Hip Dysplasia

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia (HD) is a common inherited orthopaedic problem of dogs and a wide number of other mammals. ‘Dysplasia’ means abnormal growth, which usually means that the hip joints are not shaped as they should be or are damaged. In dogs, the hip joint functions as a ball and socket. In dogs with hip dysplasia, the ball and socket do not fit or develop properly, and they rub and grind instead of sliding smoothly. This results in deterioration over time and an eventual loss of function of the joint itself.

This painful condition can drastically reduce a dog’s quality of life and is difficult for owners to watch. Unfortunately, but the time you can get your dog x-rayed to check for hip dysplasia (1 year plus), or before symptoms can occur, many owners will have already formed a strong bond and started basic training with their working dog.

Developmental changes appear first and are related to growth. These developmental changes may then lead to excessive wear and tear. Usually the dog will develop (osteo)arthritis (OA), (osteo)arthrosis or degenerative joint disease (DJD). At some point, one or both hip joints of affected dogs may become mechanically defective. At this stage the joint(s) may be painful and cause lameness. In extreme cases the dog may find movement very difficult and may suffer considerably. 

X-ray illustrating a good set of hips (Kelpie bitch, x-rayed and hips scored at the age of 3, before breeding)

X-ray illustrating severe hip dysplasia (Kelpie bitch, x-rayed and hips scored at the age of 20 months, before breeding).

This bitch displayed NO symptoms of hip dysplasia.

What causes hip dysplasia?

The BVA (2020) states that there are two factors which determine whether HD will occur, and if so, how bad it will be. These are 'hereditary' and ‘environmental’ factors. ‘Hereditary’ relates to the genetic code passed to the offspring by both parents. It is well known in the UK that, historically, many breeders have bred from dogs that have not been X-rayed for HD. This has meant that we are starting to see trends occur from particular lines with an increased risk of HD.


'Environmental' relates to all the outside influences which alter and shape the growth and functions of the bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscles of the body.


In simple terms the genetic code is rather like an architect’s plan (genotype), while the environment is like the builder and his materials (phenotype). In HD the architect (breeder) has made some errors but the builder (pup owner) has a great influence on how things finally look and function. 

How do I know if my dog has hip dysplasia?

Some dogs begin to show signs of hip dysplasia when they are as young as four months of age. Others develop it later in life as they age. There are some symptoms you can keep a look out for, but we have found that kelpies are very stoic dogs, and do not necessarily display symptoms even with terrible quality hips. Symptoms also depend on the severity of the dysplasia, amount of inflammation, joint looseness and how long the dog has suffered. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Decreased activity

  • Decreased range of motion

  • Difficulty or reluctance rising, jumping, running, or climbing stairs, into and out of vehicles, over fences/hurdles

  • Any lameness in the hind end

  • Any lameness in the front end

  • Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait

  • Grating in the joint during movement

  • Loss of thigh muscle mass

  • Noticeable enlargement of the shoulder muscles as they compensate for the hind end

  • Pain

  • Stiffness, usually shown simply by a dog stretching more than normal

The only accurate way to accurately confirm hip dysplasia is by X-ray. Many dogs have dysplasia and are used for breeding several times before any symptoms start to show (if ever).

Can hip dysplasia be managed well and/or treated?

There are quite a few treatment options for hip dysplasia in dogs, ranging from lifestyle modifications to surgery. Depending on your dog’s case, the vet may suggest the following:

  • Weight reduction

  • Exercise restriction, on hard or uneven surfaces, reduction in jumping

  • Physical therapy

  • Hydrotherapy can prove very successful in increasing muscle mass and strengthening joints

  • Joint supplements (glucosamine amongst others)

  • Anti-inflammatory medications (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids)

  • Joint fluid modifiers

How can I try to prevent my dog from developing HD?

Not all cases of hip dysplasia can be prevented. However, there are some steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing this disease. Keeping your dog’s skeletal system healthy should start when your dog is young. Feeding your puppy an appropriate diet will give them a head start on healthy bone and joint development and help prevent the excessive growth that leads to the disease.

As your dog grows, providing appropriate levels of exercise and a healthy diet will prevent obesity, which is a major contributing factor to hip dysplasia. Also, obesity causes many other health problems in dogs, so hold off on the table scraps and fatty foods.

Should I be thinking about it when purchasing a puppy?

Find a responsible breeder that does the appropriate health screenings, such as radiographs for hip dysplasia and more. 

The best way that breeders can prevent hereditary hip dysplasia is to screen their breeding dogs for the disease. Some breeders feel that as they are working dogs, any weakness would show during their working life, and they will then not be bred from. However, many kelpies in the UK are bred from bitches and dogs, that have not had a long working life. Additionally, there are some breeders who do not regularly work the kelpies they breed from, and therefore if they are not health tested, there is no way of knowing. The easiest way to confirm whether or not a dog has hip dysplasia, is through x-raying. 

A breeder who claims to have x-rayed their breeding bitches/dogs should be able to show you a certificate from the BVA, like the one illustrated below. When searching for a puppy, ensure that you ask the breeder the right questions, and if you wish so, ask to see the original BVA certificate. Be wary of breeders who claim their dogs have been x-rayed but are unable to provide any evidence of so. 


BATWK recommends that breeders only breed from dogs with a higher than average BVA score (which for kelpies is 11).

Once you get your pup, it is up to you to take on responsibility to prevent hip dysplasia. As explained previously, environmental factors can cause HD in dogs that are born with good hips, and from parents with good hips.

We have recently launched the BATWK Assured Breeders Scheme, in which breeders can only be part of if they have provided evidence to BATWK that they health screen for Cerebellar Abiotrophy and Hip Dysplasia.

BVA certificate illustrating the scoring for a good set of hips (X-ray displayed above) (Kelpie bitch, x-rayed and hips scored at the age of 3, before breeding)

BVA certificate illustrating the scoring for a hips with severe hip dysplasia (X-ray displayed above) (Kelpie bitch, x-rayed and hips scored at the age of 20, before breeding). This bitch displayed NO symptoms of hip dysplasia.

Sources: (The BVA, 2019), (The BVA, 2020) and (AKC, 2020). Thanks to C. Atkinson and N. Potter for supplying scoring sheets and x-rays from their dogs.

©2020 by British Association of True Working Kelpies.