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What is Shoulder Dislocation & Injuries in Dogs?

What is Shoulder Dislocation & Injuries in Dogs?

Dog shoulder injuries can range from mild dislocations or strains to severe tendon injuries. The shoulder joint in dogs is more mobile than any other main limb joint. They are vulnerable to becoming dislocated, sustaining injury through trauma or more degenerative and often age-related joint issues, such as arthritis.

Dog shoulder braces here

Shoulder Dislocations & Injuries in Dogs

Dog shoulder injuries can range from mild dislocations to strains, to severe tendon injuries. The shoulder joint in dogs is more mobile than many other main limb joints. This makes them vulnerable to becoming dislocated, sustaining injury through trauma, or more degenerative joint issues, often age-related, such as arthritis.

Shoulder injuries in dogs occur for various reasons, including trauma, overuse, repetitive strain or an underlying health condition. Common shoulder injuries in dogs include strains, sprains, dislocations, fractures, and tendon or ligament tears. 

These injuries can cause pain, lameness, and limited range of motion in the affected shoulder. They often involve damage to the joint and surrounding structures, impacting a dog’s mobility and overall well-being.

Two Common Types of Shoulder Injury in Dogs:

  • Dog shoulder dislocation (luxation of the shoulder) happens when the head of the upper bone (humeral head - the bone above the elbow) of a dog’s front leg ‘pops out’ from the joint (glenoid fossa), i.e. is displaced from its normal position in relation to the shoulder blade. 

Dislocation can be partial (subluxation) or total (luxated). This can be a very painful injury for your dog. Dislocation can be medial i.e. to the inside of the joint (from trauma or often as a congenital condition in small and miniature breed dogs) or lateral i.e. to the outside of the joint (usually as a result of trauma in large breed dogs).  

Dog shoulder instability covers a wide range of soft tissue injuries affecting the ligaments, tendons, or muscles. Generally dog shoulder instability only happens in one shoulder, but sometimes a dog can experience it in both.

"Sully my 12 year old Border Collie has a luxating shoulder"

"Sully my 12 year old Border Collie has a luxating shoulder"

After seeing a specialist, she was recommended to have a shoulder brace. It is keeping her shoulder stable whilst she is outside, I’m really impressed with the quality and you could see straight away she was walking much better with it on.

Shoulder brace

Early Signs of Shoulder Dislocation & Injury in Your Dog

Depending on the severity and cause of your dog’s shoulder injury, symptoms may manifest suddenly or slowly over time.

The symptoms to watch out for if you think your dog has hurt their shoulders are:

  • Limping or Lameness: Dogs may exhibit a noticeable limp or be reluctant to put weight on the affected leg. If a dog’s got a long-standing injury, they may be limping but still able to bear weight on the affected limb. A dislocated shoulder might express itself as your dog having difficulty in using a front leg.
  • Pain and Discomfort: Vocalisation, whining, or signs of distress when the shoulder area is touched
  • Reduced Range of Motion: Difficulty moving the shoulder joint as freely as usual. 
  • Swelling or Bruising: Visible signs of inflammation or even discolouration around the shoulder.
  • Change of Gait: Your dog isn’t walking as normal
  • Grinding: There may be a grinding sensation around the shoulder joint when your dog moves
"My dog suffered a dislocated shoulder"

"My dog suffered a dislocated shoulder"

This brace was recommended by the specialist at the Animal Hospital to help avoid surgery. He has to wear it 24/7 for three weeks initially. It is an excellent product

dog shoulder brace

What Should I Do With My Dog's Shoulder Dislocation or Injury?

If you suspect your dog has a shoulder injury, or shows the symptoms of a shoulder injury or canine shoulder luxation, it’s important to consult a vet for a proper diagnosis. Early detection increases the odds of a full recovery.

Until you’ve had your appointment, limit your dog’s activity to reduce the likelihood of worsening the injury.

Don’t attempt to manipulate the shoulder joint, or pop the bone back in, without professional guidance.

Your vet will do a physical examination, doing palpation tests to check the range of motion of your dog’s shoulder joint. 

Depending on your dog’s condition, if the shoulder joints don’t look symmetrical, or a bone feels out of place, further diagnostic images will be taken. X-Rays might be taken to ensure that there isn’t a fracture. CT scans may be recommended. These show degenerated tissue that isn’t so easily visible on basic X-Rays. Sometimes neurological examinations or an arthroscopy will also be done.

What Causes Shoulder Dislocation or injuries in dogs?

Shoulder injuries and shoulder dislocations can be caused due to a variety of reasons. Most commonly they happen through either trauma - such as accidents, falls, or collisions, or strains and sprains, from activities such as running. Repetitive strain or overexertion can contribute to strains.

More rarely, shoulder instability can be due to an inherited genetic predisposition.  

When your dog sustains a trauma to their shoulder, the joint becomes damaged - the joint capsule can tear. Muscles and tendons that support and stabilise the joint are affected. This can result in the shoulder dislocating. Sometimes a puppy’s born with a malformed shoulder which makes dislocations inevitable.

It’s not clear whether shoulder instability is purely as a result of trauma, or is, in some instances, as a result of degenerative changes in the tissues of the joints. It’s mainly seen in middle-aged dogs.

Certain breeds may be more susceptible to shoulder issues.

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Developing Shoulder Dislocation or Injuries?

  • Regular Exercise: Engage your dog in controlled, moderate exercise to maintain muscle strength
  • Weight Management: Keep your dog at its ideal weight to reduce stress on joints
  • Orthopaedic Assessments: Regular veterinary check-ups to to monitor your dog’s joint health
  • Joint Supplements: These can help keep the joints healthy, particularly the formulas that contain glucosamine and chondroitin

What Breeds and Ages Suffer from Shoulder and Dislocation Injuries?

While any dog can experience shoulder injuries, larger breeds and working dogs may be more prone. These issues can affect dogs of all ages, but older dogs may be at a higher risk due to age-related joint changes. Shoulder injuries also seem prevalent in Labradors and Collies.

When shoulder luxation is congenital and due to a malformation of the shoulder joint, it seems that small breeds - dachshund, Chihuahua, Pekinese, Shetland sheepdog and toy poodles - as well as very agile dogs, are all susceptible to this.

Treatment Options: How Can I Help My Dog?

There’s no generic treatment option for shoulder injuries. Treatment will depend on the specific injury and its severity. 

However, for milder injuries and mild shoulder joint instability, treatment often involves conservative management: a combination of rest; controlled exercise; pain relief and/or anti-inflammatories. In cases of severe shoulder injury, surgical intervention may be necessary. This will be in order to repair torn ligaments, tendons, or fractures. Surgery aims to stabilise the joint and restore proper function. 

If shoulder joint instability is severe enough to need surgery, there are various techniques used. Surgery might involve prosthetic stabilisation; shoulder fusion, where the bones of the joints are joined so they can’t move; or a total shoulder replacement, where the shoulder joint is replaced with implants. 

If your dog’s experienced a shoulder luxation/dislocation, your vet will perform a closed reduction. Your dog will need to be anaesthetised for this.

The vet manually puts the joint back into place. Your dog’s shoulder joint will then be immobilised for between 2 and 6 weeks using a brace or sling, depending on how much damage the dislocation caused, so that the muscles.  Recuperation will include rest, controlled exercise and anti-inflammatory painkillers.

If that’s unsuccessful, your dog will have their shoulder splinted or put in a Velpeau sling. If that doesn’t work, or the shoulder dislocates again, at this point surgery will be suggested. The procedure used will be dependent on the type of dislocation, but often the shoulder tendon is held in place by a plate and bone screw (caudal transposition).

If your dog’s recovering from a shoulder joint injury or shoulder joint surgery, approaches to your dog’s recuperation will be similar:

  • Restricted Exercise - Your vet will advise you on the correct amount of exercise.
  • Physiotherapy and Hydrotherapy - Rehabilitative exercises to improve muscle strength and joint stability.
  • Using a Shoulder Joint - A shoulder brace applied either post-injury or post-surgery, can provide much-needed stability and support to the shoulder joint and the associated muscles and tendons. This results in less strain being put on the joint so it’s able to heal better.
  • Anti-Inflammatories - To help reduce inflammation and give pain relief.
  • Laser Therapy - This can accelerate the healing process

How To Help Around The House

Try to limit the amount of jumping and/or climbing your dog does.  For example, going up or down stairs or jumping onto furniture. If your dog has a raised bed that needs climbing into, it might be an idea to change this. Your dog should have a comfortable, supportive bed so consider getting an orthopaedic bed

Putting non-slip socks or boots on your dog if you have wooden or slippery floors can be helpful. When your dog slips with their front legs, this can put extra strain on their shoulder joint, and delay or prevent healing.  Wearing a shoulder brace can also be beneficial, giving support and providing stability to the joint. Shoulder braces for dogs can often be worn for long periods of time, as they’re made from soft material (although braces shouldn’t be left on if your dog is unattended or sleeping). Use in consultation with your vet’s advice.

A full body or front lift harness might also be helpful if your dog needs to go up and down stairs, or get in and out of the car. The harness means that you’re supporting your dog and taking some of the weight off the forelimbs, decreasing the impact on the joints.

Conclusion

Understanding the signs, seeking vet advice and timely intervention are crucial for helping your dog recover from a shoulder injury or dislocation. 

With proper treatment and a supportive environment, dogs can often recover and regain their active lives. Statistics show that most dogs who’ve had a shoulder luxation treated either with conservative management or surgery, will return to full functionality. The earlier the diagnosis and treatment of any shoulder joint issue, it’s more likely there’ll be a good recovery.

Dog Shoulder Dislocation & Injuries - Causes, Prevention and How to Help

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