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Hip dysplasia

Long-haired Estrela Mountain Dog

Photo: Ponta da Pinta

X-ray of the hips of an adult dog with moderate to serious dysplasia. Note the remodelling of the left femur's head.

Set of x-rays for hip dysplasia screening  through the PennHIP method. Imeges courtesy of Lisbon University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Currently, in Portugal, there are two on-going protocols that offer HD testing under exceptional conditions. The first, in the UTAD University (Vila Real, in the north of the country), allows Estrela breeders and owners to have their dogs x-rayed for a symbolic price of 35 euros. The second, in Lisbon's Universidade Lusófona, offers free early tests for dogs of Portuguese breeds registered with the Portuguese Kennel Club. The screenings are performed by Prof. Mário Ginja (whose Ph D investigation studied HD in the Estrela Mountain Dog and was a major contribution for breeders to control the disease) and by Dr. Ana Santana (whose on-going PhD research studies the relation between joint laxity and hip dysplasia). More information here.

Orthopedic genetic disease, with considerable heritability, that can become disabling, especially if the affected animals are not adequately reared as to control its progression.

It consists of an incorrect positioning of the femur head in its socket and tends to cause bone remodelling.  The more severe it is, the greater the difficulty that the dog will have with movement.  In extreme cases, the pain will be so bad that the animal won’t be able to lead a normal life.  Unless prescribed by a vet, anti-inflammatories are not recommended, because the absence of pain might lead the dog to move and run a lot more than he should, thereby worsening his condition. Severe cases might require surgery – a very expensive measure which requires rehabilitation with physiotherapy and the dog being confined for a few weeks or even months, to a crate or tiny pen where he cannot walk or run.


Swimming is recommended to improve muscle strength of these animals, their quality of life and also to prevent eventual dysplasia or the deterioration of an existing one.  Supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine sulphates help prevent and repair arthrosis resulting from dysplasias and other bone or joint problems.


Some people say that they can tell if a dog is dysplastic simply by observing his posture and movement.  However, whilst in many cases the instability and frailty of the rear limbs caused by dysplasia is evident, many dogs (about 80%, accorsing to scientic research) have moderate or even severe dysplasia but show no clinical signs, leading an absolutely normal life. Only an x-ray will determine if the joint is dysplastic or not and, if so, to what extent.  The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) has adopted grading ranges from A (normal hips) to E (severely dysplastic).  The other scoring systems commonly used are those of the Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) in the USA (whose scale ranges from “Excellent” to “Severe”), the British Veterinary Association/Kennel Club (BVA) in the UK (using a numbered scale from 0 to 106), and the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) in Germany (which uses a scale ranging from “Normal” to “Severe”).  As the dog ages, hip dysplasia tends to get worse, especially if you don’t take basic preventative measures, such as suggested above.


HD has a strong hereditary basis, but can develop as a result of a number of environmental factors.  If a puppy with a predisposition to dysplasia is reared under adverse conditions (bad nutrition as a result of a diet which is too caloric (see Feeding and nutrition section) over-feeding, over-exercising, falls and slippery surfaces, among others), it’s highly likely that he’ll develop dysplasia.  In order to establish whether he’s prone to developing hip dysplasia, you can take your puppy to a vet who is certified to screen using the PennHIP method, a test that can be done from the young age of sixteen weeks.  If that testing shows a tendency to develop a degenerative joint disease, you should refrain from exercising your puppy until he’s twelve months old and give him the aforementioned supplements.  When he reaches eighteen months old, you should have his hips tested using the conventional method. 



(excerpts from the book "Cuidar do Cão da Serra da Estrela / Rearing the Estrela Mountain Dog", by Manuela Paraíso)

Hip dysplasia test to a long-haired Estrela Mountain Dog

Photo: Ponta da Pinta

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