Hip dysplasia is one of the most common problems that can plague the dogs and cats we love, especially when it comes to larger breeds. If your dog or cat has trouble walking around or seems a little uncomfortable in the lower joints, it could be a sign that something is wrong. Luckily, insurance coverage for hip dysplasia is very straightforward. Most pet insurance companies will simply cover it as part of your contract.

There are a couple important things to look out for, though, both in your pet’s behavior and in the fine print of your insurance contract.

One important note is that many insurance companies will rate hip dysplasia as a pre-existing condition. If your dog or cat has hip dysplasia at the time you buy insurance, it likely won’t be covered. In general, it’s a good idea to get your pet insured early as it will give you proper coverage of most hereditary conditions. This is why insurance premiums for certain breeds tend to be higher. If you’re not sure about your pet, you should ask a licensed veterinarian what to expect.

As always, coverage varies by insurance provider. Though most insurers now have dysplasia coverage, not all do. So make sure to read your contract thoroughly before going ahead and assuming you’ll be covered.

Symptoms for Cats and Dogs

Symptoms for hip dysplasia are easy to spot if you know what to look out for. But if it’s your first time dealing with the condition, or if you’re not quite sure whether or not your pet has it, the situation might just fly under the radar. Here are a couple pointers on spotting it in your dog or cat.

Essentially, hip dysplasia means that due to genetics, your pet’s hip isn’t shaped quite right. As a result, their hip joint has some bone-on-bone contact, meaning that activities like walking, running, jumping, and getting up are far more painful than is ordinary. Hip dysplasia is inherited, but it could also be affected by your pet’s living conditions, size, weight or diet.

This means you want to look out for any signs of discomfort when your pet is moving around, walking or running. If they’re limping or walking with a strange gait, that could be a sign of hip dysplasia. You can also try to figure out if that discomfort is following them when they’re stationary. Are they having trouble moving from a sitting or laying-down position? Look out for whether or not your pet’s suffering from noticeable pain in their legs, joints or lower part of their body. If you begin to notice anything odd, it’s important to bring it up to your vet during your routine wellness visit.

Cat Holding up X-RayTo sum it up, keep an eye out for:

  • Any discomfort or strange movement while walking or running
  • Walking with stiff legs and not bending at the joints
  • Bunny hopping instead of a normal gait
  • Slowness or trouble when standing up or laying down

  • Abnormally underdeveloped back legs

  • A lack of excitement when it comes to previously-enjoyed athletic activities (fetch, running, playing with toys, etc.)

  • Unwillingness to play

Treatment Options and Symptom Relief

There are a whole range of treatment options, ranging from surgery to supplements.

The most obvious option is surgery, for which there are a number of methods. In severe cases, as well as ones where the dog or cat is no longer young, a surgeon can do a total hip replacement, removing one or both hips completely and replacing the original hip with a synthetic one. If your pet is strong enough to recover from a total hip replacement, the procedure could restore a full range of motion and give your pet a pain-free life after recovery. The downsides are that this is an invasive process and that it’s very expensive.

One slightly less expensive surgery option is femoral head and neck excision, where a surgeon removes the ball of the joint and replaces it with a synthetic head. In this kind of procedure, a surgeon could also choose to simply remove the head of the joint and not replace it — your pet’s remaining muscle and joint tissue would knit together to eventually form a functional joint, but without the painful bone-on-bone contact.

Other alternative options for dogs only are Triple Pelvic Osteotomy or Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis, but both procedures are usually limited to puppies who are on the young side (younger than ten and five months, respectively). Both types of surgery are fairly invasive and require modifying the dog’s pelvic bones, so a puppy’s quick recovery time and lack of previous hip damage are required.

You may also want to look into alternative therapies such as hydrotherapy for your dog, or maybe even your cat! For all the cat owners out there, this might sound crazy, but it could be worth the hassle. Hydrotherapy sessions can be used to relieve stress on the joints while exercising them at the same time. This process can build muscle, cut weight and increase your pet’s range-of-motion — all good things for a dog or cat suffering from hip dysplasia.

Finally, joint supplements and medication are another possible treatment. Regularly feeding your pet fish oils and other supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, iron and calcium may do the trick.

Fortunately, there are also medications you can use to ease the pain when hip dysplasia becomes a problem. With a prescription from a vet, you can give your dog or cat anti-inflammatory medicine or painkillers like Deramaxx or Adequan. If it’s not a severe case, you could use over-the-counter medications like Aspirin. Again, contacting your vet is important, even if you’re just giving your dog or cat Aspirin; any medication could cause unwanted side effects, especially if your pet has a hip surgery lined up.

Cost of Treatment

Because treatment options for pet hip dysplasia vary widely, so do the costs. On the high end, the cost of total hip replacement surgery could be anywhere in the ballpark of $4000 to $6,000. That could depend on where you live, how big your pet is, and how much the clinic charges.

A less invasive surgery, like femoral head and neck excision or a triple pelvic osteotomy, might cost around $1700 or $2500.

Australian Cattledog doing Hydrotherapy
Australian Cattledog in a Hydrotherapy station

If you’re after something a little more affordable, hydrotherapy will likely set you back around $30 to $50 per session.

Finally, supplements and medications are also a valid treatment option. The average bottle of daily joint supplements is around $30 on Amazon and a bottle of pet painkillers is likely in the same ballpark as well. If you’re buying over the counter, you can likely go higher or lower than the average depending on brand name and where you buy from.

On the other hand, prescribed treatments may be slightly more expensive. The standard cost for a bottle of Deramaxx, an anti-inflammatory medication for dogs, is around $90-100.

So no matter what, you should be able to find a treatment option for your pet that’s appropriate for your budget. Just remember that in some cases, you get what you pay for. For pets with severe cases of hip dysplasia, surgery really may be the best option despite potentially eye-widening costs. But for other pets, a correct diet and the correct amount of nutrients and exercise will do the trick. Again, talking with your vet is the only way to make sure you have a plan that’s right for your dog or cat.

Prevention

Unfortunately, there isn’t any surefire way to prevent hip dysplasia before it happens. That’s because it’s usually an inherited condition. Some pets will suffer from hip dysplasia no matter what. That said, lifestyle and diet can play a big role in contributing to the condition. The best thing to do is to exercise your pet regularly, make sure they’re not overweight and keep them on a healthy diet. This might help avoid surgical intervention later on in your pets life.

In this case, a healthy diet means one that includes plenty of essential vitamins. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish and algae), calcium (found in dairy products), iron (found in chicken, beef and leafy greens) and glucosamine and chondroitin (found in ingredients like bone broth and cartilage). All of these vitamins, which bolster bone, cartilage and joint health, can be found in supplement form as well. (Note: if you’re considering giving your dog supplements or radically changing their diet, contacting your vet may be a good idea.)

Susceptible Breeds

According to the Canine Health Information Center, some of the dog breeds most likely to suffer from hip dysplasia are:

  • Bulldog
  • Pug
  • Old English Bulldog
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Neapolitan Mastiff
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Saint Bernard
  • Otterhound
  • Clumber Spaniel
  • Black Russian Terrier
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Most large dog breeds

Some of the cat breeds most likely to suffer from hip dysplasia are:

  • Persian
  • Himalayan
  • Maine Coon
  • Devon Rex
  • Siamese
  • Bengal
  • Abyssinian