Any dog parent's heart will be warmed by seeing their dog run, jump, and race around outside. Health issues affecting their bones, joints, tendons, or ligaments can put a stop to this activity and all of its health benefits, or even worsen them. Our Los Angeles veterinarians explain four of the most common orthopedic health problems in dogs, including which breeds are most likely to develop them and how they can be treated.

Orthopedic health issues are a common reason for bringing dogs to our veterinary referral hospital. Orthopedic veterinary issues include any diseases, conditions, or injuries affecting the skeletal structures of your dog's body, including their bones, tendon, ligaments, cartilage, joints, and more. 

While these health issues affect dogs of all shapes and sizes, certain breeds may be predisposed to specific types of orthopedic health problems, and large dogs, in particular, tend to develop issues with their bones and joints as they age because they must carry more weight.

Here are four of the most common orthopedic health issues that affect dogs in the Los Angeles area. 

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia describes when one or more of your pup's hip joints form abnormally, causing them to grind against one another. Over time, this leads to their breakdown—causing discomfort, pain, and eventual loss of mobility and function in the affected joints.

Hip dysplasia is a genetically inherited condition that affects large and giant dog breeds such as retrievers, bulldogs, Rottweilers, mastiffs, and St. Bernards. While hip dysplasia is inherited, some factors influence its progression in dogs, such as weight, nutrition, how quickly they grow, and the type of exercise they get on a regular basis.

Hip dysplasia is treated through orthopedic surgery designed to help restore the function and mobility of your pup's affected hips. There are three options for surgical treatment of hip dysplasia, each with its unique benefits: Femoral Head Osteotomy, Double or Triple Pelvic Osteotomy, and Total Hip Replacement. THR offers the best outcomes while FHO surgery is generally the lowest price point. 

Torn Cruciate Ligament

Just like after too-vigorous exercise or repeated injury in people, our dogs can strain and even tear tendons or ligaments. The Cranial Cruciate Ligament, or CCL, is the canine equivalent to the ACL in people, connecting their shin to their thigh bone to allow the proper movement of their knee. 

A serious injury like tearing your dog's CCL can happen in one of two ways. The first is suddenly and drastically through overexercise. The second is gradually over some time without resting to help the mildly injured ligament recover. If your pup continues to run and play with an injured ligament, it becomes likely that it will injure it further. 

While this injury can happy to any dog who is overexerting itself, research shows that certain breeds may be more likely to develop it than others. Like with Hip Dysplasia, large breeds are more likely to experience this injury, including Rottweilers, St. Bernards, Akitas, Newfoundland Dogs, Mastiffs, and Labrador retrievers. 

Because CCL injuries do not heal on their own, surgery is required to relieve your dog's pain and help them regain mobility. Extracapsular Lateral Suture Stabilization, Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy, and Tibial Tuberosity Advancement are some of your options. While each of these surgeries accomplishes something slightly different, they all aim to stabilize your pet's knee joint, reduce tibial thrust, and allow them to move painlessly.

Luxated Patella

The patella, or the kneecap, normally sites quite comfortably in a groove above your dog's knee between their femur and shin. Luxating refers to something being out of place or dislocated. When your dog is suffering from a luxating patella, their kneecap has been dislocated and you may notice them limping, skipping a step, or running on only three legs. 

This injury is relatively common in many smaller breeds of dogs, like French Poodles, Bichon Frise, Chihuahuas, and Maltese, which all have some amount of genetic predisposition to dislocating their knees. This often is reflected in the location of the ligament that connects their patella to the rest of their leg, causing it to wear down and eventually allow it to dislocate inwards. 

Treatment options range from anti-inflammatory medication to surgical intervention, depending on the severity (also known as the Grade of the condition). Reconstructing soft tissues in the area to help keep the patella in place, deepening the groove the patella naturally sits in to keep it stationary or correcting abnormally shaped bones to reduce deformities are all options for treating a luxating patella.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disease, also commonly called IVDD, is a disease affecting your dog's spine that appears in three types.

Type 1 involves the rupturing of a spinal disc anywhere in your dog's back, causing a sudden inability to walk. Type 2 is a slower-acting bulging of the outer portion of your pup's spinal cord, compressing the spin and potentially causing a rupture like in Type 1. Type 3 is a sudden tear in the outer part of the spine caused by excessive exercise or physical trauma.

IVDD affects dogs of all sizes. Smaller dogs, such as dachshunds, Shih Tzus, toy poodles, beagles, and basset hounds, are more likely to have Type 1. However, it can also affect medium and larger dogs. In middle-aged medium-to-large dogs, Type 2 is extremely common. IVDD is a degenerative condition that is exacerbated by body types like short, curved legs. Any puppy with those characteristics is more likely than others to develop IVDD.

Spinal surgery is a must when it comes to treating IVDD, although some very mild cases may be treatable through restricted movement and pain-management medications. Dogs with IVDD may never be able to walk again and have to rely on mobility devices to get around.


Arthritis is a progressive disease in which the joints of a dog degenerate and wear out over time. Their build, weight/physical condition, poor nutrition, age, abnormal joint development, history of physical activity, and other factors can all contribute to this condition.

If your pup has this condition they could display symptoms such as stiff joints and movements, trouble sitting down or getting up, difficulty jumping and climbing stairs, sore swollen joints, lethargy, weight gain, limping, and lameness.

Arthritis can't be cured but your veterinarian can recommend various methods to help your dog manage their condition such as diet and exercise changes, joint supplements, orthopedic surgery, medications, and physical therapy.

Do you think your dog may be suffering from or at risk of an orthopedic health problem? Contact Washington Dog and Cat Hospital to book an appointment for your pet!