Cocker Spaniel Hip Dysplasia: What You Need to Know

July 19, 2022

Canine hip dysplasia is a degenerative joint disease that affects many giant breed dogs. However, it’s not just Labrador Retriever owners that need to think about this common health problem. Sadly, hip dysplasia can affect just about any breed of dog, even smaller varieties like Cocker Spaniels. 

The impact of this hip joint condition can be devastating for dogs and their owners alike. Dysplasia is a hereditary condition, although there’s a good chance your dog won’t show any signs of the ailment until they reach advanced years.

However, responsible owners are advised to invest in early screening for this condition to prevent it from causing more significant issues down the line. 

Are you a first-time Cocker Spaniel owner and worried about your new pooch developing dysplasia? Our guide has all the information you need to spot early signs and symptoms of this common health problem, along with advice on the best treatment options. 

Canine Hip Dysplasia: What is It?

Hip dysplasia is fairly common in older dogs, especially if you’re dealing with a larger breed. However, smaller breeds like Cocker Spaniels can experience this joint condition. In simple terms, hip dysplasia prevents the hip joint from developing properly. 

The hip joint is made up of both a ball and socket. When a dog is suffering from hip dysplasia, these two parts of the joint don’t grow at the same right. This ultimately leads to a loose ball and socket joint which can lead to serious health conditions for older dogs. 

Because hip dysplasia doesn’t tend to present in puppies and young dogs, many owners overlook the issue of hip dysplasia. However, if left untreated, hip dysplasia can result in permanent damage in later life. Affected breeds will suffer from joint pain and are more at risk of developing arthritis and degenerative joint disease. 

If your Cocker Spaniel is at risk of developing hip dysplasia and a treatment plan isn’t decided on early enough, the issue will only get worse. Because the ball and socket joint hasn’t developed properly, your dog’s day-to-day movement will be abnormal. This puts excess strain on your dog’s joints, leading to premature wear and tear. 

Over time, scar tissue will develop, along with painful spurs. This not only causes your dog to suffer but makes basic exercise a challenge. In worst-case scenarios, the condition can limit the use of the back legs and cause lameness. 

Canine Hip Dysplasia: Common Causes and Risk Factors

Many larger dogs have a genetic predisposition to hip dysplasia. If a parent dog is affected, there’s a strong chance they’ll pass the condition onto a pup. Larger breeds with a high risk of developing hip dysplasia include Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, and German Shepherds. 

However, smaller breeds like Cocker Spaniels aren’t immune to this disorder. In fact, it’s a fairly common disease with Cocker Spaniels, with a higher-than-average incidence. Ultimately, the best way to avoid your dog developing hip dysplasia is to source a puppy from a responsible breeder. 

If your Cocker Spaniel is vulnerable to inheriting this hip dysplasia, several lifestyle factors need to be managed to prevent the condition from progressing to a more severe case. Heavy exercise should be avoided, while your dog’s weight and diet should be closely monitored.

Thankfully, these are all things that apply to most dogs, so preempting hip dysplasia isn’t particularly time-consuming. 

Signs and Symptoms

As with other Cocker Spaniel health issues, signs of hip dysplasia are likely to make themselves known later in your dog’s life. However, in some cases, clinical signs of hip dysplasia can be caught early. In fact, it may be possible to spot some issues during the puppy phase. 

In young dogs, limping can be a clear indicator of hip dysplasia. Pay attention to how they’re using their back legs. If they’re moving them together, in a sort of hopping motion, that’s a clear sign that there’s something wrong with the hip joints.  

Your Cocker may also find it difficult to rise from a lying or sitting position. If they are struggling, listen out for any telltale clicking sounds that might indicate a problem with their hip joint. If your dog is struggling to walk for long periods, take this as another warning sign. 

Many of the same signs can be used to spotlight hip dysplasia in older dogs. Look out for lameness or limping, especially after long walks. Because hip dysplasia will have likely progressed to arthritis in older dogs, they’ll likely find it very difficult to climb or jump. 

Another major symptom of hip dysplasia in older Cocker Spaniels is reduced muscle mass. Check your dog’s rear legs to see if they are maintaining sufficient muscle mass. This can affect one or both rear legs. 

How is Hip Dysplasia Diagnosed?

As a responsible dog owner, you should be taking your four-legged friend for a vet check-up at least once a year. If your pet is at increased risk of inherited conditions, you may want to up the frequency of your visits. 

At an annual check-up, a veterinarian will look for signs of hip dysplasia during a physical examination. Although an experienced vet will be able to easily identify any issues, it’s worth raising your concerns if your dog has been showcasing any of the signs and symptoms outlined above. 

To check for hip dysplasia, a vet will physically move your dog’s back legs to see how easily the joints move. Reduced motion and grinding of joints are red flags that your dog is suffering from dysplasia.

Your vet may also choose to draw blood, as blood tests can look for inflammation markers that can confirm a diagnosis of hip dysplasia. 

No matter how conclusive a physical exam is, an x-ray will be the next course of action. A CT scan will let you know exactly what you’re dealing with and determine how far hip dysplasia has progressed. These scan images will then be used to decide on the best possible treatment plan for your pet. 

Treatment Options

Once hip dysplasia has been confirmed, a veterinarian will explain treatment options. The scope of treatment depends on how far the condition has progressed. In less severe cases, lifestyle changes and diet modifications may be sufficient. 

If your dog is overweight, a vet will recommend a calorie-restricted diet. This will almost certainly require a change of dog food. By simply shifting a few pounds, your dog will benefit from less stress placed on the affected hips. 

However, weight loss alone is not enough to combat hip dysplasia. Heavy exercise is generally recommended. This can be a bitter pill to swallow if your Cocker Spaniel is particularly energetic, but it will help prevent further strain and injury. 

More aggressive nonsurgical treatments can also be explored. To alleviate pain and improve your dog’s range of motion, physical therapy is often suggested. There are also several medications to consider, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, fluid modifiers, and general joint supplements. 

Surgical Options for Hip Dysplasia

If your dog’s hip dysplasia has progressed to an advanced stage and they’re struggling with pain and reduced movement, surgical options can be considered. Fortunately, there are several surgeries available. 

For Cocker Spaniel puppies, a double or triple pelvic osteotomy may be recommended. A veterinary surgeon will perform precise cuts into the pelvic bone to improve the range of motion of the ball and socket joint. 

A femoral head ostectomy (FHO) is another option and can be used to treat symptoms in young and old dogs alike. In short, this surgery sees the ball part of the hip joint removed to provide effective pain relief. 

Admittedly, an FHO is no substitute for a natural hip joint. However, if your Cocker Spaniel is suffering and their day-to-day mobility is severely compromised, it can provide an immediate boost to their quality of life. 

Finally, there’s the option of a total hip replacement. Similar to the kinds of surgeries carried out on human patients, a total hip replacement sees a vet remove the affected joint and substitute it with an artificial replacement. In most cases, your dog’s hip function will be completely restored. 

How Dog Owners Can Deal with Hip Dysplasia

If you’ve purchased your Cocker Spaniel from a reputable breeder, you should be able to anticipate genetic issues like hip dysplasia ahead of time. However, there are many other steps you can take to protect your dog from this debilitating disease. 

Ensuring your dog is being fed a balanced and nutritious diet will encourage better bone health and joint development. In many cases, the right diet can manage the rapid bone growth responsible for early onset hip dysplasia. 

It’s also vital that you manage your dog’s weight as they grow from puppies into mature canines. Even if your dog isn’t at risk from dysplasia, carrying extra weight will put unnecessary stress on their hip joints.

Weight management will also combat a multitude of other canine diseases, including diabetes and progressive retinal atrophy. 

Although Cocker Spaniels carry an above-average risk of hip dysplasia, don’t let this put you off this charming breed. Before settling on a puppy, do your research on the breed and ensure you’ve thoroughly vetted prospective breeders.

More in-depth health screenings will also let you know how likely it is your Cocker puppy is to develop hip dysplasia later in life. 

Allan  Noble
Hi, my name is Allan! I am the owner of Spaniel Advisor and I've got over seven years experience of owning Spaniels.  
I hope this article was helpful for you! 
Spaniel Advisor aims to be the top online resource for sharing information about all Spaniel breeds. 
Copyright 2022 - All Rights Reserved.