition, and environmental influences contribute to the development and progression of hip dysplasia.

Responsible breeding practices, a balanced diet, and appropriate exercise can help mitigate the risk, but early detection and intervention are crucial for managing the condition in German Shepherd puppies.

Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring are recommended, especially for breeds prone to hip dysplasia.

What are the causes of hip dysplasia in GSD puppies?

While the exact cause of hip dysplasia is still not fully understood, there are several factors that contribute to its development in GSD puppies.

1. Genetics

Genetic predisposition plays a significant role in the development of hip dysplasia. GSDs with a family history of the condition are more likely to pass it on to their offspring.

Breeding dogs without proper hip evaluations increases the risk of passing on the genes responsible for hip dysplasia.

2. Growth rate

Rapid growth during puppyhood can put stress on the developing hip joint, increasing the likelihood of hip dysplasia.

Overfeeding or providing an unbalanced diet can lead to excessive growth, which may contribute to the development of the condition.

3. Nutrition

Proper nutrition is crucial for the healthy development of a GSD puppy’s bones and joints. Imbalances in calcium and phosphorus levels, as well as deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals, can disrupt the normal growth of the hip joint and increase the risk of hip dysplasia.

4. Exercise

Inappropriate exercise during the critical growth stages can have a negative impact on the hip joint. Excessive running, jumping, or rough play on hard surfaces can strain the developing joint and contribute to the development of hip dysplasia.

5. Environmental factors

Environmental factors, such as the type of flooring and living conditions, can also affect the development of hip dysplasia. Slippery surfaces and excessive confinement can put additional stress on the hip joint, increasing the risk of dysplasia.

It is important to note that while these factors can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia, they do not guarantee that a GSD puppy will develop the condition. Responsible breeding practices, proper nutrition, controlled growth, and appropriate exercise can help reduce the risk of hip dysplasia in GSD puppies.

What are the symptoms of hip dysplasia in puppies?

If you suspect your puppy may be suffering from hip dysplasia, it’s important to recognize the symptoms so that you can seek proper treatment. Here are some signs to look out for:

1. Bunny hopping gait when running or walking fast

This means that instead of using their hind legs independently, they move them together in a hopping motion when running or walking fast. It may appear cute at first, but it’s actually an indication of underlying joint problems.

2. Difficulty getting up after rest

You may notice your pup taking longer than usual to stand up or showing signs of stiffness and discomfort when trying to rise from a lying position. This difficulty in getting up is caused by inflammation and pain in the hip joints.

3. Reluctance to jump, climb stairs, or play actively

Another symptom of hip dysplasia is a reluctance to engage in activities that require jumping, climbing stairs, or playing actively.

Puppies with this condition may avoid these actions altogether or exhibit hesitation and caution when attempting them due to the pain and discomfort they experience in their hips.

4. Limping or favoring one hind leg over the other

If you notice your German Shepherd puppy favoring one hind leg over the other or exhibiting an uneven gait, it could be an indication of hip dysplasia.

The affected leg may appear weaker and have a reduced range of motion compared to the unaffected leg.

5. Noticeable discomfort when touched around the hips

Puppies with hip dysplasia may exhibit signs of pain and discomfort when their hips are touched or manipulated.

If your puppy reacts negatively, such as flinching, yelping, or trying to move away when you touch their hip area, it’s a strong indication that they are experiencing joint pain.

Other symptoms

In addition to the above symptoms, there are other signs that may indicate the presence of hip dysplasia in puppies. These include:

  • Decreased activity levels
  • Stiffness after exercise or physical activity
  • Difficulty in maintaining balance
  • Muscle atrophy (wasting) in the hind legs
  • Noticeable changes in posture or stance

It’s important to note that not all puppies with hip dysplasia will display all of these symptoms. Some may only exhibit a few while others may show more severe signs.


You are now equipped with the knowledge to understand and tackle German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia. By recognizing the early signs, getting a proper diagnosis, and implementing preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of your beloved furry friend developing this condition.

In case hip dysplasia does occur, there are various treatment options available, including surgical interventions. Remember, your pup’s well-being depends on your proactive actions!


1. Can I prevent hip dysplasia in my German Shepherd puppy?

Yes! While genetics play a role in hip dysplasia development, you can take steps to minimize the risk. Provide appropriate nutrition for growing puppies, avoid excessive exercise at an early age, and ensure their environment is safe and supportive.

2. Is hip dysplasia only common in German Shepherds?

No, although it is more prevalent in certain breeds like German Shepherds due to genetic factors, any dog breed can be affected by hip dysplasia.

4. How do I know if my puppy has hip dysplasia?

Watch out for signs such as difficulty standing up or walking, limping or bunny hopping gait pattern, reluctance to jump or climb stairs, and decreased activity levels. Consult with a veterinarian if you notice these symptoms.

5. Are there non-surgical treatments available for hip dysplasia?

Yes! Non-surgical treatments include weight management programs, physical therapy exercises tailored for dogs with hip dysplasia, pain medication prescribed by veterinarians, and joint supplements.

6. Can hip dysplasia be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for hip dysplasia. However, with proper management and treatment, you can improve your dog’s quality of life and minimize discomfort.

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