Hip dysplasia

What is hip dysplasia? What are the symptoms?

Hip dysplasia is the abnormal formation of the hip joints that, if serious, can lead to lameness and arthritis. It may well have a genetic component, but is also likely to be affected by environmental factors, especially obesity, over-exercise when young, and injury.  It is more common in larger breeds, but the dobermann is not usually considered to be one of the most affected breeds.

In healthy dogs, the rounded surface at the top of the thigh bone fits snugly into the concave socket in the hip, with cartilage in between.  In hip dysplasia the top of the thigh bone is usually misshapen and it does not fit neatly into the hip socket. This leads to a vicious circle of wear and tear that leads to inflammation and pain. 

Symptoms include less dynamic movement (not moving the hind legs as much as usual) and stiffness. Problems often start to become apparent by the time the dog is 18 months old and can be anywhere from mild to severely crippling; it can eventually cause severe osteoarthritis.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosis is by x-ray and physical examination. Treatment usually involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), weight control and careful exercise control, which sometimes includes hydrotherapy. The aim is usually to control pain and to minimise deterioration, rather than to cure. In some cases, hip replacement is carried out.

The Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association hip scoring scheme

Hip scoring is a process that uses examination of x-rays to assess the quality of the fit of thigh bone to hip socket. The score for each side can range from 0 to 53, with 0 being the best score. Therefore the total can be between 0 and 106. The breed average for dobermanns is 11. Breeders who are part of the Kennel Club Assured Breeders Scheme are obliged to hip score dobermanns before breeding and other responsible breeders also do so. However, the link between the parents’ and children’s hip scores is not consistent. It is often reported that high-scoring parents produce low-scoring progeny and vice-versa. The Kennel Club are gradually introducing a more granular score called an estimated breeding value, but this is not yet available for dobermanns. 

Advice for puppy purchasers

Prospective puppy owners are recommended to check whether the parents have been hip scored and what the score is. There is no recommended maximum score for breeding, but caution should be exercised if scores are very much above the breed average, especially if that is true of both parents.

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