Diagnosing hip dysplasia (Proceedings)


Diagnosing hip dysplasia (Proceedings)

Apr 01, 2010

Hip dysplasia is the most common developmental orthopedic disease in dogs. First described in the 1930's, it continues to affect millions of dogs worldwide. Large breed dogs are most commonly diagnosed, however small breed dogs and cats also are affected. The etiology is multifactorial, having both genetic and environmental components. Screening for hip dysplasia in young dogs is important for treating affected individuals as well as for making breeding recommendations for owners.


Simplistically, the pathophysiology of hip dysplasia can be described as joint laxity leading to degenerative joint disease. While various etiologies have been proposed, it is generally accepted that coxofemoral joint laxity is a principle component of hip dysplasia at an early stage. Polygenic and environmental factors contribute in a complex manner to cause laxity via morphologic changes such as joint incongruity or abnormal pelvic musculature, joint capsule, or round ligament.

In turn, laxity leads simultaneously to subluxation, inflammation, and periarticular new bone formation. Subluxation results in joint capsule stretching, which causes the initial pain and lameness associated with hip dysplasia in young animals. Repeated subluxation causes cartilage fibrillation and destruction, remodeling of the femoral head and acetabulum, and periarticular new bone formation. Concurrently, inflammation results in an increase in joint fluid volume, contributing further to incongruity of the joint. It also causes the production of cytokines that contribute to cartilage degradation. Inflammation, cartilage degradation, and joint remodeling are hallmarks of degenerative joint disease. It is these changes that are responsible for the chronic pain and lameness seen with progressive hip dysplasia. Virtually all animals progress from laxity to degenerative joint disease. The individual variability is in the rate of progression and the degree of clinical signs exhibited by the patient.

Presentation and signalment

Hip dysplasia most commonly affects large breed dogs. However, it is increasingly being diagnosed in small dogs and cats. Affected animals may present with a variety of clinical signs, including: a bunny hopping gait, difficulty rising, jumping or stair climbing, exercise intolerance, behavior change, or unilateral lameness. In particular, older dogs with progressive disease may be more likely to exhibit stiffness in the pelvic limbs, lameness that worsens with exercise, or muscle atrophy.

A bimodal age distribution for affected animals has been described. Young dogs less than one year of age present with pain and lameness that is most likely due to joint laxity, subluxation, and synovitis. Older dogs present with dysfunction that is more often due to progressive degenerative joint disease. For the veterinarian discussing treatment options, the important distinction to make is between young animals with joint laxity but no degenerative changes, and animals of any age with degenerative joint disease. These two groups have distinctly different options for surgical management.

Physical examination

Gait evaluation is useful for assessing changes in locomotion in patients compensating for hind limb discomfort or dysfunction. Initially, it is important to confirm that the lameness is of orthopedic origin and not neurologic. Patients may exhibit a variety of gait abnormalities, including unilateral lameness, bunny hopping, or pelvic/spinal swaying, and a shortened stride. All of these adaptations are an attempt to limit hip joint excursion, especially in extension. When standing, affected dogs may appear to shift weight off of their hind limbs and onto their front limbs. To accomplish this, some animals may stand with their stifles and hocks more extended than normal, creating a somewhat 'straight-legged' appearance.

Palpation of the hip joint is usually best accomplished with the patient in lateral recumbency. Examination should begin with the foot of the limb in question, working proximally toward the hip joint. To assess for coxofemoral luxation, the pelvic landmarks of the ischial tuberosity, iliac wing, and greater trochanter are palpated. These points should form a triangle, with the point of the greater trochanter lying below the line connecting the ischium and iliac wing. The hip should be put through a limited range of motion and palpated for crepitus before assessing full range of motion. The normal hip should allow the femur to be parallel with the spine during full flexion and should allow 90 of external rotation, 45 of internal rotation, and ~180 of extension. Dogs with hip dysplasia are most often limited in their extension of the hip joint. Extension/abduction is a particularly uncomfortable position for these dogs, and the one most likely to elicit a response. Other than discomfort in extension/abduction, dogs with hip dysplasia may palpate as having a normal coxofemoral joint.

Coxofemoral laxity is the hallmark of hip dysplasia in young dogs. This laxity can be assessed clinically by several exams-the Bardens, Barlow, and Ortolani tests. Of these, the Ortolani test is the most widely used, and is relatively easy to perform. It can be done with the dog in lateral or dorsal recumbency. With the stifle at 90, force is applied along the long axis of the femur. This will cause subluxation in a dog with joint laxity. While maintaining this force, the limb is abducted until the femoral head is felt to reduce into the acetabulum. The veterinarian can evaluate the subjective quality of the 'crispness' of the reduction. An abrupt 'clunk' is thought to indicate a relatively normal acetabular rim and acetabular depth. In contrast, a more gradual sliding reduction may indicate wear of the acetabular rim or a shallow acetabulum. The Ortolani sign may be difficult to appreciate in fully awake dogs, as muscle tone can inhibit subluxation of the joint or abduction of the limb. In order to be fully confident that the test is negative, it should be performed under sedation.

It is important to remember that the periarticular fibrosis and acetabular remodeling seen with advancing hip dysplasia will eliminate the ability to palpate an Ortolani sign in dogs with joint laxity. In addition, while a positive Ortolani test is abnormal and is an indicator of hip dysplasia, it does not correlate with clinical signs, nor can it be used to predict development of degenerative joint disease. It should be used in combination with other physical exam findings to recommend treatment options.