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Dislocated Shoulder in Dogs

What Is a Dislocated Shoulder in Dogs?

A dislocated shoulder in dogs occurs when the upper bone of a dog’s front leg, located just above the elbow, is forcefully displaced from its normal position relative to the shoulder blade. This displacement can result in either partial misalignment (subluxation) or complete dislocation (luxation) of the shoulder joint.


The primary symptom indicating a dislocated shoulder in dogs is limping, which can manifest suddenly (acute) or develop gradually over time. Following a traumatic incident, the dog may exhibit reluctance to place any weight on the injured limb. In cases where the injury has persisted for an extended duration, dogs may limp but retain the ability to bear weight on the affected limb. Additionally, dogs born with a malformed shoulder may not display any signs of limping.


Causes of dislocated shoulders in dogs typically stem from trauma, such as car accidents or falls. Additionally, some dogs may be born with a malformed shoulder due to congenital conditions.

When a dog’s shoulder dislocates due to trauma, it often involves tearing of the joint capsule and damage to ligaments, tendons, and muscles that provide support and stability to the joint.

Regarding the types of dislocated shoulders in dogs, while the shoulder joint can dislocate in any direction, medial or lateral dislocations are the most common. Medial dislocations can result from trauma in any breed or as a congenital condition in small and miniature breed dogs. On the other hand, lateral dislocations predominantly occur due to trauma in large breed dogs.


When diagnosing dog shoulder dislocation, the veterinarian typically begins by palpating the dog’s leg and shoulder. If the pain seems localized to the shoulder region, a more detailed examination of the joint will be conducted.

During the examination, the veterinarian may observe asymmetry between the shoulders and detect that the bones in the affected shoulder are not in their normal positions. Signs of inflammation, grinding sensations, or instability might be noted upon palpation of the affected shoulder.

Following the physical examination, X-rays are usually performed to confirm the diagnosis of a dislocated shoulder and to assess for any fractures or joint damage. If X-rays are inconclusive, the veterinarian may opt for arthroscopy, a procedure involving the use of a camera to examine the joint under anesthesia.


In cases of dislocated shoulders in dogs resulting from recent trauma, veterinarians may opt for a closed reduction procedure under general anesthesia to realign the shoulder joint. If the shoulder remains in place following the procedure, a bandage-type sling or splint is typically applied for approximately 14 days, considering the direction of the dislocation.

However, if the initial treatment fails and the shoulder dislocates again, surgical intervention becomes necessary. The specific surgical approach depends on the type of dislocation and the surgeon’s preferred technique. Following surgery, the dog’s limb is usually bandaged and/or splinted for a duration of about 14 days to aid in recovery.

Living and Management

Following treatment for your dog’s shoulder dislocation, whether through surgery or closed reduction, it’s essential to restrict your dog’s activity while ensuring adequate rest. Your veterinarian will outline a specific timeframe for limiting exercise and develop a plan for gradually reintroducing normal activities.

Throughout the recovery phase, your dog will likely receive pain medication to alleviate discomfort. Certain veterinary clinics may provide physical therapy services, which can be beneficial for both nonsurgical and postsurgical patients. This may involve modalities such as laser therapy, passive range of motion exercises, and hydrotherapy to aid in the rehabilitation process.

Dislocated Shoulder in Dogs FAQs

What is the typical healing time for a dog’s shoulder dislocation?

Due to the substantial soft tissue damage often associated with a shoulder dislocation in dogs, the healing process can span a few months. Implementing a well-structured recovery plan incorporating physical therapy methods may help expedite the healing process.

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