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How Soon Can You Tell If Your Small Breed Dog Has Hip Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a relatively common and potentially quite acute health issue that can arise in dogs due to their conformation, and which is caused by malformation of the hips’ ball and socket joints, so that they don’t fit together snugly and stay in place properly.

The condition arises due to a hereditary conformation defect, which means that certain breed lines are more prone to it than others, and that the condition is more common within certain dog breeds.

Generally we associate hip dysplasia with large and giant dog breeds – like the German shepherd. However, smaller breeds like the Pug can get hip dysplasia too, although this is less common.

That said, for small dogs, their comparatively fine limbs in relation to their bodies can worsen or exacerbate the condition – which usually requires surgical correction in all but mild cases.

Hip dysplasia can cause pain and gait abnormalities in affected dogs unless or until they undergo surgery to correct it – and the symptoms of the condition can develop slowly and be hard to spot until they are quite pronounced and causing the dog pain.

In this article, we will explain how you can identify the early signs of hip dysplasia in your small breed dog, and outline how soon you are likely to be able to tell if something is amiss. Read on to learn more.

Checking breed line hip health

Hip dysplasia is caused by the inheritance of conformation traits that cause the malformation of the hips’ balls and sockets. This means that a pup with one or both parents with hip dysplasia (or hip dysplasia that was previously surgically corrected) are at risk of inheriting this trait themselves.

Hip scoring can be undertaken on breeding stock, and this is an x-ray and physical examination performed by your vet, which is then assessed to return a numerical score, indicating the health and quality of the dog’s hips and so, risk of hip dysplasia.

However, most small dog breeds aren’t breeds for which hip scoring is strongly recommended for breeding stock, and so unless a dog within the breed line has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia before, few breeders will have these tests performed.

It is, however, worth asking your breeder if any of their litter’s ancestors or siblings have had any hip problems, or undergone hip scoring.

The parent dogs

It is always important to examine the dam (and if possible, sire) of any litter you are considering buying from carefully, to get a feel for their temperament, looks and any potential problems. Try to get a look at the parent dog/dogs walking and moving around, and look for a steady, comfortable gait and no signs of discomfort when sitting or getting up.

This is not an exact science – but if something seems amiss, investigate further.

At what age does hip dysplasia become apparent in small dog breeds?

Hip score testing – and so, getting a definitive yes or no to the question of whether or not your dog suffers from hip dysplasia – is almost always performed on dogs over the age of two years old. This is because it can take up until this age for the dog’s body to have fully grown and matured, and so for any conformation problems to become apparent.

This means that when you go to buy a puppy, you won’t be able to tell for sure what their hip health is like – and you can’t get them tested at that stage to know for sure.

However, most dogs with hip dysplasia will begin to show some signs of the condition before the age of two, which you can keep an eye out for if you know what to look for.

Generally, the symptoms of hip dysplasia in small dog breeds will have begun to appear by the time the dog is a year old, and symptoms can begin as early as four months of age in some cases, although most dogs are older.

The early warning signs of hip dysplasia in small dogs

The symptoms of hip dysplasia are progressive, and so can grow and change over time. Some of the first indicators of potential hip dysplasia in small dogs are as follows:

  • Being slow to get up and get back down again, from a sit to standing and vice versa, or when lying down and standing up.
  • Reluctance to play and exercise normally.
  • Reluctance to climb stairs.
  • Stiffness in the hind legs.
  • A strange, shortened gait in the hind legs that produces a hopping type of step as the back legs catch up with the front legs.
  • Muscle weakness in the hind limbs.
  • Signs of pain or discomfort in the hips and back legs.
  • The development of a concave curvature to the line of the back, as the dog seeks to adjust their stance to ease pain and discomfort.

If you spot symptoms like these, ask your vet to examine your dog with a mind to identifying potential hip dysplasia.

Are dogs over a certain age clear of the risk of hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia almost always becomes apparent by the time the dog in question has reached their second birthday, which is also the age that hip scoring can be performed if you wish to have your dog formally tested.

If your dog shows no signs of hip dysplasia by the time they are two years old, they almost certainly have normally formed, healthy hips.


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