Hip support for dogs can be a valuable way to improve your dog’s comfort and mobility. To help you navigate the many options, integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby invites veterinary rehabilitation therapist Dr. Angela Youello to the blog. Dr. Youello explains which dogs may benefit from hip support and discusses her seven favorite hip support methods.
If your dog suffers from painful or weak hips, you have probably googled “hip support for dogs” or something similar in an effort to find ways to help your sweet pup be more comfortable and mobile. But with the plethora of products and recommendations available, how do you know what to pick?
As a canine rehabilitation practitioner, I help my clients and patients work through this exact scenario all the time. That’s why Dr. Buzby asked me to share my top seven canine hip support options.
Why might a dog need hip support?
There are several situations that may lead a dog to need hip support, either short-term or for the rest of his or her life. One of the most common is a degenerative joint disease (DJD), which is also known as osteoarthritis in dogs. While arthritis can happen in most joints, the hips tend to be one of the main problem areas. In fact, one study found that 59% of dogs with arthritis had arthritic changes in their hips.
A frequent cause of hip problems is hip dysplasia in dogs. However, senior dogs can also develop hip arthritis as part of the aging process.
In hip dysplasia, the “ball and socket” joint between the head of the femur and the pelvis doesn’t develop properly. This makes it difficult for the two bones to fit together tightly. It is estimated that somewhere between 10 and 15% of dogs worldwide have hip dysplasia. Additionally, some breeds have an incidence as high as 75%!
As their disease progresses, adult dogs with hip dysplasia often develop arthritis. You may notice shaking of your dog’s legs, limping, or other signs your dog is in pain. Also, affected dogs commonly shift more weight to their front legs due to pain or weakness in their hips. This extra load puts an increased amount of stress on the muscles and joints of their front legs. Consequently, the dog is at increased risk of injuries in the wrists, elbows and shoulders.
Weight shifting to the front legs also leads to loss of muscle mass in the back legs. This can reduce the amount of support that the body is able to naturally provide to the hips. Over time the dog may be trapped in a vicious cycle. More discomfort leads to more weight shifting away from the back legs. In turn, this leads to increased weakness in the back legs, which leads to more discomfort.
As a result, dogs with chronic arthritic changes may need hip support on a long-term basis. They may even need increasing amounts of support as they grow older and their arthritis gradually worsens or their muscles continue to weaken.
Hip surgery or injury
On the other hand, some dogs need hip support on a more short-term basis. This may include dogs who are recovering from an injury or surgical procedure. There are several surgical procedures used to manage or treat hip dysplasia, including dog hip replacements. Dogs may also need hip surgery after a hip dislocation or fracture. Depending on the surgical technique, most dogs will only need post-surgical hip support for a few weeks to a few months following the procedure.
7 Ways to provide hip support for dogs
Regardless of why a dog needs hip support, there are a variety of great options that can fit your dog’s unique needs. Some are supplements designed to promote orthopedic health. Others are support devices to help your dog move around with increased comfort and ease. And still others are things you can do for your dog to reduce pain and improve mobility.
Joint supplements to support healthier hips
Many dogs with hip dysplasia, arthritis, or hip injuries may benefit from joint supplements for dogs or other nutraceutical support. While glucosamine supplements like Cosequin® and Glycoflex® 3 do provide hip and joint support for dogs, there is a product I like even better.
#1: Dr. Buzby’s Encore Mobility™ hip and joint supplement
Encore Mobility is a novel joint supplement for dogs containing green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) and deer antler velvet. I would argue that this combination makes the best hip and joint support supplement for dogs.
Green-lipped mussel for dogs is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Both of these compounds can help improve joint health. Numerous studies have demonstrated green-lipped mussel’s ability to reduce clinical signs of arthritis in dogs, including joint pain and swelling, and to improve overall motor activity.
Deer antler velvet, as the name suggests, is made from the antlers of deer or elk. It contains a mix of compounds beneficial for joint health, including collagen, glucosamine and chondroitin, and growth factors.
The antler velvet in Encore Mobility is sourced exclusively from New Zealand. This is important because the New Zealand deer population is free from prion diseases that can cause serious illnesses. Thus, you can rest assured that the purity and safety are excellent. Additionally, New Zealand has unusually strict standards governing the harvesting of deer velvet. It is performed humanely under local anesthesia using ethically farmed deer.
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Encore Mobility is tasty too
Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of bringing home a new supplement or medication for our dogs, only to find out that they turn up their noses at it. Then we’re left trying to find different ways to disguise the pills. We try hiding them in cheese, peanut butter, pieces of hot dog, or other foods. However, sometimes even that doesn’t work if you have a dog who won’t take pills. Then that supplement we had such high hopes for ends up sitting in the pantry collecting dust.
Fortunately, that has not been my experience with Encore Mobility. It’s a flavored, chewable tablet that most of my patients actually enjoy eating, so it’s very easy to give. Even my own dog Kepler, a notoriously picky little French bulldog with severe hip dysplasia, offers a perfect “sit” as soon as he sees me pick up the bottle. He wants to make sure he earns his treat!
#2: Fish oil
Another joint supplement I often recommend for my patients who need hip support is liquid fish oil. It is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs. As mentioned previously, omega-3 fatty acids have fantastic natural anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have demonstrated that high levels of omega-3s can decrease pain and increase wellbeing in dogs with arthritis.
Because the therapeutic level for fish oil in arthritic patients is a lot higher than many people expect, liquid formulations end up being more convenient than capsules for most dogs. For example, a 50 pound dog will need about 3200 mg of EPA and DHA combined daily. Many human fish oil capsules contain 1200 mg of total oil but only about 300 mg of EPA and DHA. That means a 50 pound dog would need 10 capsules every day!
It ends up being a lot easier just to mix a liquid fish oil with their food. Plus, many dogs actually like the taste.
One thing to keep in mind is that some fish oil supplements made for people contain other fat soluble vitamins that may not be safe for dogs. For this reason, I always recommend choosing a veterinary-specific fish oil. Omega Benefits by Veterinarian Recommended Solutions, and Welactin by Nutramax Labs are two options I really like. Dr. Buzby also recommends Omega-3 Pet from Nordic Naturals.
You should also know that the sudden addition of large amounts of any oil to the diet can sometimes cause GI upset. To help avoid this, I usually recommend starting with a quarter to half the total dose. Then you can gradually increase it over the course of a couple of weeks.
Hip support devices to aid in mobility
Sometimes hip support for dogs can also be devices that physically help support the dog’s weight or hind limbs. Other times, these devices may provide compression or help the dog gain traction to walk securely.
#3: Help ‘Em Up® Mobility Harness
One support system that I like a lot for my own patients is the Help ‘Em Up harness. It has two pieces which clip together. One goes around the chest like a traditional harness and the other goes around the pelvis. Each piece has a handle, which makes it easier to provide hip support. This lets you help your dog with activities like navigating the stairs and getting in and out of the car.
Without the Help ‘Em up harness, you would have to bend down and reach underneath your dog to lift him or her. But now you can just grasp the handle over your dog’s pelvis to help him or her safely stand up, walk, or climb stairs. This also allows your dog to actively participate in the movement to whatever extent he or she is able, which is helpful in maintaining muscle mass.
This particular dog hip support harness is designed to be comfortable for long term wear. While most people remove it at bedtime, many dogs will wear it throughout the day. This is a time and energy-saver because it means you’re not constantly putting it on and taking it off. Plus, it tends to be easier to use than just a hip support sling and is machine washable for added convenience.
#4: Hip support braces such as Walkin’ Hip-EEZ®
Other types of support devices for dogs’ hips provide gentle compression to the hips and back legs. They accomplish this using either a compressive sleeve or leg panels that provide direct support to the hips and back legs.
In some dogs with neurologic issues, this gentle compression provides just enough sensory stimulation to help them be more aware of where their body is and how it’s moving (i.e. proprioception in dogs). This in turn can improve coordination and balance. In dogs with hip dysplasia or arthritis, this support may help alleviate muscle fatigue. Also, in some cases it may even improve stability of the hip joint. However, there aren’t many studies available yet to support that application.
Walkin’ Pets products
The Walkin’ Hip-EEZ, made by Walkin’ Pets, is designed to provide compression to the hip joint as well as a feeling of lift. This should help improve comfort for dogs with mild to moderate hip dysplasia and other conditions.
For dogs with really severe hip dysplasia, the same company makes the Walk-in’ Wheels dog wheelchair. I’ve used it successfully in many of my own patients. It allows dogs to still engage in most of their normal activities (even hiking and games of fetch in many cases!) without any strain on their hips and back legs.
Pros and cons of dog hip support braces
If you are considering a hip support harness or brace, it is important to know the advantages and disadvantages. The various dog hip braces on the market are available for a relatively low price in most cases. Plus, you can order many of them directly from the manufacturer so they’re easily accessible. These are both good things.
However, there are a few disadvantages as well. Many braces require a variety of measurements for an appropriate fit. And some braces may not properly fit dogs with certain body conformations even after taking detailed measurements. Also, some dogs have a hard time adjusting to moving around in a brace. Finally, there are few studies to support the effectiveness of hip braces in dogs, so it’s hard to know how helpful they may be.
#5: Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips® dog nail grips
ToeGrips are a different type of hip support device that I’ve used in many of my senior patients with arthritis and hip dysplasia. They’re little rubber donuts that fit securely over the toenails, providing traction and better footing on slippery surfaces. They can help prevent falls and splay injuries. Plus, ToeGrips help give many dogs more confidence on tile or wood flooring.
ToeGrips are inexpensive and easy to apply. Once they’re on, most dogs don’t even notice that they’re wearing them, so there’s no interference with normal movement. Your veterinarian can apply them. Or you can apply them at home by following the steps in the ToeGrips application videos. Plus, finding the right size of ToeGrips is simple as it only involves taking a single measurement of your dog’s toenail circumference.
Additional steps to support your dog’s hips
In addition to mobility aids and joint supplements, there are also some steps you can take to help support your dog’s hips.
#6: Create a weight management plan
Helping your dog reach his or her ideal weight (or preferably the low end of the ideal weight range) is enormously helpful in managing arthritis in dogs with hip dysplasia. It can also help improve their quality of life. Several studies found that even a small amount of weight loss significantly decreased lameness in arthritic dogs. For example, a study on the effect of weight loss on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis demonstrated that losing 6-8% of total body weight, which is 3 to 4 pounds in a 50 pound dog, made a noticeable difference.
Perhaps you are asking yourself “Is my dog overweight?” If so, finding your dog’s body condition score (BCS) is a great place to start. This hands-on assessment helps evaluate your dog’s weight based on his or her frame rather than the number on the scale.
Your veterinarian is also a great resource when it comes to weight management. He or she can let you know if your dog could benefit from some weight loss. Plus, the veterinary team is usually full of tips to help your dog lose weight.
#7: Work with a rehabilitation professional
Physical rehabilitation can also be very helpful in maintaining mobility and comfort for senior dogs and younger dogs with joint disease. There are many “hip support” exercises that may benefit your dog. These exercises can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the hips and the core muscles to help support the hip joint.
A rehabilitation practitioner may also recommend additional therapies to relieve the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis and help maintain a normal range of motion in the hips. Some of them include:
- Laser therapy for dogs—Helps reduce pain and inflammation in affected joints and muscles.
- Underwater treadmill for dogs—A great way to build or maintain muscle in dogs who find walks on land too high impact or uncomfortable.
- PRP for dogs—Reduces inflammation and promotes tissue healing.
- Acupuncture for dogs—Lessens pain and encourages healing.
Most rehabilitation therapists take a multimodal approach to managing joint disease in dogs. They can make a variety of recommendations to help your senior dog enjoy a better quality of life.
Talk to your vet if you think your dog needs hip support
Often, older dogs who need hip support will benefit from a combination of the methods we discussed in this article plus additional pain control medications from the veterinarian. This mix tends to be the secret for fully supporting your dog’s hips, and your dog in general.
If you notice decreased endurance during activity, limping, difficulty climbing stairs or jumping into the car, or have noticed your dog’s back legs shaking and collapsing, please talk to your veterinarian about the best hip support for your dog. Your vet is a great ally and can give you some recommendations for things you can do or buy to help your canine friend!
How do you help support your dog’s hips?
Please share your ideas below.