Today we got amazing news from our orthopedic surgeon! Three surgeries, 1.5 years of therapy, and countless vet visits later, Chibi is officially free to walk, run, jump, and play however she’d like for the rest of her life… with no hip pain! I thought I’d share our journey in the hopes that our experiences can help those who have dogs who have been diagnosed, and prevent mistakes that could put you in a situation where you get a puppy prone to hip dysplasia.
There’s quite a bit to share, so I guess I’ll just start from the beginning.
Chibi always seemed like a low energy dog to us from the day we brought her home. As she grew older and neared 1 year old, she never became more energetic and we just assumed she was an old soul (we called her an old dog trapped in a puppy’s body). Compared to Kokoro, who was (and still is) a sprightly and rather hyper pup, Cheebs never could go on long walks with us, jogs, or even easy but long hikes. From the start, this should have been a sign to us that she was in pain.
In the fall of 2016, right around when Chibi was 1.5 years old, we collaborated with West Elm on some holiday ornaments and were scheduled to do a meet and greet in Chicago at one of their stores. During that trip, we explored the entire city of Chicago and took the dogs on plenty of adventures all over the city. I started to notice that Chibi seemed to have a small limp while she was walking – something about her gait seemed off to me.
After we returned from the trip and completed our move, I took Chibi to her first visit at her new vet in Los Angeles. She went in for her regular checkup, but I mentioned the limp that I’d been seeing and asked them to do some x-rays. That day, I received a call from the vet saying that they saw an extreme case of hip dysplasia. They referred us to a specialist, Paws & Claws Mobile Vet in Woodland Hills, CA, who we visited for a consultation and second opinion.
What is hip dysplasia?
Hip Dysplasia is a disease in dogs where the ball and socket of the hip joints are not properly formed. In Chibi’s case, only about 10% of the ball of her joint fit inside the socket, causing friction and immense pain whenever she moved the joint by walking. The left joint had it a little worse, and that’s why she started limping on that leg first, which in turn caused her arthritis in the joint due to her overcompensating for the leg, really impairing her ability to move freely without pain.
The importance of a reputable breeder
When Chibi was diagnosed, the first question that popped into my mind was, “Wait, isn’t hip dysplasia common on old dogs, large breeds, or overweight dogs? Chibi is none of those things.” Our orthopedic surgeon told us that this was 100% a case of bad breeding.
I was shocked and disappointed. I thought I did my duty as a responsible dog owner by researching lots of breeders and asking what I thought were the right questions to ensure that I both got a healthy dog and supported good breeding. I even got an enthusiastic recommendation for my breeder from someone else who got a healthy dog a year before (and who to this day, is healthy with no issues). There was a warning sign that, in hindsight, I should have caught. When I asked my breeder about genetic testing, I was told that Chibi’s grandparents were tested and clear of any health issues, so Chibi’s parents were not tested. I was reassured that I would get a healthy puppy.
Typically, a reputable breeder will test for things like DM and get OFA ratings, specifically regarding the hips. They will also not have a problem with showing you the results of the tests. A lot of breeders skip these tests because they are expensive, and unfortunately many of them are in the business for making easy cash, especially since each puppy can rake in an average of $1000 or more.
The second sign was that my breeder was having multiple litters per year. Reputable breeders who have the health of their dogs and lineage top of mind will not breed the same mom every year or have tons of litters rolling out to a long waiting list of people ready to write checks. Many reputable breeders will interview you, ask you questions about your plans, income, experience with dogs, and pair you with the right puppy after the litter is born based on the puppy’s personalities and your lifestyle.
So, here we were, with a young Corgi barely out of puppyhood diagnosed with a disease that was impairing her ability to live life fully and do everything a dog would want to do to be happy. Our orthopedic surgeon gave us two options out of what normally would have been three.
- Conduct what is called a Femoral Head Osectomy (FHO) on both hips. First on her left hip, the one she started limping on. Then, on her right hip, when the left had fully recovered and when symptoms showed that the right hip was bothering her. The procedure removes the ball from the joint and the remaining scar tissue that forms acts as a false joint in the socket. Each of these surgeries would run at about $3000.
- Conduct a complete hip replacement on both hips, first on her left. Each surgery would cost about $9000.
The third option that wasn’t really on the table for us was foregoing surgery and managing pain with medicine and supplements every day. I didn’t want my dog to be taking medication every day for the rest of her life. She had only gone through about 1.5 years of it! Because Chibi was so young and had great prospects for recovering from surgery, we chose to do the Femoral Head Osectomy so that she could hopefully be an active dog with no pain for the many remaining years of her life.
We ended up having to do the FHO procedure three times instead of two because some spurs regrew on her left hip, which was essentially bone regrowth that still caused friction on the joint. If you have a young dog, make sure your surgeon accounts for the bone regrowth during the surgery!
Thousands of dollars for the procedures…! What about pet insurance, you ask? Does insurance cover any of this?
The answer is yes, some insurance companies do cover hip dysplasia. It’s classified as a genetic disorder (again, 100% a result of breeding in our case). The pet insurance we had for Chibi at the time of her diagnosis, VPI Pet Insurance, excluded genetic conditions. We have since switched over to Pet Plan, which does cover genetic conditions (but excludes hip dysplasia for Cheebs because it counted for them as a preexisting condition). It also covers ACL tears which I’m very worried may happen to Cheebs due to the bad build of her bone structure.
I highly recommend getting a pet insurance for your dog that doesn’t exclude genetic conditions, especially if you haven’t seen DNA tests on your puppy and your puppy’s parents. Embrace and Figo are two others that I’ve heard great things about.
Recovery & Therapy
For dogs with very mild hip dysplasia and who do not need surgery, providing supplements to support healthy joints could be enough to manage the disease. We started giving Chibi Nutramax’s Dasuquin which was highly recommended by our surgeon and will continue doing so even after her surgeries.
We also took Chibi once a week to swim therapy for about a year. Swimming really helps muscle regrowth and causes less stress on the joints than walking and running. There are a few rehabilitation clinics around LA that charge a ton to do this and require visits with their licensed veterinarians, but we just needed a pool and someone to watch Chibi kick her legs. We went with Doggie Central in Playa Vista and visited frequently between each surgery.
Today, Chibi is still pretty calm for a young dog but much more energetic than she ever was as a puppy. She is able to come with us on extended, hour-long walks, chase Kokoro all the way down the side of the beach, jump onto the dog bed, all without pain!
What you can do
- Get informed! I can’t stress how important it is to do your research – SCOUR the internet – before you decide to get a puppy or dog.
- Go to a reputable breeder when you’re looking for a purebred pup, especially if the breed is prone to diseases like hip dysplasia.
- Ask to see test results and ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success with as much information as you can get from the breeder
- Get your puppy x-rayed early on. Hip Dysplasia can be detected even in puppyhood by looking at these films.
- Avoid letting your puppy jump, use stairs, go on too long of walks, runs, hikes, when they’re young to let their bones and joints properly develop. Save the fun for when they’re full grown!
Phew, that was a ton of words. Hopefully my experience provides good background for those of you looking for answers for your own dog’s hip dysplasia or helps those of you looking for a new puppy avoid an expensive and stressful journey like mine.
Have your own story to share? Leave a note if you have any questions or comments!