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How to Put a Dog's Hip Back in Place

Dog's Hip

How to put a dog's hip back in place is something dog owners may wonder about, but this is not something that can be done at home by the average Joe. Dislocated hips are very painful to dogs, and on top of that, dog owners may do much damage which may lead to major complications, potentially making matters considerably worse. A dislocated hip in dogs is something that require veterinary treatment, the sooner the better, considering the pain. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crned discusses hip dislocations in dogs and how veterinarians put a dog's hip back in place along with the dangers of trying to do this at home.

 Animal anatomical engraving from Handbuch der Anatomie der Tiere für Künstler' - Hermann Dittrich, illustrator, public domain

Animal anatomical engraving from Handbuch der Anatomie der Tiere für Künstler' - Hermann Dittrich, illustrator, public domain

Understanding Dislocations in Dogs 

The bony framework of the skeleton gives the dog’s body shape and supports its soft tissues. The skeleton is as strong as steel, yet as light as aluminum. Joints are formed where two or more bones meet and are held together by ligaments.

Muscles and their associated tendons make up the bulk of a dog’s body and account for half its weight. In a healthy dog, the skeleton is supple, the joints move freely and the muscles are elastic and powerful. Controlled by the central nervous system, movement is smooth and coordinated.

Joints are covered with lubricated cartilage that allows smooth movement. The range of movement in a joint is determined by its shape and structure. For example, the stifle joint is a hinge joint that simply bends and straightens the hind leg while the ball-and-socket joint in the hip allows movement in more directions.

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A bone that separates from its adjoining bone at a joint has been dislocated. A complete dislocation, in which the bones come apart, is called luxation. It causes sudden pain and loss of use of the affected limb.

On the other hand, in subluxation, the bones come only partially out of the joint and consequently the joint deformity is minimal. Both luxations and subluxation frequently occur in the hip joints. Dislocations often involve ligament tears and damages to the joint cartilage.

X-ray of normal canine hips.

X-ray of normal canine hips. Notice the close association between the femur and the acetabulum.

Hip Dislocations in Dogs

In spite of its almost perfect design, the hip joint has certain weaknesses. Those weaknesses are particularly accented in dogs predisposed to hip dysplasia. No matter how strong the muscles and ligaments are, if the deforming force it strong enough, the joint cannot be kept in its anatomical positioning.

The hip joint is classified as a so-called "ball-and-socket" type of joint. The rounded head of the leg bone (Latin name femur) is the "ball" and the rounded indentation of the pelvis (Latin name acetabulum) is the "socket" that cups around the ball.

Simply put, the pelvis or hip bone, cradles the heads of the two femurs in deep, cartilage-lined, cup-like sockets.

A plethora of anatomical features are responsible for maintaining close association between the femur and the acetabulum. If one of the below explained anatomical features fails, a dislocation is likely to occur. Those anatomical features include:

-The ligament of the femoral head secures the femur to the acetabulum
-The shape of the femoral head matches the contour and roof of the acetabulum
-The acetabulum is additionally secured to the femoral neck with a joint capsule
-The joint capsule is filled with joint fluid that pressures the joint.

Causes of Hip Dislocations in Dogs 

 An x-ray of a dog with bilateral hip dysplasia.

An x-ray of a dog with bilateral hip dysplasia.

The most common cause that leads to hip dislocation is trauma. Motor vehicle accidents are reported to be traumatic events that rank first place. The second most common cause is hip dysplasia. Other common causes include falling, spontaneous dislocations of unknown origin and unknown traumas.

What is hip dysplasia? Since it is the second most common cause of hip dislocation it is only logical to say a word or two about hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia occurs when the fit of the hip joint is not correct – for example, if there is a slight misalignment and the femoral head is lax or loosened – the cartilage of the femoral head rubs against the socket.

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Eventually, over time, the cartilage wears through. This condition is known as hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a common form of osteoarthritis.

At first, hip dysplasia causes no clinical signs, but once sufficient wear and tear has occurred there is pain and associated lameness. Hip dysplasia is more common in large, fast-growing breeds like: German shepherd dog, golden retriever, Labrador retriever, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard.

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At the Vet's Office

If you suspect your dog has a dislocated hip, please report to your veterinarian. What are the clinical manifestation of a hip dislocation in dogs? Fortunately, owners can easily spot hip dislocations. Dogs with a dislocated hip cannot bear their own weight on the affected leg. Additionally, the affected leg often appears shorter than the other three legs.

Last but not least, hip dislocations or better said dislocations in general, are quite painful. Subsequently, affected dogs are depressed, reluctant to eat and refuse to take part in physical activities.

Dislocations are readily diagnosed by X-rays. In addition of setting the diagnosis, the X-ray image is used to determine the severity of the dislocation and the dislocation’s direction. The hip can dislocate in a variety of different directions. However, most frequently, the hip goes forwards and upwards.

This type of dislocation is described as "cranio-dorsal dislocation." Unfortunately, there is no direct correlation between how badly affected the hip looks on X-ray and how bad the dog feels.

How to Put a Dog's Hip Back in Place

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Fixing hip dislocations in dogs requires anesthesia.

Correcting a dislocated hip is something that should be done only by a veterinarian. A dislocated hip can be corrected via 2 methods: Method number 1 – Closed reduction and method 2: Open reduction

Method 1- closed reduction describes the process when the vet tries to manually correct the dislocated hip and put it back in its proper location without surgery. Because the procedure is painful and easier if the leg muscles are relaxed, patients subdued to closed reduction must be anesthetized.

The exact moment when the femoral head is manipulated back in its place is signaled by a satisfying "pop"sound. Once the joint is well set in its anatomical position, the leg is placed in an Ehmer sling. The sling encourages the joint to stay in place while preventing unnecessary weight bearing. The sling should be kept for approximately 1-2 weeks.

During this period, the patient should lead a confined lifestyle. Unfortunately, closed reduction is not always successful – there is a 50 percent recurrence of dislocation. Another problem associated with closed reduction is that owners frequently try to perform the procedure on their own.

Although in writing the procedure appears easy, in practice things are not so simple. There are many risks associated with dog owners trying to put their dogs’ hips back in place. Those risks include: aggravating the dislocation, bone fractures, ligament tears, joint cartilage damages, subduing the dog to unnecessary pain.

Method number 2 – Open reduction describes several surgical procedures with one common goal – to put the hip back in its place and to keep it there for as long as possible. What surgical procedure will be performed depends on the type of dislocation, the causative agent and the vet’s professional opinion.

About the Author 

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

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