Hip dysplasia is an important medical condition to be aware of if you have your heart set on bringing home a breed of dog or cat prone to the condition. According to Petplan insurance claims data, the average pet parents paid in hip dysplasia-related costs is $451 – the largest claim totaling $10,977! Let’s look at why this condition is so costly and whether pet insurance will help cover the costs.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition in which one or both hip joints develop laxity or looseness. This occurs because the pelvis and femur bones that comprise the ball and socket joint develop an abnormal shape and do not fit snugly together. With movement over time, these bones rub together creating cartilage damage, eventually leading to pain and arthritis (degenerative joint disease).

This condition occurs less frequently in cats and small dogs than it does with large dog breeds. There are many factors that contribute to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs, including genetics, nutrition, excessive growth rate, exercise and hormones.*

Dog breeds at risk for hip dysplasia:**

  • American, French & Old English Bulldog
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Mastiff
  • Newfoundland
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Pug
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard

Cat breeds at risk for hip dysplasia:†

  • Maine Coon
  • Persian
  • Himalayan
  • Devon Rex

Symptoms and diagnosis

Symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs and cats can become evident at any stage of the disease. Affected dogs may exhibit signs of pain such as lameness or limping, difficulty rising out of bed or jumping up into the car, a bunny-hopping or swaying gait, and even loss of muscle mass in the hind legs. Cats typically don’t show obvious signs of hip dysplasia, but may have decreased activity, difficulty posturing in the litterbox or a change in behavior (begin hiding).

Diagnosis of hip dysplasia is based on symptoms, physical examination findings, and radiographs (X-rays).

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How to treat hip dysplasia in dogs and cats depends on the individual pet’s age, weight and severity of disease. Your trusted veterinary team may recommend any of the following:

  • Prescription medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and glucocorticoids (steroids)
  • Supplements such as chondroprotective agents to help joint health and omega 3 fatty acids
  • Holistic and alternative therapies such as acupuncture
  • Weight loss for overweight pets
  • Physical Therapy and Laser Therapy
  • Surgery


Since hip dysplasia is a hereditary disease – due to abnormal genes passed down from the parents – in dogs and possibly cats, it is important to note that this disease can be prevented by not breeding dogs and cats with known hip dysplasia. Also, be sure to spay and neuter dogs and cats that have known hip dysplasia so they cannot pass those genes on to the next generation. If possible, make sure the parents of your new large breed puppy or kitten have normal or excellent ratings by the Penn-Hip system.

Will pet insurance cover hip dysplasia?

Yes! Comprehensive pet insurance will cover hip dysplasia no matter how old your pet is as long as it is not a pre-existing condition. That means if a pet had hip dysplasia or was showing signs or symptoms of hip dysplasia prior to the start of their pet insurance policy or during the waiting periods, the condition will not be covered. Be aware that many pet insurance providers have special waiting periods for hip dysplasia, lasting anywhere from 6 to 12 months.

Pet insurance providers that offer comprehensive coverage can help with the costs after you enroll and the waiting periods have passed, making it important to protect your pet as early as possible. If you have a breed that has a higher risk of developing hip dysplasia, find a pet insurance provider that covers hereditary conditions such as hip dysplasia – with no age restrictions – and the entire sick visit.

* Cote, E : Clinical Veterinary Advisor: Dogs and Cats, St. Louis, MO 2007 pp. 519-521.

** Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website: www.ofa.org.

† https://www.winnfelinefoundation.org/docs/default-source/cat-health-library-educational-articles/feline-hip-dysplasia-2016.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Dec 12, 2019
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