Hock Instability in Dogs: Causes and Treatments

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    Dogs who are active are more prone to injures such as fractured bones and ligament tears from either vigorous exercise or trauma as a result of that exercise, just like their human counterparts, such as hock instability and injuries. The hock joint in dogs (similar to ankles in humans) is more prone to these injuries as they take the brunt of a lot of the trauma, especially with jumping and running which can be extremely painful to dogs.

    What is the Hock on a Dog?

    The canine hock joint, which is placed below the stifle, essentially the knee, on a dog’s rear leg, corresponds to the human ankle joint. It connects the shin bones (tibia and fibula) to the paw bones (talus and calcaneus bones). The hock is responsible for the acute angle of the dog’s hind legs. While dogs do not exert as much weight on their heels as people do, the two joints are functionally and physically comparable. It may also be called the tarsal joint.

    After a sudden traumatic event, such as getting hit by a car or catching a paw in a hole in the ground, your dog may rupture any of four principal ligaments on the inner and outer sides of the joint, or fracture the fibula or bottom of the tibia.

    What is Hock Instability in Dogs?

    Hock instability is the result of the bones in the hock joint to be come loose and lose support from an injury or other condition. Hock instability may make walking and putting weight on the hock joint painful or even impossible to do so.

    What Conditions and Injuries Cause Hock Instability?

    There are multiple conditions and injuries that may cause hock instability in dogs. Here are some common causes:

    Torn Hock Ligament

    When a dog’s paw gets trapped in a hole while running or between fence posts, it can tear the hock ligament. A torn hock ligament can also result from a forceful, traumatic injury, such as being hit by a car or being trodden on, which causes the ligament to be damaged and ruptured. Small ligament injuries that don’t appear to be dangerous at first may eventually result in ligament degeneration. Obese dogs are more prone to suffer from dog carpal injuries due to increased stress on the hock joint.


    Photo Credit: Clinicians Brief

    Osteoarthritis is a chronic, progressive joint condition that is the result of weakening of the joint cartilage, thickening of the joint capsule, and the forming of new bone around the joint (osteophytosis), both of which contribute to pain and limb dysfunction. Osteoarthritis can affect one, a couple or all joints, which include the hock joint. Osteoarthritis appears out of nowhere and is connected to both heredity and age. Osteoarthritis is caused by a combination of variables including body weight, obesity, activity, and diet. Although the damage produced by OA is irreparable, treatment strategies can assist to alleviate discomfort and enhance quality of life.

    Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

    Photo Credit: Fitzpatrick Referrals

    Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) is a painful condition that prevents bone from growing normally from cartilage. When OCD occurs, a cartilage flap forms within joints, resulting in lameness and joint discomfort.  Diet, heredity, hormonal imbalance, stress, growth rate, and joint anatomy can all contribute to the development of OCD. Larger breeds are also more prone to OCD. While it most commonly affects the shoulder, it can also affect other joints like the hock joint.

    What Are the Risk Factors for Hock Instability and Injuries in Dogs?

    Risk factors are usually dependent on the cause. Active dogs who do a lot of running and jumping are more at risk for torn or sprained hock ligaments and fractures. Senior dogs or those predisposed to certain chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis are also at risk for developing hock instability. 

    What Are The Symptoms of Hock Instability in Dogs?

    A very obvious sign of hock instability in dogs is sudden limping or lameness in the hind leg as a result of the pain. Knowing your dog’s usual habits and seeing they are differ maye also be a sign. For example, they may not be playing or running like they usually do or being more careful in activities such as going down stairs. Another sign of hock instability in dogs is changing positions often while sitting as well as even extending out their leg when trying to sit. Certain conditions that cause hock instability may also cause a swollen hock. 

    How To Treat A Hock Injury In Dogs?

    dog wearing a hock brace
    Photo Credit: Labra

    Treating hock instability will differ based on the condition that is causing it. But, many treatments often include an orthopedic brace, surgery or physical therapy. Depending on the cause, your vet will come up with a treatment plan. Hock surgery usually involves using pins and wires to help a fracture whereas a torn ligament may be fixed with screws. Chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis can only be managed, not fully treated and it is incurable. Certain supplements may also assist in treating or managing conditions that cause hock instability as well as medications like NSAIDs. Holistic treatments, like Acupuncture and chiropractic care, may also be beneficial. 

    You can also help your dog temporarily until you’re able to be seen by a vet. If they have swelling, you can use an ice pack to help reduce swelling and hold it against the hock for about 10 to 15 minutes at a time for about four times a day.

    How Can You Prevent Hock Instability in Dogs?

    Hock instability can sometimes be prevented or at least helped enough to not be as serious as to when an injury does happen. Glucosamine supplements can help strengthen your dog’s joints to try and prevent/deter the oneset of chronic joint conditions as well as strengthen them for rigorous activities. Making sure your dog doesn’t push themselves too much during competitive dog sports such as agility, disc dog competitions and flyball is essential. Pushing a dog too much can result in career ending injuries. Dogs also need to have someone keep them from pushing themselves because they often don’t know their own limits.

    If you think your dog may have hock instability, contact your local veterinarian or find an orthopedic specialist in our specialist directory.

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