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out of socket: dislocated hips in pets

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

Though nearly perfect in design, the hip joint is not without its weaknesses – especially in dogs predisposed to hip dysplasia and those with shallow sockets. Even the strongest ligaments and muscles can’t keep the joint in place when there's enough force, causing dislocated hips in pets.


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 (or acetabulum) 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.


signs of a dislocated hip in pets


A dislocated (or luxated) hip occurs when the ball part of the joint comes out of the socket. Blunt trauma – like being hit by a car – can cause this type of injury. Dogs and cats with a dislocated hip can’t bear weight on their back leg, and the affected leg may appear shorter than the others. Dislocated hips in pets are extremely painful and should be tended to as quickly as possible.


diagnosing hip dislocation


Pets who suffer trauma or begin limping, and who are suspected to have dislocated a hip, are X-rayed 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 helps the vet correct the problem. X-rays also reveal if there are fractures in the pelvis or leg that could interfere with correction.


how to correct a dislocated hip


There are two approaches to correct a pet’s dislocated hip: closed reduction and open reduction.


closed reduction

In a closed reduction, the vet tries to manually re-place the hip joint in its proper location without surgery. Pets are anesthetized because the procedure is painful and the leg muscles need to be relaxed.


Once the joint is back in place, the leg is placed in a sling to prevent weight bearing and 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% stay put!).


Most vets almost certainly attempt a closed reduction before discussing open reduction (or surgical repair).


open reduction

There are several ways to surgically correct a dislocated hip, but they all have one goal in mind: to reduce the hip back to a normal position and keep it there. Options include reconstructing the round ligament, adding prosthetic joint capsules and using toggle pins to hold the ball in the socket.


For pets with existing arthritis or shallow hip sockets (like those with hip dysplasia), these types of surgical corrections are generally not recommended. For these pets, and for those with chronic hip dislocations, a femoral head osteotomy (FHO) is likely recommended. In this surgery, the ball of the joint is removed, resulting in a false joint supported by soft tissue to relieve painful bone-on-bone contact. FHO can also be considered for small dogs and cats, regardless of whether fractures or chronic problems exist.


For other pets, a total hip replacement is the right choice. In this procedure, the ball and socket are replaced with prosthetic implants to return pets to a pain-free life.


Your vet will talk with you at length about what surgical procedure is right for your four-legged family member. Patients who have an open reduction for dislocated hips stand a better chance of keeping their joint in place—about 85% are successful.


post-operative care


Post-operative care varies depending on how the pet’s injury was managed, but recovery almost certainly involves some period of reduced activity. For the first couple of weeks after surgery, the main concern is getting the hip and surrounding structures to heal from surgery.


Immediate post-operative care involves anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling, as well as in-depth instructions for applying cold packs initially and warm packs later. Specific plans vary from vet to vet and pet to pet, but for all cases, it’s imperative to restrict activity as the hip heals—use a towel under the pet’s belly to help them walk, and avoid slippery floors.


As the hip joint starts to heal, the focus shifts to rehabilitating the muscles of the affected leg. Hydrotherapy (swimming, underwater treadmill) or physical therapy may be recommended. Other therapies may also be recommended, including alternative treatments like acupuncture and laser therapy.


For pets under restricted activity, meals should be decreased by about 10%. The last thing pets need is added weight stress on their healing injury.


risk of re-injury


When a hip dislocates, the surrounding structures are severely damaged, so it’s important to remember that whether a closed or open reduction, failure of the joint to stay put is not a failure on the part of the pet or veterinarian.


After a closed reduction, the chances that the hip stays put are the same as the chances that it doesn’t, and while re-injury is frustrating, it’s common. The risk of the hip dislocating again after an open reduction is much lower, but unless there’s an underlying condition that warrants open reduction, the less-invasive closed reduction is almost always attempted first.


long-term prognosis


Whatever the case, dogs or cats who experience a hip luxation are more likely to experience arthritis in that hip with age. Keep pets at a proper weight, as any extra pounds can exacerbate the problem, and consider starting supplements, like glucosamine and fatty acids, for joint support.


prevention of hip dislocation

Most dislocated hips are the result of a traumatic accident, like being hit by a car, so the best thing you can do to prevent a dislocated hip is to keep your pet safe.


Less frequently, luxated hips can occur in pets with severe hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a chronic condition requiring life-long therapy. If your pet has hip dysplasia, discuss treatment options with your vet to ensure maximum quality of life for your pet.



case study

Greta, 13-year-old Bichon/Poodle mix

Reimbursed $2,588 for FHO surgery


For an older lady, Greta is extremely hyper and active. “When she’s excited, she jumps up and balances on her hind legs. She looks like she’s trying to dribble a basketball,” says mom Dana. One day on their walk, she jumped up to bark at another dog and didn’t quite stick the landing – she immediately stopped barking and fell down. “Her rear leg was shaking. At first I thought she was having a muscle spasm.”


Dana immediately took her to the vet, where an X-ray revealed a dislocated hip. Greta spent the night and had FHO surgery the next day. “The surgery went well, and after a few weeks she even had physical, water and laser therapy, all of which were covered by Petplan,” says Dana. After six weeks of down time, she hasn’t had any hip issues since!

A pet that is non-weight bearing should always be seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Luckily, whether a dislocated hip, fractured limb or ligament injury is to blame, pet health insurance can help pay the vet bills – from the correction of the dislocated hip to therapy sessions and management of secondary conditions like arthritis – as long as the condition is not pre-existing.

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

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Posted by Laura padilla
on September 16 2016 02:12

My Chiwawa dog was attacked by a big dog and my dog's hip was dislocated and I'm worried about my dog I'm afraid the hip might come back out the doctor sad about 95% is good I just pray and hope for the best

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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