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5 Common Shoulder Injuries in Dogs: How To Identify, Treat, and Manage Them

Most dogs will go through life without experiencing significant shoulder injuries. However, if your dog is limping or showing pain in a front leg, it’s essential to consider the possibility of a shoulder injury.

What Is a Shoulder Injury in a Dog?

A shoulder injury in dogs typically involves the shoulder joint, where the humerus (upper arm bone) connects to the scapula (shoulder blade) in a ball-and-socket joint. These injuries can affect the bones or soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments), causing pain and mobility issues.

Common Shoulder Injuries in Dogs

Here are five common shoulder injuries in dogs, along with their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options:

  1. Supraspinatus Tendinopathy

  • Description: Involves the supraspinatus muscle and its tendon.

  • Common in: Large-breed, active dogs.

  • Causes: Overuse from repetitive activities like jumping and quick turns.

  • Symptoms: Limping, lameness after exercise, shortened stride, pain on palpation, muscle atrophy.

  • Diagnosis: Physical examination, possibly X-rays.

  • Treatment: Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, possibly surgery if severe.

  1. Infraspinatus Myopathy

  • Description: Contracture of the infraspinatus muscle.

  • Causes: Trauma, either blunt or repetitive.

  • Symptoms: Initial lameness, swollen shoulder, later contraction leading to abnormal limb position.

  • Diagnosis: Clinical signs, history of trauma.

  • Treatment: Physical therapy, possible surgical intervention.

  1. Biceps Tendinopathy (BT)

  • Description: Affects the biceps brachii muscle tendon.

  • Common in: Large-breed working dogs.

  • Symptoms: Difficulty turning, reluctance to jump, shortened stride, pain on palpation and stretching.

  • Diagnosis: Physical examination, imaging like X-rays or ultrasound.

  • Treatment: Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, rehabilitation exercises.

  1. Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

  • Description: Developmental condition where cartilage fails to ossify properly.

  • Common in: Growing dogs, typically 4-8 months old.

  • Symptoms: Limping, pain on joint movement, muscle atrophy.

  • Diagnosis: X-rays to identify cartilage defects.

  • Treatment: Surgical removal of the cartilage flap, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications.

  1. Medial Shoulder Instability (MSI)

  • Description: Instability in the shoulder joint due to chronic use or trauma.

  • Symptoms: Changes in movement, weight-bearing lameness, worsens after exercise.

  • Diagnosis: Physical examination, possibly advanced imaging.

  • Treatment: Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, possibly surgical stabilization.

Diagnosing and Treating Shoulder Injuries in Dogs

If your dog is limping and a shoulder injury is suspected, your veterinarian will observe their gait and test the shoulder’s range of motion. X-rays are commonly used to rule out bone injuries and may sometimes reveal changes in tendons.

For soft tissue injuries, pain and anti-inflammatory medications are typically prescribed. If symptoms persist, your vet may refer you to a specialist for advanced diagnostics like shoulder arthroscopy, ultrasound, or MRI.

Advanced Treatment Options

Some shoulder injuries may require surgery, especially if they involve fractures or OCD. Soft tissue injuries might be managed conservatively with medications and rest. Rehabilitation techniques like ultrasound therapy, shockwave therapy, range-of-motion exercises, heat, and massage can also be beneficial.

When To Call Your Veterinarian

While shoulder injuries are not usually emergencies, immediate veterinary attention is necessary if your dog has experienced trauma, such as being hit by a car. Always consult your veterinarian if you notice persistent limping or signs of pain in your dog.

For more information and resources on dog health and care, visit


dog jumping from a dock
dog jumping from a dock


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