My Dog Has a Dislocated Hip - Symptoms and Treatment
See files for Dogs
Also known as hip luxation, hip dislocation in dogs is a disorder that is considered a veterinary emergency and requires immediate intervention. Most dogs that suffer a dislocated hip will know something is wrong, but they will not likely know the exact nature of the problem. This means they will try to continue walking while the hip is dislocated, resulting in significant pain and likely worsening the problem. Dislocation often occurs due to physical trauma, but some dogs are more susceptible to this problem than others.
At AnimalWised, we explain why my dog has a dislocated hip. We look at the causes, symptoms and treatment of hip luxation in dogs, as well as what factors might predispose a dog to this health issue.
Why is my dog's hip dislocated?
The hip bone plays a very important role in our dog's ambulation (i.e. ability to walk unassisted). The femur of each leg is articulated in the socket of the hip bone, known as the acetabulum. A hip dislocation or luxation is when the proximal end of the femur is literally out of place from the acetabulum. The extent to which this dislocation can vary, affecting the extent to which the dog's ability to walk is compromised.
There are various reasons why a dog's hip can become dislocated, including the following:
- Trauma: perhaps the most common causes of hip dislocation in dogs is physical trauma. This includes being hit by a car, falling from a height or experiencing a direct blow to the hip. The force of the impact can cause the hip joint to pop out of its socket.
- Congenital or developmental abnormalities: some dogs may be born with hip joint abnormalities or developmental issues that make their hip joints more prone to luxation. Conditions like hip dysplasia in dogs, where the hip joint doesn't develop correctly, can increase the risk of hip dislocation.
- Genetics: certain breeds are genetically predisposed to hip problems, including hip luxation. Breeds like Pomeranians, Maltese and Yorkshire Terriers may be more susceptible to this condition due to their anatomical characteristics.
- Degenerative changes: as dogs age, the wear and tear on their joints can lead to degenerative changes in the hip joint. These changes can weaken the joint and make it more susceptible to dislocation.
- Muscle weakness: weakness or imbalance in the muscles surrounding the hip joint can affect its stability. If the muscles are unable to support the joint properly, it may become dislocated more easily.
- Ligament tears: damage to the ligaments that support the hip joint, such as the ligamentum teres, can lead to instability and potential dislocation.
- Tumors: in very rare cases, tumors near the hip joint can put pressure on the joint or its supporting structures, leading to dislocation.
The cause of a dog's dislocated hip is not always easy to determine. For example, when a trauma is the underlying cause, we may not see the incident take place. For dogs that have degenerative issues, the actual dislocation might be sudden, but the events which led to it were progressive. Regardless of the cause, once you see the signs of hip dislocation in dogs, you will need to take action immediately.
Hip dysplasia is the condition where the ball of the femur does not fully cover the pelvis joint. This is usually a genetic condition and you can learn more with our article on dogs prone to hip dysplasia.
Symptoms of hip dislocation in dogs
Although there are various reasons why a dog has a dislocated hip, the mechanical action which takes place is the same. The proximal end of the femur is out of place from the pelvis, something which can result in the following physical and behavioral signs of hip dislocation in dogs:
- Lameness: one of the most noticeable signs is lameness or limping, which may be sudden in onset. The affected leg may be held up or not bear weight properly. When the problem is hip dislocation, the dog will limp on their back leg.
- Pain: dogs with a dislocated hip typically experience pain and discomfort in the affected hip joint. They may yelp, whine or show other signs of distress when attempting to move or when the affected area is touched.
- Decreased range of motion: the affected hip joint will have a limited range of motion. The dog may have difficulty moving the hip or extending the affected leg.
- Abnormal gait: dogs with a dislocated hip often have an abnormal gait. They may hop or skip on three legs or exhibit a bunny hop gait where the hind legs move together. Take a look at our article on why a dog is wobbly when walking to learn more.
- Muscle atrophy: over time, muscle atrophy (wasting) may occur in the muscles surrounding the dislocated hip due to decreased use and activity.
- Swelling and bruising: may develop in the hip area due to the injury and inflammation caused by the dislocation.
- Change in leg length: in some cases, the affected leg may appear shorter than the other leg due to the displacement of the femoral head (i.e. proximal end of the femur) from the hip socket.
- Weight shift: Dogs may avoid using the affected leg altogether, especially if the dislocation is severe.
- Painful hip palpation: veterinarians may observe pain and discomfort when palpating the hip joint during a physical examination.
- Restlessness or agitation: dogs in pain may display restlessness, panting, or signs of anxiety.
A dog with a luxated hip will show symptoms on the back legs. If the dog has a dislocation on the forelimbs, this means they have an elbow dislocation. Learn more with our article on why a dog is limping on their front leg.
Diagnosis of a dislocated hip in dogs
If you think your dog has hip luxation, it is very important you take the dog to a veterinarian immediately. This is very important to ensure the best prognosis, but it will also limit the amount of pain the dog will experience. There are other reasons why a dog's gait may have changed, so the veterinarian will also be able to carry out a differential diagnosis to confirm dislocation.
To carry out this diagnosis, the veterinarian will perform the following tests:
- Clinical history: we should let the veterinarian know what has happened if there has been a trauma or other event which may lead to dislocation. The vet will also look at their medical history in case they have any predisposition towards this problem.
- Physical examination: since pain on palpation is one of the signs of a dislocated hip, they will perform a physical examination and note the dog's response. They may also be able to feel the dislocation under the skin. If the dog is in significant pain, scared or even becoming aggressive, they will be able to sedate the dog and prevent further harm.
- Diagnostic imaging: various forms of imaging tests can be used on the dog, but x-rays are the most common. Other imaging tests such as an ultrasound may be carried out if there is a complication and the veterinarian needs a closer inspection.
Once a dislocated hip is diagnosed, the veterinarian will be able to determine the best course of treatment to administer. They can also advise on prognosis and provide any pertinent information.
Dog dislocated hip treatment
Ideally, the veterinarian will have experience in canine traumatology. In some cases, they may make a referral for the dog, but this is not likely since it is a relatively common condition in dogs. However, in some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary.
Generally speaking, there are two ways to return the hip to its socket, a process known as reduction. They are:
- Closed reduction: in these cases, the femur may be replaced without having to make any incision in the dog's skin. Manually manipulating the femur back into place may be possible, but the dog will need to be under general anesthesia and there will be significant rehabilitation needed before they can return to their former health.
- Open reduction: in this case, surgery will be required to access the hip joint directly. This may be due to many factors such as bone fracture or joint instability. Once the bone is inserted back into the socket, further surgical techniques may be required to secure it.
In some cases, the dislocation may result in the acetabulum and the femoral head being permanently affected. Even if a reduction was successful, the chances of dislocation occurring again are very high. In these cases, a hip replacement may be required. This is when a prosthetic hip is used to create the same femoral head and acetabulum joint as naturally occurs. It requires extensive rehabilitation, but it has a good prognosis.
If reduction or hip replacement are not viable options, a femoral head ostectomy (FHO) may be required. In this case, the femoral head is removed and scare tissue is allowed to cover the area where the joint will be.
In an FHO, the scar tissue essentially forms what is known as a ‘false joint’. This can allow the dog to have almost the same mobility as before, although they may have some reduced capacity. It should not be used when the integrity of the coxofemoral joint can be restored.
Regardless of the treatment for the dog's dislocated hip, it is a serious problem which will require rehabilitation. This will usually require accompanying pain management, especially after surgery. Learn more about this rehabilitation process with our article on physical therapy for dogs.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Has a Dislocated Hip - Symptoms and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.
1. Harper T. A. M. (2017). Femoral Head and Neck Excision. The Veterinary clinics of North America. Small animal practice, 47(4), 885–897.