Sprains and Strains in Dogs: Understanding and Treating Soft Tissue Injuries

As a dog owner, you want to ensure that your furry friend stays healthy and happy. Just like humans, dogs can experience sprains and strains that can cause discomfort and limit mobility. In this article, we will explore what sprains and strains are, their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and how to prevent them. Let’s dive in!

What Are Sprains and Strains in Dogs?

Sprains and strains are orthopedic injuries that affect the soft tissues in a dog’s body, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, joints, and bones. These injuries can occur when dogs engage in physical activities like running, jumping, or playing. They can also happen from a simple misstep in the backyard. While some injuries may resolve on their own with rest, others require veterinary intervention.

Types of Sprains and Strains in Dogs

Sprains and strains can affect different parts of a dog’s body. Here are some common types:

  • Iliopsoas muscle strain: Injury to the muscle in the hip.
  • Supraspinatus tendinopathy: Injury to the tendon in the shoulder.
  • Bicipital tendinopathy: Injury to the tendon in the arm.
  • Achilles tendon injury/avulsion (rupture): Injury to the tendon in the heel.
  • Carpal hyperextension: Injury to the ligaments in the wrist.
  • Cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury: Injury to the ligament in the knee.

Symptoms of Sprains and Strains in Dogs

If your dog has a soft tissue injury, they may display the following signs:

  • Lameness (not putting full weight on a leg)
  • Difficulty getting up from sitting or slow to sit down from standing
  • Decreased activity
  • Heat at the injury site
  • Swelling
  • Trouble jumping or avoiding stairs
  • Decreased playing
  • Stiffness
  • Vocalizing (whining, acting like they’re in pain)
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Causes of Sprains and Strains in Dogs

Sprains and strains can occur from minor trauma. A sprain usually happens when a joint is twisted in the wrong way, causing the ligament to stretch, tear, or pull. Strains, on the other hand, are often due to overuse or excessive force on a tendon or muscle. Activities like intense exercise, running, jumping, or roughhousing with other dogs can lead to soft tissue injuries. Even something as simple as going down the stairs awkwardly can cause harm.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Sprains and Strains in Dogs

When you suspect a sprain or strain in your dog, it’s essential to consult a veterinarian. They will conduct a thorough physical examination, observing your dog’s movement and performing range-of-motion tests. The affected limb will be inspected for heat, swelling, and signs of discomfort. If a torn CCL is suspected, the veterinarian may perform a test called cranial drawer to assess abnormal motion in the knee joint.

X-rays might be recommended to rule out fractures or other orthopedic conditions. Advanced diagnostics like ultrasonography, CT scans, or MRI may also be suggested, particularly for athletic dogs involved in agility or other canine sports.

Treatment of Sprains and Strains in Dogs

Many sprains and strains can be managed with rest and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) prescribed by a veterinarian. Rest is crucial during recovery, avoiding activities like running, jumping, or playing. Leash walks only for necessary outdoor trips, and prevent your dog from engaging in strenuous movements. Cold pack therapy using a bag of frozen vegetables can bring relief to the affected area. Physical therapy may be recommended in some cases.

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Surgery for Sprains and Strains in Dogs

In some situations, surgery may be necessary, particularly for conditions like torn CCL. Large-breed dogs often require TPLO surgery, a procedure performed by an orthopedic surgeon that involves making surgical cuts to change the joint angle and reduce forces on the ligament. Smaller-breed dogs may benefit from a lateral suture surgery, which involves inserting an implant to simulate the torn ligament. In cases where surgery is not an option, specialty braces or alternative treatments like extracorporeal shock wave therapy or cold laser therapy can be considered.

Recovery and Management of Sprains and Strains in Dogs

The recovery period for most soft tissue injuries ranges from 2-4 weeks, while surgery for a torn CCL may require 8-12 weeks. During this time, it’s crucial to limit your dog’s activity and prevent them from overexerting themselves. Leash walks and kennel rest are recommended. Pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs will aid in comfort and limit scar tissue formation, but it’s important to ensure that your dog doesn’t push themselves too hard while under the influence of these medications. Close monitoring and adherence to the veterinarian’s instructions are essential for a successful recovery.

Prevention of Sprains and Strains in Dogs

While some injuries may be unavoidable due to genetic predispositions, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of sprains and strains. Limit your dog’s access to uneven or unfamiliar terrain, pay attention to their effort level during exercise and play, and manage their weight to reduce strain on their joints. Regular exercise and conditioning can help prevent soft tissue injuries and maintain overall joint health. Avoid sudden bursts of intense activity after sedentary periods to give your dog’s muscles and joints time to adjust.

Remember, your dog’s well-being is a top priority. By taking preventive measures and being aware of the signs and symptoms of sprains and strains, you can ensure your furry companion remains happy, healthy, and active.

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