What is carpal hyperextension?

Carpal hyperextension in dogs and cats is a joint condition that affects the supportive ligaments and soft tissue in the wrist of both dogs and cats, causing them to rupture.

While, normally, cats and dogs tend to walk on the tips of their toes, the wrist joint disease or condition causes your pet to stand flat-footed, with their wrist, or carpal, flat to the ground.

What causes carpal hyperextension in dogs and cats?

Generally, the condition is caused by damage to the ligaments or excessive motion or hyperextension of the carpus as a result of trauma, such as a fall from a height or a stumble when jumping or running. This, in turn, causes the ligaments to tear and the carpal joint to collapse.

However, it is important to note that the condition can be caused by non-traumatic instances, such as:

  • During development when the ligaments don’t grow strong enough
  • Degeneration of the ligaments which often occurs in older dogs and cats, rather than young dogs and cats
  • Inflammatory polyarthropathy or arthritis

If you think your pet is suffering from carpal hyperextension, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as you can, as further trauma can cause complications or lead to the condition worsening.

Carpal hyperextension in dogs

Symptoms of canine carpal hyperextension will usually begin with a limp and swelling, but other symptoms can include:

  • Unusual gait or instability
  • Lameness
  • An unwillingness to put weight on front limbs
  • Increased joint extension
  • Swelling around the joint or limb
  • Vocalising pain
  • Flat-footed stance or sinking of the paw to the ground. The angle of the joint can be reduced to 90° in some severe cases

Carpal hyperextension injuries are often more common in large breed dogs, but smaller breeds can also be affected.

vets assessing dog

Carpal hyperextension in cats

Unlike dogs, carpal hyperextension in cats is much rarer, although the condition does still exist.

It presents itself in the same way as in dogs and is, again, usually caused as a result of landing on the front legs from a significant height, or from other injuries.

Symptoms and signs are the same in cats as they are in dogs, namely swelling in the wrist joint or carpometacarpal joints, a change in stance, pain and lameness.

How is carpal hyperextension in dogs and cats diagnosed?

Normally, as the condition affects the soft tissue, diagnosis of carpal hyperextension can usually be determined by clinical evaluation and observation of your pet’s gait.

One of our orthopaedic specialists will evaluate your dog or cat, including a full physical exam and medical history checks.

Advanced imagery scanning, such as a Computed Tomography scan (CT scan) may be used to determine the extent of the condition and to help gain a clearer picture of the injured area.

vet holding a dog

How is carpal hyperextension treated?

In order to treat carpal hyperextension in dogs and cats, your veterinarian professional will first need to determine the underlying cause of the problem, as this determines the treatment plan. There is a range of treatment of choice and your orthopaedic specialist will always advise the best treatment plan for your specific case.

Non-surgical treatment

There are a few non-surgical treatment options available:


If your pet’s carpal hyperextension is caused by polyarthritis, anti-inflammatory medicine will usually be prescribed to reduce the inflammation and manage the symptoms.


If it’s caused during development or due to a degenerative condition, there are a number of different veterinary physiotherapy methods, such as hydrotherapy that may be used to manage symptoms, improve mobility and reduce pain.

Supportive aids

There are also several carpal supports that could help to support and relieve pressure on the affected limb and help your pet return to normal activity levels.

Surgical management

Unfortunately, there is currently no way to restore the full functionality of the carpus, but surgical treatments can provide the best outcome. There are two different ways surgery can be done:

Pancarpal arthrodesis

During a pancarpal arthrodesis procedure, cartilage from the joint is removed and the bones are held in place by screws, pins or a metal plate to stabilise them while the entire carpal joint is fused.

Partial carpal arthrodesis

This procedure is the same as above, but only part of the joint is fused in order to preserve the joint’s movement.

Will there be any complications after surgery?

Generally, your pet will make a full recovery after surgery, granted that you stick to the post-operative care plan provided by your orthopaedic specialist. However, there are a number of complications that can arise including:

  • Surgical site infection
  • Discomfort
  • Implant failure

If you are worried that your pet is experiencing any of these following surgeries, get in touch with our specialists or your vet immediately.

What’s the prognosis?

Prognosis after treatment depends entirely on the treatment method, along with your pet’s individual health, age and the extent of the injury. You’ll need to keep a close eye on your pet and confine them to a smaller space if they have undergone surgery to ensure they’re comfortable and to increase the chances of them making a full recovery.

If your pet has undergone arthrodesis surgery, they should return to their normal activity levels after around 12 weeks, but they may still require some additional therapies such as hydrotherapy.

If you’re a pet owner and your dog or cat has carpal hyperextension, we are here for you every step of the way during this troubling time. Here at Dogwood Referrals, we have a specialist team of veterinary professionals who love animals just as much as you do. We prioritise the wellbeing of your pets and work closely with you to determine the right course of action that’s in their best interest.

If you’re a referring vet and want to get in touch with us regarding a carpal hyperextension case in dogs and cats, use our simple referral form or get in touch with us today.