Hip Dysplasia in Dogs & Cortisone

Written by angela brady
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Hip Dysplasia in Dogs & Cortisone
Hip dysplasia is common in dogs and can lead to decreased mobility. (dog image by Joanna Redesiuk from Fotolia.com)

Hip dysplasia is a common condition that affects many purebred dogs. Since the condition is genetic, it is closely linked to poor breeding selection, and some breeds even recommend having a potential breeding dog's hips certified as stable by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. There are several ways to treat hip dysplasia, and many vets use cortisone in conjunction with other therapies.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is caused by deformed hip joints that put abnormal stress on the cartilage, causing small fractures. Gradually, the cartilage degrades, becoming less able to handle movement. Joint lubrication decreases, the joint fluid ceases to nourish the cartilage and pain begins to occur. The body tries to fix itself by growing new bone inside and outside the joint, which leads to a decrease in range of motion.


The symptoms of hip dysplasia are confined to the back half of the dog, and usually begin as stiffness and difficulty getting up. As the condition progresses and pain increases, the dog may stop running and playing vigorously. Most affected dogs will display an altered gate with a characteristic swaying or waddling motion. In very severe cases, the dog may refuse to use its hind legs at all, and pull itself around on its front legs only.


Cortisone is naturally produced by the adrenal gland and is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that also works to dissolve scar tissue. Cortisone injections are a common way to treat hip dysplasia because they act quickly to reduce pain and inflammation. Often, dogs that limp into the vet's office for their injection prance on the way out. Cortisone injections do not solve the underlying problem, but they do provide pain relief and increased mobility without the risk of allergic reaction or upset stomach.


Some dogs cannot tolerate cortisone injections because of certain chronic conditions, like diabetes. In these cases, vets recommend acetaminophen for relief from mild to moderate pain. For more severe cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve pain, and at higher doses, even reduce inflammation. NSAIDs can accelerate cartilage breakdown when taken long term, so this is usually only an option for dogs awaiting their next cortisone injection or surgery.

Additional Treatment

There are several treatments that can be used in addition to or instead of cortisone injections, depending upon the individual case. Visco-supplementation involves injecting a lubricating gel directly into the joint to reduce pain and improve flexibility. Glucosamine-chondroitin supplements can be given orally to stimulate the body to increase joint lubrication, although effects are gradual. Supplements are generally used as a supplemental treatment together with medication. For extremely severe cases of hip dysplasia in younger, healthy dogs, surgery is an option. Usually performed by a veterinary orthopaedic specialist, hip surgeries tend to have successful outcomes, with the dogs returning to full, pain-free mobility.

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