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When it comes to the hip health of dogs and the most commonly recognised health problems that can cause issues with the hips, hip dysplasia is the condition that most people think of first, particularly the owners of dogs that have a higher chance than most of developing hip dysplasia, like the German shepherd and the Labrador retriever.
However, hip dislocation, which is often confused with dysplasia, comes in a close second when it comes to hip problems in the dog, although unlike hip dysplasia, dislocations almost always occur as the result of a trauma or accident that affects the hips, rather than a breed-specific issue or conformation problem, as is the case with dysplasia.
In this article, we will look at hip dislocation in the dog in more detail, including factors such as how it happens, how to identify it, and what can be done about it. Read on to learn more.
The hips of the dog are formed of a ball and socket joint to either side, which allows the bones of the leg to connect to the pelvis and rotate with the normal range of movement. A dislocation occurs when for some reason the ball part of the joint becomes dislodged from the socket, which is quite hard to achieve, as the joints are secured snugly with muscles and ligaments to keep them in place.
Dislocations usually involve some level of muscle and ligament damage, such as a strain or a tear, and generally problems of this type are caused by accidents rather than by natural events or conformation problems.
Large traumas such as a fall from height or being hit by a car may cause this, but simply falling over awkwardly or being bashed about as part of rough and tumble play with other dogs can also lead to dislocation too. The smaller and more delicate the dog, the more likely they are to be at risk of dislocation, as their joints and bones are less robust to begin with.
If your dog has dislocated one of their hips, you will usually be quite aware that this has happened, particularly if you know that your dog has been injured or otherwise taken a bad knock that might have hurt them.
The various different indications of hip dislocation can vary from dog to dog, and may be particularly pronounced in some, whilst less obvious in others. How much pain the dislocation causes your dog can vary depending on how much the muscles and ligaments were damaged as well; if they are sprained or torn, this is likely to be very painful, but if the ball just popped out of the socket without a significant amount of trauma, it might be only mildly painful and so, not particularly obvious.
As well as the potential pain that can accompany hip dislocation, your dog’s movement will also be quite noticeably affected too, albeit potentially in a range of different ways. This may manifest as simply a shortened, limping or hopping gait in the back legs, a staggering gait, or even taking on the appearance of one leg being shorter than the other.
In full dislocations, the leg involved may be quite obviously disconnected from the joint, hanging limp and unable to move or bear weight. In milder cases, the dog might not appear to be acutely affected, but will appear reluctant to exercise or play, and have problems climbing stairs or even getting up and lying down.
If you know or suspect that your dog has dislocated their hip, you must take them to the vet right away, even if they don’t appear to be in acute pain. Hip dislocation is something that requires immediate treatment, and putting off treatment will not only cause your dog more pain, but may worsen the problem and make it harder to fix later on.
It is very rare for a hip dislocation in the dog to be treatable without surgery, as your vet must literally manipulate the leg to place the ball joint back in the socket, something that is both very painful to achieve, and that requires sight of the joint and muscles surrounding it too.
Generally, dogs will be prescribed pain medications and corticosteroid drugs to reduce inflammation, making the hip easier to operate on and making the dog more comfortable. If the hip cannot be replaced back into the socket, either due to the extent of the damage to the muscles and ligaments or because one of the bones involved has cracked or broken, hip replacement surgery may be required.
After surgery, the dog will need to have their movement restricted for some time, in order to allow for healing, and ensure that the hip joints stay together and that the muscle and ligaments supporting them can hold them in place for the long term.
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