Joint Trauma In Dogs

Different types of injuries and trauma affecting the joints of dogs can lead to joint disorders and deformities. A few of the common injuries are explained here.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tear

Cranial cruciate ligament is important in stabilizing the knee joint, but it may get torn when the dog gets seriously injured as in a motor accident. But knee joints which already suffer from degenerative conditions, or weakened by autoimmune diseases, are more prone to this kind of tear. Breeds with straight legs are also more susceptible.

The tears usually occur midway in the ligament, but in some cases it may happen at the place where the ligament originates. The instability of the knee joint that results from the ligament tear can cause injury to the cartilage. It can also lead to the accumulation of excess joint fluid and the growth of bony structures. The joint membranes may become harder and thicker, greatly affecting the flexibility of the joint.

The typical symptoms of joint disorders are displayed by dogs with cranial cruciate ligament tear. However, in addition to the pain, inflammation, lameness and the grating sounds on moving the joint, the knee joint may look as if it is loose. But if the ligament tear is partial, the dog may find it difficult to bend and move the affected knee. If the cartilage is injured, a peculiar click is heard while moving the knee to extend or bend it. The location and extent of the injury can be observed in the x-rays of the knee. The fluid tapped from the knee joint may be tested to rule out other conditions which may precipitate similar symptoms.

Ligament tear is treated with analgesics and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and inflammation. In addition to drugs, reducing weight and regular physiotherapy may help relieve the symptoms. Surgical intervention is preferred for active animals as their knees have to be stabilized. For effective recovery, the surgery should be followed by physiotherapy under the supervision of a trained professional. If the injury is complicated by degenerative diseases, surgery may not have the desired effect.

Ankle Dislocation and Fracture

The ankle, or tarsus, may get fractured or dislocated when the dog is injured in an accident. It is a very common occurrence when dogs get hit by a vehicle. The ankle that connects the foot to the leg is made up of many bones called tarsals. When subjected to stress, these bones may break or may get displaced from their normal position. When the ligaments that keep them in place get torn, it may also lead to the dislocation of the ankle.

The dog usually keeps the affected leg raised up and avoids applying weight on it, resulting in a limp. Physical examination is sufficient to diagnose ankle dislocation as the free swinging of the foot, due to its detachment from the leg, can be easily observed. X-rays may help assess the injury, and may also show whether there any fractures. Surgical intervention often results in complete recovery in most cases.

Elbow Dislocation

This common condition in dogs often results from injuries sustained when the dog jumps or falls. Pain and inflammation are the typical symptoms, and the dog keeps the injured leg up and avoids standing on it. The veterinarian may suspect elbow dislocation from the symptoms and the physical examination of the joint. X-rays may help confirm the diagnosis. Surgical intervention may be necessary in most cases, but dogs usually recover completely.

Hip Dislocation

The head of the thigh bone gets displaced from its socket in the hip bone due to a trauma or injury. It is a painful condition that renders the dog lame. The leg may appear to have shortened. The veterinarian may feel the dislocation of the femur during the physical examination, but x-rays can help confirm the diagnosis. It can also show whether there are any fractures too.

Manipulating the femoral head back into position, and keeping the joint in position with a sling, is the non-surgical way to manage hip dislocation. If it is not successful, surgery may be required to keep the bones in the right position with pins and wires. Sometimes the damaged parts of the bones have to be removed to facilitate the healing of the joint. The hip may have to be replaced entirely in some cases to prevent recurrence.

Joint Fractures

Joint fractures are common in active dogs especially when they are young. The joints of the hip and knee, shoulder and elbow are the usual sites of injury. Carpel and tarsal joints may be affected too. In young dogs, the growth plate at the tips of the bones is weak and immature compared to the rest of the bone as well as the joint membranes and the ligaments in the area. This increases the probability of injury to this portion when accidents happen. Damage to the growth plate during the period of active bone growth can result in permanent deformities unless remedial measures are taken in time.

The usual symptoms of joint fractures are pain and inflammation of the affected area that often makes the dog lame. X-ray examination of the affected joint can show the extent of injury and whether the growth plate is involved.

Joint fractures are treated by joining the broken pieces together using pins and wires without completely immobilizing the joint. The dog can continue to move about, but it should be restrained from excess physical activity while the fracture heals. It may recover completely without any permanent deformity unless the joint is severely damaged.

Palmar Carpal Ligament Breakdown

The breakdown of carpal ligaments in the wrist usually happens due to injuries that occur when the legs get overextended as the dog jumps or falls down. This hyperextension beyond the usual range inflicts extra pressure on the carpus or wrist, tearing the ligaments and the cartilage. The joint collapses as a result, leading to a typical stance with the heel pressed to the ground. Swelling of the joint and lameness are the other symptoms.

If the breakdown of the carpal ligaments is not severe, putting the affected joint in casts or splints may help resolve it. However surgical intervention may be necessary in most cases. Joint fusing, or fixing it with wires and pins on to a bone plate, either externally or internally, may lead to a satisfactory outcome.

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