Standard poodles are a rather large breed of dog, standing at about 22 inches tall and weighing anywhere between 45 and 70 pounds. Though this may not seem too large when compared to a German shepherd or a mastiff, their weight does predispose them to specific health conditions. One health condition that garners the most concern is hip dysplasia.
Hip dysplasia is a painful, inherited condition that affects large dog breeds and is caused by an improperly formed hip joint. Although not entirely preventable, owners can feed a measured diet and develop a gentle exercise routine to reduce the likelihood of their poodle developing hip dysplasia. Surgery and medication are available for treatment.
It’s hard to watch your pup struggle with poor health, especially when it feels like the circumstances are entirely out of your control. But there is a great deal you can do to make your poodle more comfortable, despite the state of their hips. With this in-depth guide, you’ll learn precisely how to improve your poodle’s quality of life and overcome the pain of hip dysplasia.
What Causes Hip Dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia is, unfortunately, a widespread condition among large dogs, including your standard poodle. Though many people believe that dogs with hip dysplasia should be lame (unable to walk), this is not necessarily true. Hip dysplasia is a type of hip deformity that arises as the dog matures. Some dogs may be more inclined to develop this condition earlier on in life than others. Source
Whether your poodle develops hip dysplasia later in its life is not the fault of you or the puppy. Instead, it is dependent on how their body grows over time. Typically, as the body matures, your poodle should experience equal growth rates of most body parts throughout its lifetime. This is especially true of body parts that are directly next to each other or function alongside one another (e.g., the femur and the pelvis).
The primary cause for hip dysplasia can be attributed to unequal growth rates between the ball (the top of the femur) and the socket (indentation of the pelvis where the ball enters) of the hips.
As your poodle grows, these two bones do not grow in sync. This results in the following conditions:
- Laxity: This refers to the looseness of the connection between the ball and socket. The ball is not firmly in place as it would be if it had correctly developed, so your poodle will find it difficult to walk. (Imagine walking with your hip always on the verge of coming out of the socket. This is the closest resemblance of what it might feel like for your pup.)
- Degenerative joint disease (DJD): Also referred to as osteoarthritis (OA), as your poodle’s body attempts to mitigate the effects of the loose joint, the cartilage wears away over time. When the cartilage is finally lost, a significant range of movement is lost. When your poodle does successfully walk or otherwise use their hip, they are likely to experience pain.
- Note: This condition can cause other deformities as it worsens, including infections, atrophy, and fluid buildup. Source
Although it is a genetic disease, there are environmental factors that contribute to your poodle’s likelihood of developing hip dysplasia:
- Muscle mass
What Are the First Signs of Hip Dysplasia in Poodles?
Out of all breeds, fortunately, poodles have been shown to have a relatively low chance of experiencing hip dysplasia in their lifetimes. Veterinarians evaluated thousands of dogs representing 194 breeds and determined that poodles ranked at #102 of all dogs afflicted by this condition. When they looked into poodles specifically (vets had a look at 31,138 individual dogs), only 11.9% of dogs showed signs of dysplastic hips. Source
What does this mean for you and your pooch? Well, though their chances of developing a profoundly painful, uncomfortable deformation of the hips are relatively low, you should still take precautions and keep an eye out for signs of this condition.
In poodles, you will need to watch out for the following indications:
- Your poodle will sway side-to-side as they walk. They may also start “bunny-hopping” instead of walking normally since they will be favoring the affected hip.
- You may notice that your poodle is less enthusiastic during exercise, due to the weakening of the legs and hips.
- If you touch your poodle near or on the hips, they may yelp or otherwise express significant discomfort or pain.
- You may hear a clicking noise as your poodle walks around. This is the sound of the hip joint loosely moving around in the socket.
- Your poodle’s muscles may begin to waste away (atrophy) to the point that they appear noticeably thinner and frailer than before.
If you have noticed any of the signs above, it is time to take your poodle to see a veterinarian. The longer you wait to have them evaluated, the more of a chance they have of experiencing pain. Additionally, without veterinary guidance, you are at risk of contributing to the worsening of your poodle’s condition, as you would be unaware of precisely what factors have caused the degradation of their hips. Source
What Does Hip Dysplasia in Poodles Look Like?
At home, there are many signs of hip dysplasia that will alert you right away to your dog’s discomfort. In addition to those listed above, you will also notice that your dog is markedly less active. Of course, since they are suffering from painful deformities in their hips, your pup is unlikely to want to play or even walk throughout your home as they would before.
Not only will their activity levels be significantly reduced, but the type of movement they are comfortable with will also change dramatically. For example, your poodle will not likely enjoy standing up after lying down for any period. To do so would put tremendous strain on their joints. Additionally, it will be highly unlikely that they will participate in climbing up any stairs or other types of inclines, like hills outside.
During this time, you must be very gentle with your dog. If you can keep them from having to walk up and down staircases or jumping into cars, then do so. You want to help them put as little strain on their hips as possible during this time. Upon noticing these changes in behavior, take your poodle to a veterinarian. They will alert you to the exact status of your poodle’s dysplastic hips, and what you can do to make them more comfortable.
Veterinarians usually divide cases of hip dysplasia into two main categories:
- Group 1: This is designated to younger dogs that do not show any signs of arthritis, but do suffer from hip laxity.
- Group 2: This group is generally made up of older dogs that have both arthritis and hip laxity.
During the screening, they will categorize the status of your poodle’s hips according to the following standards. This will determine the type of treatment and prevention that must take place from then on.
The categories used for diagnosis and their descriptions are:
|Healthy/Within Normal Limits||Excellent||The ball and socket of the hips are correctly seated together. There is minimal space in the joint, indicating that the femur and pelvis fit together perfectly.|
|Good||Although this physical condition is not as good as an “Excellent” rating, the hip is still in great condition. The pelvis and femur are fit together well, and the hip is appropriately developed.|
|Fair||Hips that fall into this category are functional but not ideal. The hip joint is much broader than it should be, and the ball comes slightly out of the socket. The socket may also be abnormally shallow. The irregularities are minor enough that your poodle should be able to walk somewhat normally, however.|
|Borderline||There may be more irregularities in hips that fall into this category. The physical state of these hips is unclear; however, there are no distinct arthritic problems that can determine clearly whether these hips are dysplastic or not.|
|Dysplastic||Mild||Here, there is significant, highly observable subluxation (i.e., “dislocation”) of the joint. This causes the ball of the joint to sit partially out of the socket. This is enough to cause discomfort for your poodle and is the mildest form of canine dysplasia.|
|Moderate||At this stage of dysplasia, the ball is barely encompassed by the socket. Due to the severity of the physical condition of hips in this category, arthritic issues are likely to arise. Your poodle may develop deformations on their femur, along with bone spurs, and may experience certain degrees of sclerosis.|
|Severe||There is no uncertainty that your poodle has hip dysplasia at this stage. The ball may be entirely or significantly out of its socket (which is extremely shallow). There will be significant arthritic problems, especially on the top of the femur, along with the increased risk of bone spurs and related issues.|
Is Hip Dysplasia in Poodles Curable?
Hip dysplasia, although treatable, is not curable in the sense that you can get rid of the condition entirely (depending on the stage of the disease). According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, once veterinarians detect dysplastic degradation on a radiograph, the physical condition of your poodle is irreversible. By that point, it is highly probable that your poodle’s condition will continue to worsen as time progresses.
Still, do not be disheartened. Research has demonstrated that the vast majority of dogs (76%) that live with severe hip dysplasia and arthritis are capable of living healthy, fulfilling lives. Your poodle’s quality of life will, thankfully, not be compromised by their hereditary condition. Though their hips will certainly grow weaker and more arthritic over time, there are things you can do to slow this progression.
The primary factor in caring for your poodle as they experience the effects of hip dysplasia is “moderation.” You want to cut back on nearly everything you and your poodle engage in together and the same with activities they do on their own.
The three main elements you need to focus on are:
- Warmth: A warm environment provides significant comfort for poodles struggling with the pain and discomfort that come along with hip dysplasia. Think of how arthritis affects humans: During cold weather, those with arthritic conditions tend to be more sensitive to their joint pain. It is the same for your dog. Giving your poodle a warm bed or blanket will help them to relax and ease the pain.
- Note: If you are unable to warm a bed or blanket efficiently, you can also use smaller heating pads and apply them directly to the affected hip. In some instances, this may even be better for relieving pain. Be careful not to apply too much heat and accidentally burn your poor pooch’s skin!
- Diet: You must feed your poodle only measured meals to ensure that they are not overeating. The excess food will inevitably result in your dog gaining weight, which will put even more mechanical pressure on their hips. This will worsen their condition tremendously.
- Note: Be careful about feeding your poodle as much as you assume they want to eat. In a study involving several puppies, out of those that were fed according to what the owner assumed they wanted (puppies eat a lot!), two-thirds developed hip dysplasia as adults. A study focusing on German Shepherds discovered that overweight puppies had twice the likelihood of developing hip dysplasia than others.
- Exercise: Allowing your poodle to have minimal activity in a highly controlled environment is essential for preventing issues such as muscle atrophy from arising. For this, you need to know your poodle well, since the measure of what type of exercise is “excessive” and what is not is subjective for your dog.
- Note: To determine what level of activity is acceptable for both you and your pup, start with short walks. Make sure your poodle is leashed, so they don’t get too excited and try running or jogging away from you! If you feel that the rate at which you two are exercising is acceptable, you can gradually increase the activity level within reason.
The best type of activity that will provide both therapeutic muscle and joint relaxation for your poodle, along with weight regulation, is swimming. If possible, it would be highly beneficial to enroll your poodle in a swimming program, or at least find access to a dog-friendly pool. This is a non-weight-bearing activity, so it helps to stabilize your poodle’s hips as they simultaneously improve their muscle tone.
Drug Treatments for Hip Dysplasia in Poodles
Along with home treatments, many options for drug-based care are available. Among the most common drugs prescribed for discomfort as a result of hip dysplasia are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
When your dog is experiencing a period of lameness, these can be offered to ease the pain. (As mentioned earlier, “lameness” refers to the inability to walk, but mostly includes any sort of difficulty walking.) Make sure that you have a distinct exercise routine as well since you will need to give your dog these NSAIDs at least an hour before walking, jogging, or swimming.
Secondly, there are drugs available known as oral disease-modifying osteoarthritis agents, also known as nutraceuticals. As with any substance, consult your veterinarian before giving this to your dog. You need to have an established plan of care for providing these medications to your poodle since nutraceuticals can take up to one month to achieve the desired therapeutic effect.
Your veterinarian may also offer medication that can be injected directly into the affected areas:
Depending on your poodle’s condition, they may be provided alongside the oral medication previously mentioned or offered alone. These injections may be more desirable, depending on your dog’s condition. They reach the necessary therapeutic concentrations in the bloodstream much faster, since they are directly injected, rather than digested over time.
Still, you should keep the following caveats in mind:
- The earlier you opt for the injectable nutraceuticals, the higher the chances are that the drug will decrease inflammation and prevent the cartilage from wearing away. (This increases the likelihood of your poodle developing secondary arthritic conditions.)
- The provision of nutraceuticals (e.g., dosage and frequency) depends on the individual dog. Some poodles may need relief in more significant doses or more often than others.
- Some dogs may experience complications with digestion upon taking nutraceuticals. In this case, it should either be given with food or stopped entirely. Consult your veterinarian to determine which is best for your poodle.
Surgical Options for Poodles with Hip Dysplasia
If your poodle has experienced significant degradation of their hips, drug-based treatments may not be effective on their own. In such cases, you may want to begin considering surgical options that either reduce or eliminate the problem.
Surgical options include:
- Juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS): This is reserved for puppies that are younger than 4.5 months old. JPS provides your puppy with normal, painless functioning of their hip. It is the least invasive surgery available and focuses on closing a growth plate located at the bottom of the pelvis. This allows the equal growth rates in the hip joint.
- Double or triple pelvic osteotomy (DPO or TPO): The acceptable age range for this is 8-10 months old. This can only be performed if there are no signs of arthritic degradation visible on the radiograph. This is more invasive than JPS in that the pelvis is cut at two or three sites and then rotated to increase the coverage of the ball of the hip. This reduces laxity in the hips and helps your poodle to walk with greater ease.
- Total hip replacement (THR): Dogs that have progressed past the point at which either JPS or DPO/TPO would be effective may require THR. Still, they have to be a minimum age of one year old, so drug treatments and preventative measures at home should be used until then. This treatment restores the natural range of motion for your poodle and eliminates the pain associated with hip dysplasia.
- Femoral head ostectomy (FHO): While this treatment can be administered to poodles of any age, only dogs weighing less than 70lbs are considered eligible. With FHO, you can avoid giving your poodle NSAIDs and prevent possible side effects from those. This treatment involves the removal of the original ball and encourages the growth of a “false joint” with surrounding soft tissues. Source
Understand that choosing any of the above surgical treatments does not necessarily negate at-home practices you need to adopt. Even if your poodle’s hip were to be replaced, you must be mindful about:
- Their diet
- The home environment (e.g., staircases, the type of bed your poodle sleeps on, etc.)
- The regularity and intensity of exercise
Heed the aftercare instructions given to you by your veterinarian, as they will be essential in ensuring that the treatment achieves its full potential in effectiveness for your pup.
Preventing Hip Dysplasia in Your Poodle
Because hip dysplasia is a heritable condition, it is not entirely preventable. Further, certain breeds (especially those weighing more than 50lbs) are more prone to it than others. It is for this reason that your poodle has a higher chance of experiencing these issues than a chihuahua or Yorkshire terrier, for example.
Still, there are many steps you can take to decrease your poodle’s chance of developing hip problems, and ultimately, dysplasia. As mentioned above, one of the most notable options for the prevention of this painful condition is the close regulation of your poodle’s diet. Dogs that are overweight, especially those that are genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia, have the highest chance of experiencing hip problems later in life.
As you carefully measure your dog’s food according to veterinary recommendations, you can include supplements that are specialized for hip and joint health as well.
The best supplement options will include:
- MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)
- Fish oils
Although it may seem counterintuitive, you must also provide your poodle with the opportunity to exercise often. In addition to the tips outlined above in the “Is Hip Dysplasia in Poodles Curable?” section, make sure to avoid uneven terrain during your walks. Keep your dog from running and jumping as much as possible as well. Source
Accommodating Your Dysplastic Poodle at Home
Numerous elements within your home may present significant challenges in your poodle’s mobility. However, it’s not realistic to consider moving to an entirely new home in an attempt to prevent your poodle from developing hip dysplasia.
So, if you happen to already live in a home with multiple floors, or simply need to improve the accessibility of specific areas, here are a few alterations you can make to accommodate your pup:
- Poodles may experience slight difficulty in walking through homes with wooden, vinyl, or tile floors. These surfaces can be quite slippery and pose a challenge for your poodle’s balance, which can put unnecessary strain on their hips. Lay down mats and area rugs wherever you can to ease the burden of traversing through these areas for your poodle.
- If your home has stairs, you have the following three options available:
- Have a carpeted ramp (or another material that improves traction) installed beside the staircase. Although there will still be an incline, it will require a lot less work from your poodle’s joints.
- Close access to other floors by installing doggy gates. You can restrict your poodle’s living space to only one level of your home, thereby eliminating the need for them to move up and down in the house. Move all their food, water, toys, and beds to one area, so there’s no need to go anywhere else. (Do this on the first floor, where there’s access to the outdoors for potty breaks or include a potty station inside.)
- If your dog must go upstairs, give them support when doing so by strapping on a hip harness. With a harness of this kind, you’ll be able to slightly lift the back half of your poodle’s body, reducing the amount of weight their hips have to support. (Of course, you can do this as they walk across any surface, not just the stairs.)
- Give your pup more than one bed. You may have already introduced your poodle to a soft, cushioned bed. Still, depending on the size of the room they live in, they may not always be able to make the trip to their favorite sleeping spot. Try providing two orthopedic, egg-crate foam beds positioned on either side of the room to make things a little easier on your poodle.
These are some of the best ways you can make your poodle feel more comfortable at home, no matter what stage of hip dysplasia they are experiencing. Remember, these can also be used as preventative measures, so you don’t have to wait to see signs to employ these practices and elements around the house. Source
Poodles are among the large breed dogs that are most likely to develop the painful condition of hip dysplasia. Although it is not 100% preventable, it is possible to keep an eye out and spot the signs early on for effective prevention. Staying in close communication with your pooch’s veterinarian will inform you as to what methods of care are the best for giving your poodle the best quality of life.
Aside from genetics, the factors that contribute significantly to your poodle’s likelihood of developing hip dysplasia are:
- Environmental conditions
Keep a close eye on these matters to ensure you are accommodating your pup appropriately. If they still develop symptoms of hip dysplasia, there are surgical and drug-based treatment options available.