Hip dysplasia in dogs is controlled by one gene

Hip dysplasia in dogs is controlled by one gene

Find out how one gene controls hip dysplasia in dogs.

Hip dysplasia in dogs is a common genetic disorder that affects many breeds, especially large and giant breeds. This condition is characterized by abnormal development of the hip joint, which leads to instability, inflammation, and degeneration of the joint tissues.

Hip dysplasia can cause varying degrees of pain, lameness, and disability, and can significantly reduce the quality of life of affected dogs. However, recent research has shed light on the genetic basis of hip dysplasia, which may help in developing effective prevention and treatment strategies.

What is Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition that affects the ball-and-socket joint of the hip, which connects the thigh bone (femur) to the pelvis. Normally, the hip joint is held in place by a strong ligament and a deep socket in the pelvis, which allows smooth movement and weight-bearing.

However, in dogs with hip dysplasia, the ligament is weak and the socket is shallow, which causes the femur to move around excessively and wear down the joint cartilage. This leads to inflammation, pain, and stiffness, and can progress to arthritis and joint deformity.

Hip dysplasia can affect dogs of any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in young and middle-aged dogs that are still growing or have completed their growth.

The severity of hip dysplasia can vary from mild to severe, depending on the degree of joint laxity and degeneration. Mild cases may exhibit occasional lameness or reluctance to exercise, while severe cases may require surgery or lifelong management with pain relievers and joint supplements.

What Causes Hip Dysplasia in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia is a complex trait that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. However, recent studies have shown that a single gene, called the Fibroblast Growth Factor 4 (FGF4) gene, plays a major role in controlling the development of hip dysplasia in dogs. This gene is responsible for producing a protein that regulates the growth and differentiation of bone and cartilage cells, which are crucial for the formation and maintenance of the hip joint.

Researchers have found that certain variations of the FGF4 gene are associated with an increased risk of hip dysplasia in several dog breeds, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs. These variations affect the activity and stability of the FGF4 protein, which can disrupt the normal development and maintenance of the hip joint and predispose dogs to hip dysplasia.

How is Hip Dysplasia Diagnosed in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia can be diagnosed by a combination of physical examination, radiographs (X-rays), and clinical signs. During a physical examination, the veterinarian may palpate the hip joint to check for pain, stiffness, and range of motion. They may also perform a gait analysis to observe how the dog walks, runs, and jumps.

Radiographs are the most reliable method for diagnosing hip dysplasia, as they provide a clear image of the hip joint and its structures. The radiographs are evaluated using a scoring system called the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the PennHIP method. These systems grade the degree of hip joint laxity, joint congruity, and degenerative changes, and assign a score based on the severity and age of the dog.

Clinical signs of hip dysplasia may include limpness, reluctance to bear weight on the hind legs, a swaying gait, difficulty rising or sitting, and muscle loss in the hindquarters. However, these signs may not be apparent in mild cases or early stages of hip dysplasia, and may be mistaken for other conditions such as arthritis or muscle strain.

Can Hip Dysplasia be Prevented in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia is a complex condition that cannot be completely prevented, but can be reduced in prevalence and severity by several measures. These measures include:

  • Selective breeding: Breeders can reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia by breeding only dogs that have been screened and certified as clear or carriers of the FGF4 gene mutation. By avoiding breeding dogs with two copies of the mutation, breeders can gradually reduce the frequency of the gene in the population.
  • Nutrition and exercise: Providing a balanced and appropriate diet, as well as regular exercise that does not strain the hip joint, can help maintain the optimal weight, muscle tone, and joint health of dogs. It is important to avoid overfeeding, rapid growth, and high-impact activities such as jumping or running on hard surfaces, especially in young and growing dogs.
  • Environmental management: Providing a comfortable and supportive sleeping surface, such as a thick and firm bed, can help reduce the pressure and strain on the hip joint. Using ramps or steps instead of stairs, providing non-slip surfaces, and avoiding sudden movements or twisting of the hind legs can also help prevent hip dysplasia or exacerbate existing hip dysplasia.

How is Hip Dysplasia Treated in Dogs?

Hip dysplasia can be managed or treated in various ways, depending on the severity and progression of the condition. Some of the common treatments include:

  • Pain management: Using pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and joint supplements can help alleviate the pain, inflammation, and stiffness associated with hip dysplasia. These treatments may be prescribed by the veterinarian and should be used under their guidance and monitoring.
  • Weight management: Maintaining the optimal weight of the dog can help reduce the stress and strain on the hip joint, as well as improve the overall health and fitness of the dog. This may require modifying the diet, portion size, and feeding frequency, as well as increasing the exercise level under the guidance of the veterinarian.
  • Physical therapy: Using physical therapy techniques such as massage, range of motion exercises, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture can help improve the muscle strength, joint flexibility, and circulation of the affected hip joint. These techniques may be performed by a certified physical therapist or under the guidance of the veterinarian.
  • Surgery: In severe cases of hip dysplasia, surgery may be necessary to stabilize or replace the hip joint. This may include procedures such as femoral head ostectomy (FHO), total hip replacement (THR), or juvenile pubic symphysiodesis (JPS), depending on the age, size, and health of the dog. Surgery should be performed by a skilled and experienced veterinary surgeon and may require a long recovery period and postoperative care.


Hip dysplasia in dogs is a complex genetic disorder that affects many breeds and can cause varying degrees of pain, lameness, and disability. However, recent research has identified the FGF4 gene as a major contributor to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs, which may help in developing effective prevention and treatment strategies.

By understanding the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of hip dysplasia, owners and breeders can take proactive measures to reduce its impact on the health and welfare of dogs.

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