Q: My ferret fell and was diagnosed at our local vet through X-rays with a dislocated shoulder. Does he have to have surgery to fix it? Does repair surgery hold up very well? Is amputation a better option than repair?
A: A dislocated shoulder is an unusual injury for a ferret. Usually, the term “dislocated shoulder” means that the top of the humerus no longer properly articulates with its associated area in the scapula. If this is the case, the goal is to replace the top of the humerus, which looks like a ball, into the “socket” area of the scapula.
When the humerus traumatically “pops” out of the socket, soft tissue damage is almost always associated with this problem. The capsule around the humerus-scapula joint gets torn and may not ever heal properly. Muscles, tendons and ligaments associated with these bones get stretched and torn depending on how serious the injury is. Then as the body tries to heal itself, the soft tissues start contracting and this type of healing limits how much the bones can be moved back into place.
What this means for your ferret is this: although the bones may not have been damaged, the healing soft tissues may make it impossible to replace the humerus back into the socket. If the injury is recent, the bones are still movable and a vet will try to replace the humerus into the socket and place a splint to keep it in place. If the injury is not recent (at least a few days old), it may be impossible for the humerus to remain in the socket without surgery.
In some cases if the injury has caused severe soft tissue damage, amputation is recommended over repair. This is a last resort and a veterinarian may recommend other surgeries in an attempt to replace the humerus into the socket and have it stay in place.