Lots of dogs present to us with stiffness and soreness relating to osteoarthritis (OA). OA is an under-diagnosed condition that many owners consider ‘part of getting old’. Many of us live incredibly busy lives and the early signs of OA are often missed. Many dogs (and cats too!) only come in for a vet visit once OA is quite noticeable/severe.

At this stage, the animal is usually in a considerable amount of pain and long term pain and anti-inflammatory medications are usually necessary to provide some degree of comfort. Many dog breeds are predisposed to developing OA secondary to hip dysplasia. Recognising this and managing our beloved pets from an early age is thus very important.

Hip dysplasia (HD) is an orthopaedic developmental disorder that commonly manifests as discomfort in younger dogs (4-8 months of age) and then develops as OA in the older dog. ‘Dysplasia’ means an abnormality in development – in other words, the hip joint (a ball and socket joint) does not develop the way it should. The hip is unstable and so the body reacts with inflammation, fibrosis and secondary bone formation (OA).

Large, rapidly growing dogs are predisposed to HD, particularly breeds such as the German shepherd, Golden Retriever, Rottweiler and Labrador. Some dog breeders will take x-rays of their puppies to evaluate them for HD prior to sale (Penn Hip Scoring). In any large breed puppy, the following points are important:

Weight and growth management: feeding a specialised large-breed puppy food (preferably a high quality premium food) to ensure that growth is consistent and not too rapid. Rapid growth puts excess strain on the joints and can exacerbate HD.


Exercise restriction: as tempting as it may be, allowing large breed puppies to run for miles or to jump up/down objects is not good for their joints. Restricted, gentle exercise is ideal.


Observation: watch your puppy for any gait abnormalities or discomfort. This may be an early sign of HD! Early identification of HD is important for long term management and to prevent the development of OA later in life. A vet visit sooner rather than later can have huge impacts on long-term quality of life.