Hip dislocation refers to the condition where the head of the femur separates from the pelvis. It may also be called hip luxation. The problem usually occurs due to trauma of some kind, such as a fall while running, but some dogs may be more prone to it than others. In mild cases, the dislocation may be correctable without surgery, but more severe cases may require surgical intervention.
Hip dislocation is a common problem in dogs. According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, it accounts for 90 per cent of dislocations. The problem is caused by trauma serious enough to break the capital ligament. Dogs with hip dysplasia, a congenital malformation of the hip joint, are more likely to suffer dislocation and may even dislocate the affected hip on a regular basis.
Dogs with a suspected dislocation require a physical exam to identify the problem. Many vets can diagnose a hip luxation simply from looking at the patient. Dogs with hip dislocations will put weight only on the other three legs. The affected leg may look shorter than the other three. An X-ray is required to confirm the problem. An X-ray can help diagnose dysplasia, and allows the vet to determine whether the joint itself has been damaged.
Treatment of hip dislocation without surgery is called a closed reduction, and is considered the best choice for dogs with normal hip joints. A closed reduction requires the animal to be anaesthetised. Then the vet manipulates the head of the femur back into place and confirms relocation via radiography. A special sling is used to keep the bones in place while the joint heals. This method is not always successful, though. If the injury is more than three days old, or there is anything unusual about the hip joint, the problem may require surgery.
Also called open reduction, surgical treatment of hip dislocation is appropriate for animals with malformed hips and cases where non-surgical methods are ineffective. One common technique for small or active dogs is removal of the femoral head. This creates a false joint, where healed tissue holds the joint together. This is the least expensive method. The vet may also use a method involving a screw and spiked washer, which passes through the deep gluteal muscle, but it can cause muscle damage.
Canine hip dislocations do not heal themselves, though they may appear to. If the dislocation is not corrected, it may form a false joint of scarred and fibrous tissue. These joints may allow the dog to put weight on the affected leg once more, but are not very strong. Surgical correction provides a better result and allows the animal to stay active.