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Health & Wellness

A pet parent's guide to dislocated hips

From common symptoms to treatment options, here's what you need to know

Hearing that your beloved cat or dog has a dislocated hip is enough to make any pet parent's heart drop. While it is a major injury, don't panic, vets have several options for treating hip dislocations, both surgically and non-surgically. 

Fetch worked veterinarian and pet health advocate Dr. Aliya McCullough to share everything you need to know about dislocated hips in pets, from common symptoms to treatment options to the long-term prognosis.

Signs of hip dislocation in dogs and cats

A dislocated hip occurs when the ball part of the joint (the end of the leg bone) comes out of the socket (the pelvis) — oftentimes caused by blunt trauma. Even the strongest ligaments and muscles can’t keep the joint in place when there's enough force.

It’s difficult for cats and dogs with dislocated hips to carry the weight on the affected leg so it may appear shorter than the others, and your pet will likely be limping. Dislocated hips are super painful, so it’s important to take your pet to the vet as soon as you notice them limping. 

Diagnosing hip dislocation in pets

Upon bringing in your pet, your vet will take X-rays to determine if your pet’s hip is dislocated or has any fractured or broken bones. Vets can spot a dislocated hip if the leg bone has slid up and forward. 

Treatments for dislocated hips in pets

There are two methods for treating dislocated hips in dogs and cats: non-surgical closed reductions and surgical open reductions. A reduction just means that the joint is being put back together in its proper alignment. We break it down in the simplest terms possible so you know the process and include a few links for pet parents who want the full debrief. 

Closed reduction (non-surgical)

In a closed reduction, the vet tries to manually move the hip joint back to its proper location without surgery. Even though they're not undergoing surgery, the cat or dog would still be put under anesthesia for the procedure as the dislocation is painful and they need to be completely relaxed. After the vet moves the joint back into place, they'll wrap the leg in a sling (which flexes up the knee and tapes the foot to the thigh) to keep the joint in place and prevent any weight being put on it. 

Although this non-surgical approach is definitely appealing to pet parents, it only has a 50% success rate. Usually, vets will try a closed reduction first and only discuss surgical repair if it fails. 

Open reduction (surgical)

If you choose to go the surgical route, there are a few different options your vet may recommend — all have the same goal: to move the hip back to a normal position and keep it there. 

Options include: 

  • Reconstructing a ligament in the pelvis and adding prosthetic joint capsules (not recommended for pets with arthritis, chronic hip dislocations or hip dysplasia).
  • The vet can replace the ball of the joint with a false one to relieve painful bone-on-bone contact (best for small dogs and cats).
  • Total hip replacement

Your vet will talk with you at length about what surgical procedure is right for your cat or dog and may refer you to a veterinary surgeon. Patients who have an open reduction for dislocated hips stand a better chance of keeping their joint in place — about 85% of these procedures are successful.

Post-surgery, recovery is key. Follow these tips: 

  1. Minimize movement

The main concern for the first few weeks will be allowing the hip and surrounding area to heal. It's important to keep your pet from moving too much. Try holding a towel under their belly to help them walk and avoiding all slippery surfaces.

  1. Lower food portions

While you're restricting their activity, decrease the size of their meals by 10%. The last thing your pet needs is added weight causing stress on their healing injury.

  1. Additional helpers

If your vet prescribed anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling, it may soothe your pet to use cold packs and warm compresses. Talk to your vet about rehabilitation therapy such as hydrotherapy, acupuncture, cold laser therapy and physical therapy to strengthen their muscles and reduce pain. 

Risk of re-injury and long-term prognosis for pets with hip dislocation

As pet parents, we understand that re-injury is frustrating, but it's quite common in hip dislocations. When a hip dislocates, the surrounding structures are severely damaged. After a closed reduction, there is only a 50% chance that the hip stays in place — so re-injury is equally likely. The risk of the hip dislocating again after an open reduction is much lower.

All dogs and cats with dislocated hips are more likely to experience arthritis in that hip as they age. But there are adjustments you can make to try to keep your pet healthy after treatment. Keep your dog or cat at a healthy weight and consider starting supplements that contain ingredients like glucosamine and fatty acids for extra support.

Prevention of hip dislocation in pets

Most dislocated hips are the result of a traumatic accident, so the best way to prevent a dislocated hip is to keep your pet safe. Of course, we can't be completely sure of our pets' safety at all times — especially for dogs. Whether it’s chasing after things or falling into backyard holes, they sometimes have a knack for finding danger.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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