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What is Shoulder Luxation?

When bone is displaced or completely separated from a joint because the ligaments that hold the joint in place break, it is called luxation. It is considered a subluxation when the separation is partial. The shoulder joint of dogs is more mobile than all other main limb joints and after a luxation will need to be put back in its usual position and held in place so that the surrounding casing is able to heal. 

Shoulder luxation in dogs is most often the result of trauma; for example, when the dog is hit by a car. The sooner that a luxation is treated, the better the outcome will be for your dog.

The complete displacement or separation of the shoulder bone from its joint is a shoulder luxation.

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Symptoms of Shoulder Luxation in Dogs

The most common signs of a luxation in your dog include:

  • Your dog is suddenly limping or showing lameness
  • He is hesitant to walk or jump
  • He shows pain when the joint is touched or moved
  • Swelling or warmth in the joint
  • Your dog is continually licking at the joint
  • Reduction in appetite
  • Decrease in activity level

Types 

Congenital luxation is mainly an issue for miniature breed dogs (Miniature Poodle, Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Miniature Pinscher, King Charles Spaniel). The luxation occurs equally in male and female dogs and it is thought that there may be a hereditary predisposition. The condition can occur on one or both sides. Typically, congenital shoulder luxation will appear as shoulder lameness when your dog is around 4 months old. 

Acquired dislocation can occur as a result of trauma to the shoulder area. Typically, this is caused by a car accident, however it can also occur when your dog falls from a high place or experiences a twisting injury to his shoulder. The luxation can be cranial, lateral or medial. The most often seen is medial, which is connected to a tear of the medial glenohumeral capsule and ligaments. Lateral luxation, which is more likely to occur in large breeds, is connected to a rupture of the medial glenohumeral capsule and ligament.

Causes of Shoulder Luxation in Dogs

Shoulder luxation can be a congenital condition, particularly in miniature breeds. This condition will cause shoulder lameness and can affect both sides, making walking very painful. Most often, shoulder luxation is the result of trauma, particularly car accidents. Most often, the cause of shoulder luxation is a medial one, affecting the function and mobility of the shoulder.

Diagnosis of Shoulder Luxation in Dogs

In the case of congenital shoulder luxation, you may notice shoulder lameness in your dog when he is between three and eight months of age. Upon your veterinarian conducting a physical examination, it is important to mention any symptoms you have noticed in your dog and when you first noticed them. Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s shoulder region, keeping an eye out for whether your dog’s range of motion and ability to extend is limited. He will try and determine if your dog is experiencing any pain or discomfort and if he is able to return his shoulder to its normal position. If the luxation is chronic, your veterinarian will notice that the supraspinatus, infraspinatus and pectoral muscles have atrophied.

If your dog has experienced trauma or has developed an injury as the result of recent intense activity, you will want to bring your dog to the veterinarian for an examination. Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination of your dog, and ask you for information regarding the traumatic event or activity that may have caused him to be injured. An x-ray will likely be taken and other tests your veterinarian may consider include computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Treatment of Shoulder Luxation in Dogs

It is important that the luxation be treated as soon as possible as that will lead to a better outcome in his recovery. Your veterinarian will consider a closed reduction, which is a procedure where the joint can be put back to its original place. Your dog will need general anesthesia and a bandage or support wrap will be used to hold his joint in its correct alignment while the joint capsule heals. 

In some cases, an open reduction is required; this is where surgery will take place to open the joint and replace the bones that have been dislocated.

Recovery of Shoulder Luxation in Dogs

The prognosis for shoulder luxation will depend in part on how quickly the injury is diagnosed and treated. Without quick treatment, the injury can be aggravated and more damage can occur. 

After closed or open reduction you will want to limit your dog’s activity. He will likely require the sling or splint for up to two weeks during the healing of his joint capsule. A follow up examination will likely be necessary so that your veterinarian can make sure that your dog is healing well. During his recovery, it is a good idea to keep an eye on your dog to look for signs of swelling or discomfort. After the sling or splint has been removed, you will want to continue to limit your dog’s activity to minimize the risk of additional trauma while the joint heals.

Shoulder Luxation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Ginger
Dachshund
7 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

inactive
Whining

Medication Used

Carprofen

My 7 year old miniature Dachshund was seen at the vet today for a partial sub luxation in her front right shoulder. Beginning three days ago, she was very clingy, not active at all, laying under furniture and whimpering when we picked her up but not limping. Night before last we could feel the muscle in the front of her shoulder was jumping and shaking. We thought she's pulled a muscle or tendon. Our vet who is skilled in chiropractic care, manipulated it and gave her some Carprofen to take every 12 hours. He said it wasn't out of the socket. I just want to ask if maybe she should have gotten a sling or something. She is going back to see the vet again for an adjustment next week.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1988 Recommendations

In this type of case, rest is the best course of action; I feel that a sling is unnecessary. If your Veterinarian believed that the severity warranted a sling they would have provided Ginger with one. Just make sure that Ginger’s activity is reduced, no jumping or running and only take outside on the lead to do her business and then go straight back in the house. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

M y 12 year old Shih Tzu Romeo who is very active and
Weights 17 lbs jumped off the sofa last night I did not notice any last night, This morning the dog was moping and seemed tired. We did not notice limp but when he limped down and then fell down two steps we became concerened. Romeo was standing on three limbs and tried hopping. It was now evident he was hurt. I immobilized his rt ft leg and applied ice. I put a loose ace bandage around his ft leg and chest to maintain an ice pack. In addition, I applied Arnica to where I believe the injury is, either on his right upper humerus or the scapula. What do you think the extent of the injury would be? What else should I do?

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