What is Elbow Luxation?
An elbow luxation, like any dislocation of a joint, is a very painful injury that will cause a cat to be unable to use the injured limb. These dislocations often occur as the result of a traumatic experience such as being hit by a car, being attacked by a larger animal, or falling from an extreme height. An animal that is limping, holding its leg up when it walks, and/or has a swollen or misshapen elbow must be taken to the veterinarian immediately to prevent further injury and extreme pain.
Three bones—the humerus, the radius, and the ulna—meet to form the elbow of a cat. At the elbow, these three bones are connected by ligaments, which are called collateral ligaments. When a traumatic injury occurs to the elbow of a cat, tearing the collateral ligaments, these three bones cannot be held together and will become dislocated from one another. Medically speaking, this dislocation is referred to as an elbow luxation.
Symptoms of Elbow Luxation in Cats
Cats are usually very nimble and athletic animals. Therefore, it is often quite noticeable when a cat has a significant leg injury. If you observe any of the following symptoms, it is extremely important that you have the cat examined by a veterinarian immediately, as your cat is likely in a great deal of pain and may have either elbow luxation or a broken bone. The following symptoms are common signs of elbow luxation in cats:
- Inability to walk, run, or jump
- Holding leg so paw does not touch the ground
- Swollen elbow
- Misshapen elbow
- Licking the elbow
- Loss of appetite
- Other signs of a traumatic injury such as cuts, blood, and swelling
Causes of Elbow Luxation in Cats
Although there are some very rare conditions that can cause some cats to have a disposition toward joint dislocation, the vast majority of elbow dislocations in cats occur because of one of the following three traumatic experiences:
- Being hit by a car
- Being attacked by a larger animal, usually a dog
- Falling from an extreme height
Diagnosis of Elbow Luxation in Cats
The difficulty of diagnosing a dislocated elbow in a cat is often determined by the behavior of the cat and the extent of other injuries. If the animal is displaying the symptoms listed above, your veterinarian will likely employ the following techniques to determine if the cat is suffering from a dislocated elbow, which is a very painful injury:
The vet will likely use her or his hands to examine the joint. This type of examination is often called palpation. Palpation can enable the vet to feel if the joint is out of position, if the joint can be moved as normal, and if there is pain in the joint.
X-rays are, perhaps, the most valuable diagnostic tool as they will enable the vet to see for certain if an elbow luxation has occurred if the pain and limping is being caused by something else, such as a bone fracture or severe arthritis.
Treatment of Elbow Luxation in Cats
If the veterinarian determines that your cat has a dislocated elbow, he or she will likely begin treatment immediately in one of the following ways:
- In many cases, a dislocated elbow, especially when it is treated soon after the injury, can be manipulated back into place by a veterinarian while the cat is under general anesthesia.
- More severe cases and cases that have been allowed to go untreated, which most often results in further damage to the joint, may require an invasive surgical correction of the dislocated joint.
- Chronic elbow luxation in cats may require arthrodesis, which is a surgical fusing of the joint.
- In rare and severe cases that cannot be treated in another way, the limb may be amputated.
Recovery of Elbow Luxation in Cats
If the vet was able to repair the dislocated elbow without surgery, the cat will likely be sent home with the leg in a splint, which will cause the leg to stay straight while it heals. It will likely take around two weeks for the joint to heal. During that time you will need to make sure the splint stays in position and that it is not causing discomfort or pain by rubbing against the cat’s skin. If the injury required surgery, you will need to care for the wound and administer any medicine, such as antibiotics, that have been prescribed by the veterinarian. Whether the injury required surgery or not, in order to prevent a repeat injury of the joint the cat must be kept inside during this healing period and away from other pets and small children. Your vet will likely expect to examine the cat one or more times in the weeks following the original treatment. The long-term prognosis for a cat with elbow luxation is usually quite good, although the joint may develop arthritis over time.
Elbow Luxation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hello. I recently adopted a 12 yo cat from a local shelter. She's a fine cat, blood work looks great, etc. As she began to relax I noticed a limp LF, and x-ray images indicated luxated radius, probably an old injury, with significant arthritis in the joint. Other than the limp, the cat does not appear to be in pain, can jump up on tables effortlessly, and uses the effected limb as much as the other to bat at a dangly toy. In your experience, after years of living with a luxated radius, can this be a condition that no longer causes the animal much distress? (I would appreciate your opinion as, once in a surgeon's office, surgery is almost always the recommended option - 'If you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail' ;-) But I'm not sure if surgery would be wise, given her age, the chronicity of the injury, the extensive arthritis in joint, and the apparent lack of distress. But if my elbow imaging looked like hers does, I would be in great distress. Your thoughts?
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My cat had shoulder surgery a few years ago and has limped ever since. Over the last few months she has started to not put any weight on it. I noticed her elbow is very swollen and her muscle seems wasted. I took her to the vet who said she needs an xray. I'm so worried about the potential findings. And just wanted some advice please
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We noticed our cat sleep in a spot which she usually doesn’t for several hours without movement. She got agitated when we would mess with her from arm to paw, we letter lightly messed with her to see where her pain was coming from as she would hiss and move away, and it seemed to be from her elbow. She also had dried blood in one of her nostrils.
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