Dog DysplasiaWhat is Dysplasia?

Lately, when you take your dog to play in the yard or at the dog park or for a run, you may notice a slight limp later. It might not slow her down much, but you wonder if maybe you need to take it easier.

“Off-and-on lameness is a common sign of degenerative joint disease,” says Dr. Ann Johnson, a veterinary orthopedic specialist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. “Dogs show evidence of pain from degenerative joint disease by limping. Lameness can occur suddenly or gradually increase over time. It can be persistent or intermittent.”

Canine hip dysplasia is an inherited condition where the bones don’t fit well, especially the thigh bone (femur) into the hip socket. This mismatch fit strains the cartilage that acts as a cushion between the bones. This strain leads to this progressive degenerative joint disease.

There are several ways a vet may deal with dysplasia including anti-inflammatory drugs, supplements, surgical procedures such as a total hip replacement, joint arthroplasty (removal of a portion of the bone), or arthrodesis (fusion of the joint). However, one of the first things vets recommend, especially when the condition is mild, is managing dysplasia with moderate exercise.

Why Should You Exercise A Dog with Dysplasia

Even though the joint is improper, you should still exercise your dog-moderately (we’ll talk more about that in a minute). First, exercise will strengthen the muscles around the joint, which lesses some of the stress on a joint.

Second, exercise helps you dog maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight adds stress to the joints and increases pain.

Exercises for Dysplasia

Moderation is the key for exercise. The key is a little exercise often. Even ten minutes, twice a day can help keep strengthen your dog.

Good Exercises for Hip Dysplasia:

  • Walks – casual, short walks.
  • Hikes – leisurely walks on easy trails.
  • Swimming – if you don’t have a pool or dog-friendly pond nearby, look for canine hydrotherapy or rehab facilities.
  • Obstacle courses – tunnels/chutes, weaving through objects, balancing are fine – just no jumping.
  • Indoor chasing games – games like chase or Hide-and-Seek can provide rainy day fun, and prevent an energetic dog from running full out, which they would be feeling later.
  • Fetching games – easy, non-jumping games of fetch, chase, or catch.

Not So Good:

  • Running/jogging
  • Sprints like squirrel chasing
  • Jumping games


Hip dysplasia is a disorder where the hip joint doesn’t fit quite right. In a normal hip joint in the rear legs, the ball and socket fits neatly together, allowing the legs to move freely, without pain. Because their bones do not fit properly with dysplasia, dog have joint pain as they age and are prone to developing arthritis.

Dysplasia doesn’t look the same in all dogs; it depends the dog’s general health, her muscle condition and how far advanced the disease is. For instance, some pets will warm up nicely after they’ve been moving for a while. With other dogs, you will notice their gait worsening with exercise, and they may resist extended activity.

A dysplastic dog should not live a sedentary lifestyle with no exercise. First, exercise is always good for a dog’s mental healthy and avoiding destructive anxiety or boredom. Second, exercise helps builds muscle. Strong muscles bear weight better, relieving some pressure off the joints. And, the movement loosens up the stiffness in joints. Last, regular exercise keeps weight in check. Even a few extra pounds can cause additional stress on the joints, decrease function, and increase your dog’s pain.


  • walks – low-key walks provide enough movement for weight maintenance
  • hiking – a good exercise, if you are on an easy, gentle trail
  • running – slow trots are OK if your dog is up for it
  • swimming – an ideal exercise, works muscles without stressing aching joints

Do not engage your dog in long workout sessions. Having shorter sessions (15 to 25 minutes) on most days would be better.

Bad exercises are anything that is high-impact which aggravates joints. Avoid activities like jumping hurdles, playing Frisbee, rough play, sprinting after squirrels and climbing stairs.

Keep in mind a few things:

  • Allow your dog to exercise at his pace. Stop when he is ready (but do encourage him to get out and do a little something).
  • Follow your vet’s advice. Your veterinarian also might ask you to restrict your pet’s exercise or suggest activities specific to your dog’s condition.
  • Any exercise should be in moderation, so as not to aggravate the joints. “Moderate” means not severe enough to cause lameness the next morning.
  • Because dogs with larger, prominent leg muscle mass seem to be less likely to develop the disease, experts suggest trying exercises that strengthen the gluteal (butt) muscles.

It is generally when a dog’s lameness progresses to a point where moderate exercise, anti-inflammatory drugs, and weight management are not helping as much, that the vet may consider a surgical procedure such as a total hip replacement. So, if your pooch is not not yet to this point, take seriously your vet’s recommendation for exercise.

If you dog is diagnosed with dysplasia, with proper treatment and lifestyle, you may even be surprised to see more normal, pain-free movement from your dog.