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slipping out of socket: dislocated hips in pets

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

Hips can be tricky. For pet parents, dealing with diseases of the hip can be even trickier (and without pet insurance – costly!).

The hip joint is a “ball and socket” type joint. The ball is the rounded head of the leg bone (or femur), and the socket is located in the pelvis and cups around the ball. The round ligament of the femoral head holds the ball in the socket, and the surrounding hip muscles help support the joint.

Though nearly perfect in design, the hip joint is not without its weaknesses – especially in dogs who are predisposed to hip dysplasia and have shallow sockets. With enough force, even the strongest ligaments and muscles can’t keep the hip joint in place, and the hip can become dislocated.

A dislocated (or luxated) hip occurs when the ball part of the joint separates from the socket. Blunt trauma – like being hit by a car – can cause this type of injury. Affected dogs and cats will not be able to bear weight on their back leg, and the affected leg may appear shorter than the other three. Hip luxations are extremely painful.

If your pet suffers trauma or begins limping, and you suspect he or she may have dislocated a hip, your veterinarian will want to take an X-ray to check the positioning of the hip. Most often, the leg bone slides up and forward, but in some cases the opposite can happen. Knowing where the ball of the joint is located will help your veterinarian correct the problem. Radiographs will reveal if there are fractures in the pelvis or leg which may interfere with correction.

There are two approaches to trying to correct a dislocated hip. The first is through a closed reduction, where the veterinarian tries to manually re-place the hip in its proper location without surgery. Since this procedure is painful, and the vet needs the leg muscles relaxed, your pet will first be anesthetized. Once the joint is back in place, your vet will place the leg in a sling to prevent weight bearing and to encourage the joint to stay in place. Unfortunately, closed reduction can fail as often as it resolves the problem; there’s generally a 50% recurrence of dislocation (although that also means 50% of them stay put!).

If closed reduction fails, open (or surgical) reduction should be considered. There are several options for open reduction, including suturing of the joint capsule and the use of small pins to hold the joint in place. 

Smaller dogs and cats may also choose a procedure called a femoral head ostectomy (FHO), in which the ball part of the joint is simply cut off of the femur and removed. Over time, the muscles around the area will create a false joint. This procedure is not used for dogs over fifty pounds.

Whatever the case, if your dog or cat experiences a hip luxation, he or she will be more likely to experience arthritis is that hip with age. Do your pet a favor and ensure that they stay at a proper weight, as any extra pounds will exacerbate the problem. Consider starting supplements, like glucosamine and fatty acids, for joint support.

A pet that is non-weight bearing should always be seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Whether a dislocated hip, fractured limb or ligament injury is to blame, pet health insurance will help take the worry out of the repair bill!

Has your pet ever experienced a dislocated hip? Tell us about the experience in the comments below!

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Posted by Tina Mitchell
on May 13 2016 22:38

Yes my dog went to the lake with us last Friday, I let her off the leash to swim and she ran up a small hill and somehow her harness slipped down to her waist and she tried to force her way out and dislocated her hip. I personally tried to put it back into place and I couldn't without force and pain so I took her to a hospital / clinic and it was going to cost over a 1,000 so I called the human society they fixed it yesterday and also removed lumps in her breast all for $536.00 so thankful. She is a Chinese crested powderpuff and only 13.9 pounds really was shocked this could happen to her she's 8 years old and this harness had been used for a least two years, she has a new one that is very snug fitting

Posted by Kaylee Vinson
on February 17 2016 20:38

About an hour ago, my younger sister pulled on my dog, Midnite's leg which in turn pulled her hip out of place. She is currently limping and refuses to walk without me by her side.Though she doesn't seem to be in much pain, and she's not whimpering at all. I intend on taking her to the near by vet as soon as they open in the morning.

Posted by Nishi lal
on February 01 2016 13:48

I have a 14 year old toy poodle, Bentley . Around Christmas, his femur popped out of the socket. Our vet orthopedics aligned it back manually. It has been a month since. The sling is out. We let him walk around normally but do try carrying him up and down the staircase. Also giving him glyoflex as suggested by our vet. Anything else that we can do to help him heal and grow stronger in that area ? Do you recommend physical therapy for dogs ? I just want him to be healthy in the long run. He doesn't take any supplements and is a picky eater

Posted by Tena Grivas
on January 26 2016 00:00

I have a 7 yr old shepherd who had had some problems. He had back surgery from herniation and they actually removed the disc. After extensive therapy he was walking again. He comes from a large family. His father was 150 and mother 110. He was 176 and is now down to 150. The neurological doc who did the surgery said they had to manipulate nerves in his back so over time he will start using his leg less n less. Well. Now he's not putting any pressure on it n it dangles there. I know he still had feeling because I tickle his foot ... I can feel like his hip popping and n it feels different than the other side... tomorrow I'm taking him to his vet, but does it sound like this could be a possibility? ?

Posted by Petplan
on January 21 2016 09:18

Dawson, if you are worried your pet may be suffering a hip injury, you should take your pet to the vet.

Posted by Dawson James Rogers
on January 20 2016 23:01

I think my black lab dislocated her hip she is five or six years old she fell on it about five months ago and still cant put much weight on it. It's her right rear leg and i don't know what to do.

Posted by J Materne
on September 22 2015 06:29

Ihave an 11 year old male toy poodle who dislocated his hip when a much larger dog was too rough with him. His hip has popped out 3 times now with him requiring anesthesia to replace it, we made the decision to have the femoral head removed to fix his problem He weighs 11 go 13 lbs and his vet expects he will be fine

Posted by Derrick Sly
on May 13 2015 20:31

Emergency animal hospitals are always there to help your pet, but it's so much better to prevent the injury in the first place. People who work at those hospitals would be likely to agree, seeing as they often love animals very much. It's hard to see your pet go through something like that.

Posted by Martie Bennett
on July 17 2014 15:37

I have a chihuahua that is approx. 13 yrs old. This morning he is walking with a limp...suspect a dislocated hip. He already has been diagnosed with CHF, so not sure what we should do. He does not seem to be in pain. I would hate to see him operated on at his age.

Posted by Sonya Brown
on October 21 2013 09:04

Hi Dr. Thank you so much for the very informative post. I have a 21 pound puggle who was hit this weekend by a pickup when she ran into the road on a sniffing expedition. :( That is my worst fear come to pass with any dog. I took her to the emergency animal hospital immediately and the diagnosis is that while she fortunately had no internal injuries and did survive, she seems to have a textbook case of hip luxation. He did try to put in back in socket and was able to get it rotated and in placed, but was unable to get it to stay in socket. Their recommended treatment is for her to have one of those two surgeries today or as quickly as possible so that fibrous tissue doesn't develop. Are there any practical options that are not as surgical. I'd love to say money is not an issue, but while I don't for a second regret the $1000 plus already spent, his guess was approximately $1500 for the surgery and I just don't know how I'm going to be able to do that. I don't want her to be in pain and it breaks my heart that this happened. I wasn't there and someone let her off leash and it did. Clearly, if those are the only humane options then the surgical route is the one I'll take. I have a call in to my vet and am waiting on further info. I just thought it couldn't hurt to ask for an opinion of a vet. Thanks.

Posted by Robyn Mayo
on October 15 2013 15:54

We have an 8 yr old Yorkie who sustained a low-impact hip luxation two days ago. We took him to the vet and an orthopedic specialist and are trying to make a decision as to best treatment. The specialist explained the different options. Cost is certainly a consideration, but doing nothing is not an option for us. He is active but well behaved and would probably tolerate a sling very well. My gut is telling me to try the closed reduction first. Any thoughts from anyone with a similar situation would be greatly appreciated.

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