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A Guide to Carpal Hyperextension in Dogs

by Geoff Works |

Carpal hyperextension in dogs is a ligament injury on the carpus or the wrist of your dog. A normal dog with healthy carpus will stand upright with its paws straight and bending at a normal angle. On the other hand, a dog with carpal hyperextension would look flat-footed and have legs that look like duck legs. A hyperextension injury can drastically affect the quality of life of your dog if left untreated and can have adverse effects depending on its severity.

Some dogs will whine in pain, while others won’t be as vocal with their discomfort. This blog will talk about canine carpal hyperextension, its causes, treatments, and preventive measures.

How Carpal Hyperextension Affects a Dog’s Wrists

Canine wrists are made up of seven small bones that are grouped to give your dog mobility. These bones have a specific structure that is secured and stabilized by several ligaments. Carpal hyperextension damages these ligaments and causes lameness. In mild cases of carpal hyperextension, the ligaments are only stretched or strained but won’t severely affect your dog’s mobility. Meanwhile, severe cases tear these ligaments completely, causing your dog’s paws to sink to the ground.

Symptoms of Carpal Hyperextension in Dogs

Symptoms of carpal hyperextension or carpal luxation will depend on the severity of the injury. Your dog may avoid placing its weight on the affected limb. Lameness will also become more prominent. They may also have an unusual posture called the plantigrade stance due to their injury. Your dog will start walking or sitting on its hind legs with its toes and metatarsals flat on the ground.

Other symptoms of carpal hyperextension include:

  • Swelling on the limb
  • Whining due to pain
  • Licking or chewing the affected area
  • Abnormal limb extension
  • Joint instability
  • Pressure sores
  • Reduced activity
  • Difficulty reaching elevated surfaces 

Once you notice these signs, it’s best to take your dog to the vet immediately. The earlier you detect and treat the injury, the better your dog’s prognosis will be.

Dogs Usually Affected by Carpal Hyperextension

Carpal hyperextension can affect all dogs. It’s most common among highly mobile dogs due to their heightened activity, which can place additional strain on their limbs and ligaments. Large dog breeds are also more predisposed to carpal hyperextension due to their weight. This condition can also result from existing joining diseases or normal degeneration caused by old age.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Canine Carpal Luxation

Identifying carpal hyperextension should start with knowing about the complete medical history and activity of your dog. This should include your routines with your pet, from walks around the park to other physical activities.

Your veterinarian should then examine the joints and other affected areas to check for this condition. Your dog can undergo radiographs to evaluate its joint stability. This can be done by manipulating the carpus into varying positions.

Moreover, your vet might also recommend computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for better confirmation of the condition of your dog. 

How Is Carpal Hyperextension Treated?

Surgical intervention might not be needed if the carpal hyperextension is spotted early enough or is only a mild case. Instead, your vet will splint the area and provide physical therapy for your dog to restore the proper function of the carpus. However, most circumstances of carpal luxation require surgical treatment.

The surgery for fixing carpal hyperextension will only fuse your dog's joints using a process called arthrodesis instead of fully restoring the damaged ligaments. The carpus is secured in a functional position using plates and screws. While this will limit mobility, it will allow your dog to retain its normal stance and gait on its wrist. It will also enable them to bear weight on their carpus and correct their plantigrade stance.

Arthrodesis can either be a partial or full procedure. The former will have your dog retain around 75 percent of the carpus’ range of motion. Meanwhile, full arthrodesis will completely remove movement after it’s stabilized by plates and screws.

Post-Surgery Care

After the surgery is completed, your vet will apply a splint or cast on the limb to act as support. This will remain for about four to six weeks before it’s removed. Your vet might also recommend physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding area on the injured site since the scar tissue formed on the site may not be enough to support the wrist. Reinjuring it is possible, especially when your dog returns to its normal activity.

Since infection is one of the many complications following arthrodesis, you should keep the cast or splint dry and clean . You should also limit your dog’s activity during the healing period to avoid damaging the site.

After six to eight weeks, your dog will undergo another radiograph test to see if the surgery was successful. Your vet will assess whether or not the fusion of the joint has been reached or more time is needed for complete integration. Giving your dog a protein-rich diet is also ideal for making their recovery faster.

Is This Condition Preventable?

To prevent carpal hyperextension, try to restrict your dog from jumping from high places. If your dog is an athletic breed, always maintain proper conditioning so the carpus is properly supported by the surrounding muscles. Additionally, you’d want to maintain the proper weight of your dog to keep them from injuring their legs and feet from extra weight.

Carpal Hyperextension: Prognosis

After the surgery, your dog has about a 70 to 90 percent chance of returning to its normal routine. The recovery period will usually last around eight weeks.

However, always be vigilant as reinjuring the site is entirely possible. Maintain your dog’s weight, manage its physical activity, and always observe its overall health to spot early signs of carpal hyperextension.

Visit the Lick Sleeve blog today for more canine health tips.

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