How to tell the difference between dog hip dysplasia and dog knee injuries

Dog owner questions about dog hip dysplasia and dog knee injury

My wife and I originally thought our beloved litter-mate boxers to have suffered from hip dysplasia. After all, the boxer breed is known for its high energy, running, and jumping. They resemble every bit of the word rambunctious.

Nonetheless, close to 7 years of ownership, my wife noticed our female having trouble standing from a sitting position.  She also struggled to sit, sitting to one side and limping for 1-2 days afterward. I knew nothing about dog hip dysplasia even after owning Great Danes, one of the world’s largest dog breeds. Barely even knew how to spell hip dysplasia if I’m being honest.

My wife and I thought this behavior to be an early onset of hip dysplasia.  However, the vet later diagnosed it as a degenerative back disease. This disease had nothing to do with hips or hip dysplasia, yet everything to do with both dogs’ spines. Ultimately, we made a hard decision to put our babies to rest a year later due to a substantial loss in quality of life.

Dog hip dysplasia is more common than thought

Little did I realize, but hip dysplasia in large and giant breed dogs can be equivalent to a death sentence or terminal diagnosis. The vet would inform us of this discovery. But while hip dysplasia is common in bigger dog breeds, small dogs too can suffer from hip dysplasia.

In fact, sometimes dog owners, no matter the size of the breed, often confuse hip dysplasia with a dog injuring its ACL/CCL. Both hip dysplasia and dog knee injuries of the ACL and CCL can often have similar symptoms, making it a challenge for the untrained eye to spot and know the difference between the two.

However, dog hip dysplasia and dog knee injuries, in general, are two different ailments with very distinguishable symptoms for how to tell one from the other. I aim to reveal the following for dogs suffering from hip dysplasia and knee injuries:

  • the difference between the two ailments
  • how to thoroughly test your dog for each
  • what questions to consider asking your vet
  • what options are available to remedy

So, let’s identify what hip dysplasia in dogs is and is not.

What dog hip dysplasia is and is not

The easy part of this section is that we’re discussing the dog’s hip, specifically how a deformity such as a dip dysplasia often surfaces in dogs.

One of the most important things you can do for your dog to ward off the possibility of suffering from hip dysplasia is scheduling and attending an annual check-up. This preventative measure often helps to identify the early onset of abnormal hip socket formation turning into full-blown hip dysplasia.

Before we talk about what hip dysplasia is in detail, let’s identify what dog hip dysplasia is not.

While it’s easy to escalate a dog limping or favoring a hind leg as dysplasia, these two symptoms alone do not qualify as dogs suffering from hip dysplasia. An additional symptom that does not completely qualify a dog to have hip dysplasia is the lack of running, jumping, climbing, or rising in an incline motion. Again, these are symptoms and not necessarily the root issue.

Symptoms of dog hip dysplasia

So, how can you tell if your dog has hip dysplasia? First and most important, always check with a trained professional, your vet. Your vet is capable of assessing and performing an MRI to check for a uniformed growth rate of the head of the femur, thigh bone, and the pelvis’s socket (acetabulum).

If there is unequal growth of the ball and the socket in a dog’s pelvis, then this could lead to a loose hip joint and joint laxity — Osteoarthritis (OA) or Degenerative Joint Diseases (DJD).

While the aforementioned symptoms could be early signs, there are critical areas of interest to focus on when examining a dog’s hip and pelvic area for hip dysplasia diagnosing:

  • Flinching when near or touching the actual hip and pelvic area
  • Severe lameness, stiffness, and atrophy of muscle in the hind end area
  • Not attempting to put any weight on the leg with impacted hip
  • Likely has a severely crooked sit or can’t sit at all (one of the critical telltale signs)

Of course, any dog suffering from hip dysplasia is likely to have decreased activity and range of motion of the impacted hip, if not the entire body.

How to test for dog hip dysplasia

The good news is evaluations can be performed on your dog to detect hip dysplasia. One of the best ways to assess dog hip dysplasia is having a vet and dog radiologist to perform one, if not all, of the standardized tests on your dog:

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA): Using a radiograph, a dog’s joint is graded and interpreted on a 7-point score by three different radiologists. The scores consist of: Excellent, Good, Fair, Borderline, Mild, Moderate, and Severe.

PeninHIP: Anesthetizing the dog, three radiographs are performed to measure the laxity of the dog’s hip joint. The measurement is graded on a score of either 0 or 1, based on the Hip’s Distraction Index. A score of 0 means the Hip is tight, while 1 means the Hip is loose.

British Veterinary Association (BVA): A BVA panel of experts grades the joint on a 9-point scale, signifying the degree to which the dog’s hip has been affected.

Additionally, the use of hip, spine, or leg X-rays is commonly used to detect damaged and injured areas of possible places likely to be affected by dog hip dysplasia.

And now for the unfortunate part, if a dog with hip dysplasia is left untreated. If not properly treated, it can lead to arthritis or even cause permanent lameness in the hip and pelvic joint area.

With a more clear picture of delineating what hip dysplasia in dogs is and is not, let’s now tackle the what and how to distinguish the ACL injuring of a dog’s knee.

What dog ACL injury is and is not

Well, for starters, we’re not talking about the hip or pelvic area when attempting to identify whether a dog has injured its ACL/CCL. The critical distinction between dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, and a sprain or severe tear and rupture of a knee ligament, meniscus, or surrounding cartilage is the hip and knee.  However, a commonality between the two ailments is that most large breed dogs are at risk of sustaining both.

Dog owners with dogs suffering an ACL injury have frequently stated hearing a popping or clicking sound.  This sound typically occurs as their dog immediately loses range of motion and ability to stand on the injured leg.

Symptoms of a dog knee injury

In most cases, a dog’s knee may slightly or severely swell upon suffering a partial/complete sprain, tear, or rupture of the ACL. The area to focus on is the dog’s knee, and the thigh and shin areas. The dead giveaway is most dogs suffering from knee injuries of any sort display knee instability, hands down.

So first, determine whether your dog can or cannot walk on flat surfaces or inclines such as stairs. If your dog seems unstable doing either, then the next trick is to carefully perform a manual test of the knee’s range of motion and movement. The Pivot-shift, Anterior drawer, and Lachman test tests the intactness of the ACL.

How to test for a dog knee injury

To diagnose a potential dog knee injury, have your dog lay on the non-impacted side of the injury. Then, gently pull and extend the hog’s hind leg as you would do opening a drawer. Of course, IMMEDIATELY STOP if your dog shows signs of severe tenderness and pain. This pain will likely play out as yelping, barking, howling, or biting and sniping at your hands or impacted area to get you to stop and pain to subside.

If you’re uncomfortable performing this test, then please schedule a visit with your vet immediately to have your dog’s knee assessed and diagnosed. Just like with hip dysplasia and any other injury, a trained professional can thoroughly and accurately assess your dog for proper diagnosis without further injury. In the meantime, you may attempt a hot and cold treatment (i.e. heating/cooling pads, frozen peas, etc.) and cold laser therapy to the injured area until able to visit your vet.

But do take action to ensure a healthy recovery from a dog knee injury. Like untreated hip dysplasia, an untreated dog knee injury can lead to severe knee ligament, meniscus, or cartilage degeneration. In the most severe cases, dogs can lose a limb and hind area operability. Dogs that often sustain one knee injury are likely to sustain the same knee injury on the opposite leg.  In fact, opposite leg injuries have a 70 percent likelihood of occurring.

So, we now clearly know the difference between dog hip dysplasia and dog ACL injuries.  Let’s now answer whether or not one injury can or does lead to others, and if they’re related at all.

Can or does either dog hip dysplasia or dog knee injuries lead to one another?

The short answer to this question is we don’t know.  It is not known if dog knee injuries of the ACL lead to dog hip dysplasia, and vice versa.

One could assume that an injury to one area could negatively impact or lead to the injury of the other.  This assumption is purely based on the displacing of weight to other areas of the body.  This often occurs when favoring an injury of any sort.

However, remember, dog hip dysplasia is more about genetics than anything else. Genetics also is a determining factor for dogs sustaining knee injuries as is obesity.

So, it is more likely that dog hip dysplasia could lead to an ACL injury rather than the other way around. Again, the natural tendency is that the bodyweight will shift to other areas to compensate. Because of this, a dog could suffer an ACL sprain, tear, or rupture injuries on both legs.  Hip dysplasia could also impact the opposite hip. Either way, untreated or improperly rehabilitated injuries always lead to negative consequences and costly surgeries.

Speaking of surgery, let’s discuss the ins and outs of each surgery and their respective cost differences.

What’s the average cost and cost difference between dog hip dysplasia and knee surgeries?

As with most anything in life, a surgeries cost and cost a lot of money. There is no difference between humans and dogs. In fact, dog surgeries can be more costly based on location, the vet’s experience, and the severity of the injury.

But the good news for both dog hip dysplasia and dog knee injuries is that surgery can cure both. Performed with care, surgery can have limited negative and side effects if any. The bad news is that both surgeries are costly.  In addition, the opposite leg and hind area could fail shortly after initial surgery success.

Non-surgical alternatives to dog hip and knee surgeries

Before we dive into surgery costs for both, there are non-surgical alternatives to consider.  Executing the following measures is known to cure dogs of non-severe hip dysplasia and knee injuries:

In general, it’s good to appropriately introduce the options listed above in your dog’s overall lifestyle. It’s certainly less expensive to apply the aforementioned preventative measures than the cost of surgery.

Comparing dog hip dysplasia and knee surgery costs

If your dog is in need of hip dysplasia surgery, then get ready to shell out lots of money.  Reshaping the hip/pelvic joint or a complete hip replacement costs anywhere between $3,500 to $7,000 per hip. Yes, that’s the cost per hip. I felt the same lump in my throat too when our vet shared this news with us.

And if you think hip dysplasia surgery for dogs is expensive, then get ready to faint.  Dog knee surgery, commonly referred to as TPLO surgery, typically costs $4,000 to $20,000 per knee.

The good news about both surgeries is that there are places that can help subsidize surgery costs to the tune of free, or between $350 to $3,000. Of course, you’ll have to do a bit of digging and googling to discover these organizations, but they do exist.

And while you’re at it, be sure to peruse every pet health insurance plan you can under the sun. You might discover a provider that offers hip dysplasia and dog knee surgery coverage for pennies on the dollar. Of course, there are premiums and copays to consider.  Nevertheless, having affordable pet health coverage is better than having to pay for mid to full-size sedans in cash or credit.

Preventative hip and knee maintenance is the way to go

We’ve discussed quite a bit today in regards to dog hip dysplasia and dog knee injuries. Each and every dog is different and unique altogether. Genetics play a major role in both ailments negatively impacting a dog’s overall quality of life.

Nevertheless, there are preventative measures to consistently perform in the hope of decreasing the probability of sustaining either injury:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Consistently exercising
  • Regularly attending check-ups with your vet
  • Purchasing a pet health insurance plan

Above all else, the best guard against hip dysplasia and knee injuries is early/often vet check-ups with the vet. Preventative check-ups are the best way to ensure your dog remains healthy over the course of its life. You’ll be grateful for this prudent action as will your dog graciously thank you for such loving foresight.

Not to mention that you’ll save a fortune in unexpected costly surgeries and rehabilitation. 😉

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