How to Diagnose a Dislocated Shoulder in Canines

Dislocation of the shoulder joint, also called luxation, is a crippling and painful injury that can afflict dogs of any size or breed. Owners may notice a sudden limp or a diminished desire to play or run after a leg injury. These injuries range from mild to severe, so symptoms are not always immediately apparent. Even partial dislocations, or subluxations, are a taxing and uncomfortable experience for your pet.

Woman walking with dog in city street
Canine shoulders are intricate structures that give your pet a wide range of mobility.
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Luxation and Subluxation

Shoulders joints are complex mechanisms that rely on cartilage, bone, muscle and ligaments to function properly. Dislocations occur when the bones are moved from their normal position, which damages surrounding tissues. This type of injury restricts your dog's movement and causes significant pain. Keep a close eye on your dog if you notice any of the signs of leg injury, as the damage may get progressively worse without treatment. Pups who receive prompt medical attention after subluxation have a high chance of recovery.

Common Symptoms

The severity and frequency of symptoms depends on the degree of dislocation of the joint. Your dog may simply favor his other leg and avoid putting his weight on the injured one. A severe dislocation can render the limb too painful to use, which can virtually cripple your pet. Severe luxations cause your dog to lift his paw off the ground as he walks, resulting in a noticeable limp. Dogs who suffer from congenital luxation may only show symptoms occasionally, so he may be fine one day and limping the next. You may notice your pet licking or nosing at his injured leg when he's in pain. The skin around the join also can become swollen and warm to the touch, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

Clinical Diagnosis

Owners should treat any leg problem as a potentially serious issue and should consult their veterinarian about the issue. Your vet will examine the leg and use his fingers to press around the joint to make sure everything is in the right place. Your vet will rotate, extend and manipulate the joint to identify what type of injury your dog suffered.He may walk the dog around to observe his gait and evaluate the limp. Radiography and other imaging techniques can provide further insight into your pet's leg injury, allowing your vet to examine the joint without invasive surgery.

Causes and Risk Factors

The most common causes of dislocated joints are traumatic injury and deformities at birth, according to Animal Medical Center of Southern California. Ruptured ligaments and tendons from trauma are more common in larger dog breeds, while dislocation due to congenital defects are more prevalent in small and toy dog breeds. Severe luxations can result from serious accidents, such as falling down stairs or collision with a vehicle. However, one wrong step while running through a field can be enough to throw your dog's joint out of place. Be sure to check for holes and other terrain hazards before playing a game of fetch or running with your pup outdoors.