When a joint in the body is significantly displaced from its normal position it is called dislocated. This comes about as a result of a traumatic event in which the soft tissues (ligaments and tendons) are stretched or torn completely allowing the bones to move out of their normal alignment. This condition is as painful as a broken bone and thus everyone needs to take precautions when handling the injured pet not to be bitten themselves.
A dislocation should be suspected when your pet holds it’s leg in such a way that it could not be normally held. Often there will be a swelling at the affected joint. If you should touch or move the leg it does not swing as it might with a broken bone. A x-ray will confirm the diagnosis of a dislocation as well as distinguish it from a fracture.
Assuming all other health considerations are stable, it is best to replace the dislocated joint as soon as possible. In most cases, if there has been no previous degeneration of the joint, early replacement will result in an uneventful and long-term recovery. General anesthesia is necessary to replace the dislocated joint by either manual or, if needed, by surgical means if the joint can’t be stabilized manually. Most veterinarians will apply a bandage or a sling to the leg temporarily until the soft tissues have had a chance to heal and thereby hold the joint in proper alignment again. Strict rest or confinement will also significantly improve the chances of a good recovery. Cartilage protectant medications that contain glucosamine and condroitin sulfate have been shown to be helpful when there has been an injury to the cartilage surfaces.
If a significant amount of time has passed before the joint was replaced or if the joint should dislocate soon after it was replaced, then surgery is usually needed to maintain alignment. Most joints depend greatly on the surrounding muscles, tendons, ligaments and the joint capsule to provide the needed support or stability for function. The inflammation resulting from the trauma and/or surgical repair of the dislocation will help to hold the bones in the joint together. Surprisingly, the end result of a dislocation may result in very little arthritis.