Loose limbs: Riley's story

Riley is a 7-month old heading dog. She was handed over to Retired Working Dogs NZ when her owner realised that something was wrong with her hips, and she wouldn’t cope with life as a working farm dog.

When we x-rayed Riley, we were a bit shocked by what we saw – she had a severe case of hip dysplasia, known as luxoid hips, where the head of her femurs weren’t even in contact with the hip joint. In most cases of hip dysplasia, the socket of the hip is shallow and the soft tissues holding it in place are weak or stretched, allowing the ball of the femur to slide in and out. This causes pain and leads to osteoarthritis. In Riley’s case, the two bones were far apart, minimising bone-on-bone contact and limiting pain. A bizarre scenario in which, in the short term at least, the severity of her hip disease makes her better off than less severe cases of hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia is a complex disease, having both genetic and environmental factors. Essentially, a dog can be born with an inherited predisposition to the disease, and how much it is expressed can be influenced by his environment, e.g. how fast he grows. The first 60 days of life seem to be the most critical.

Historically certain breeds are more at risk, German Shepherds and Labradors among them, however these aren’t the only breeds affected. If you are looking at getting a purebred dog, you should look into the breed type and any potential issues they may have.

Diagnosis is usually done by x-ray, either the extended hip view, or the PennHIP method; the latter is more effective at detecting laxity in the hip joints at a younger age. For mild hip dysplasia detected early, physiotherapy can be of major benefit to increase the strength of the muscles supporting the hips.

As for Riley, she has found an amazing home, with an owner who understands her condition and is willing to give her the best care for as long as Riley’s disability allows.

X-ray 1 - Normal hips X-ray 2 - Riley's Hips
Normal hips Riley's hips
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