The short answer:

Yes, you can help reduce the risk of developing hip dysplasia in your puppy.


Recently I came across the following enquiry:

Which x-ray protocols is best to use to determine if your dog has hip dysplasia?


Joint Xray

My comment: I prefer to x-ray my young dog later rather than earlier. I also preferred one x-ray protocol over another as the latter x-ray protocol involved pulling on the hind legs of an anaesthetised puppy.  This places unnecessary pressure on young ligaments in order to measure the distance between the ball and socket to determine the risk of HD in a puppy.

As ligament laxity is related to the incidence of HD, I saw no reason for this type of stress to be placed on a younger puppy’s ligaments. I explained that these ligaments are not yet at full strength and the puppy’s muscles are still not strong enough to naturally and securely hold his joints adequately.


My response caused somewhat of a stir. People stated that as HD is mostly genetic, the x-ray protocol should not influence the outcome.

Ornella in field

Respectfully, I would have to disagree with this line of thought.

While HD does carry a genetic component, I see no reason to exacerbate the risk.  By pulling on young ligaments simply increases the risk of damage occurring. We see that the genetic component is smaller than the environmental influencers of developmental HD and therefore, as a puppy owner, we carry a large responsibility when it comes to helping our puppy avoid risks of developing HD.

I do not believe that the condition is entirely out of our hands as a puppy owner.


Research shows that there is so much more than we, the puppy owner, can do to prevent HD in our dogs.


Responsible breeders are doing all they can and the incidence of HD, genetically, has changed very little.

However, environmental factors have had a huge impact on the incidence of HD.


I think this is very encouraging for puppy owners and our dogs!  We have direct control in helping to prevent an increasing incidence of HD!


Then I came across this article by Dr Carol Beuchat, PhD., confirming my point very nicely. She looked at just one simple thing we can do to help protect our dogs against HD.

Take a look at what she says.


You can’t be a dog breeder without worrying about hip dysplasia. It’s the single greatest cause of pain and suffering in dogs despite diligent efforts of breeders to reduce risk through selection.

Why have we made so little progress in 50 years?

I think there are a number of issues, but one of the most important is that we don’t worry as much as we could about environmental (i.e., non-genetic) factors.

For example, these are data for Labrador Retrievers raised from birth under common conditions in a research facility. From each litter of puppies, one puppy of a pair went into the control group and the sibling went into the treatment group. The dogs were raised through adulthood and every year (but one) their hips were evaluated for evidence of dysplasia. The only difference between the control and treatment groups was how much they were fed.


The results of this simple experiment were astonishing.

In Labradors that were fed the normal amount of food, more than half had evidence of hip dysplasia by 6 years of age and most by about 12 years. In the treatment group that was fed less, half of the dogs were still free of dysplasia at 12 years old.


The dogs in these two groups were litter mates, so genetics was not responsible for the huge differences in the development of hip dysplasia.

The explanation is very simple: dogs that were fed less had a dramatically lower incidence of hip dysplasia.


The food-restricted group not only suffered less pain and loss of mobility, they also lived longer.

Only about half of the control group lived longer than 11 years and only 30% survived to 12 years. But about 75% of the dogs in the treatment group survived to 11 years and 50% lived to 13.


Think about this: We can make a dramatic difference in the risk of hip dysplasia and quality of life of a dog just by adjusting food intake. If I sold a pill that would make a huge difference like this, I’d be rich and your dog would be much happier.


Treats for dogs


It is better to focus on the things you can control and that are proved to matter. Food just one of the many non-genetic factors that can affect the development of hip dysplasia in dogs.

We can do so much more to reduce risk and make a real difference in the quality of life after the breeding decision is made.

Let’s do all we can!




Smith, GK, ER Paster, MY Powers, DF Lawler, DN Biery, FS Shofer, PJ McKellvie & RD Kealy. 2006. Lifelong diet restriction and radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis of the hip joint in dogs. JAVMA 229: 690-693.

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