Strains and Sprains Spell Pain for Dogs

View the Things You Didn't Know About Your Pet Slideshow Pictures

Strains and Sprains Spell Pain for Dogs

Our four-legged friends stand on their toes, ankles in the air, knees forward. Imagine doing that all day and you’ll have a better idea of the weight and stress your dog puts on his muscles and joints. It takes lots of energy, strength, and flexibility to chase squirrels, scratch behind ears, wrestle with playmates, jump on beds, and leap for toys.

Every now and then dogs overdo it, asking just too much of their front legs (shoulders, elbows, wrists, and toes) or back legs (hips, knees, ankles, and toes). Sprains and strains are common injuries. If you hear your dog yelp, he may need your help.

Just like human kidneys, your dog’s kidneys balance certain substances in the blood and filter out the body's wastes as urine. They maintain normal concentrations of salt and water in the body. Kidneys also help control blood pressure, aid in calcium metabolism and sustain phosphorous levels. Additionally, they manufacture a hormone that encourages red-blood cell production. When kidneys don't function properly, toxins build up in the blood and a dog will become ill.

Strains vs. Sprains

The words sound alike, but they mean different things.

Strains injure tendons that link muscles and bones. This can happen if your dog stretches too far, too much, or too often. Athletic dogs get strains, but this injury also can happen when a dog slips, falls, or jumps during normal play. In dogs, strains are common in the hips and thighs.

Sprains harm the ligaments that connect bones, which causes joint damage. Sprains can happen to hunting dogs who jump hurdles, as well as to the average dog who may hurt himself taking a hard landing off the couch, or even by something as simple as stepping in a hole. The wrist and knee are common joints for dogs to sprain. One of the most serious injuries is a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which connects the bones of the knee.

Where Does It Hurt?

The first warning sign of strains or sprains may be that your dog starts to limp or is suddenly lame, meaning he can’t use his leg. If this lasts more than a day or so, or if it happens again and again, it’s time for a visit to the vet.

Both strains and sprains can be chronic (ongoing) or acute (sudden), and can range from mild to severe. Your vet will figure out what kind of injury your dog has based on what you tell her and the results of a physical exam and tests. She’ll want to know when you first noticed a change. You should explain:

  • How your dog is acting differently.
  • What he was doing if you saw the injury happen.
  • What he is or isn’t doing since the injury. Is he sleeping more? Limping? Sitting with his leg extended? Not excited about going for a walk? Stiff? Not eating? These are signs he doesn’t feel well.

The vet will check your dog’s muscles and joints. She’ll look him over first, then touch and press on certain points to see if they’re sore, warm, swollen, or out of place. She’ll want to see him walk, sit, and lie down. She may take X-rays or do an MRI or ultrasound to get a look at damage that can’t be seen from the outside. X-rays show problems with bones. The other kinds of images are better for seeing tissue damage.

The Road to Recovery

It takes the same kinds of things to get your dog back on four feet as it would take to get you back on two.

Your vet will decide how to treat your dog based on whether he has a strain or a sprain, and just how bad it is. She’ll likely try to avoid surgery as a first line of treatment unless a tendon or ligament is torn.

Just like human kidneys, your dog’s kidneys balance certain substances in the blood and filter out the body's wastes as urine. They maintain normal concentrations of salt and water in the body. Kidneys also help control blood pressure, aid in calcium metabolism and sustain phosphorous levels. Additionally, they manufacture a hormone that encourages red-blood cell production. When kidneys don't function properly, toxins build up in the blood and a dog will become ill.

In a typical plan to treat strains and sprains, your vet may tell you to:

  • Give your dog nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to ease inflammation.
  • Apply an ice pack or heating pad.
  • Make sure your dog rests.
  • Walk your dog on a leash, taking it slowly at first.
  • Use a brace or support to hold your dog’s muscle or joint in place.
  • Try physical therapy, such as walk on an underwater or land treadmill, balancing on a ball or board.
  • Massage the area.
  • Put your dog on a diet.

Surgery is in order for otherwise-healthy dogs that don’t get better, keep injuring themselves, or have a torn tendon or ligament. If your vet didn’t do an MRI or ultrasound the first time around, she may want to see these images before doing surgery.

Depending on the type of surgery, you’ll need to keep your dog quiet and limit his activity for a week or longer. The vet may use a bandage or brace to support the joint. If your dog moves too much or too soon after surgery, he could re-injure himself. Physical therapy can help him get back to being active at the right pace.

Whether your dog has injured himself before or you just want to keep him from getting a strain or sprain, make sure he stays at a healthy weight and gets regular exercise. Obesity and inactivity make these injuries more likely.

SOURCES:

Sherman O. Canapp, Jr., DVM, DACVS, DACVSMR, CCRT, chief of staff, Veterinary Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Group, Annapolis Junction, MD.

Farrow, C. Textbook of Small Animal Orthopaedics, J.B. Lippincott Company,1985.

American College of Veterinary Surgeons: “Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease.”

University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana College of Veterinary Medicine: “Bow-Ouch, Me-Ouch! Can Pets Tell You Where It Hurts?”

Western Veterinary Conference: “Small Animal Physical Therapy: Introduction, Treatments for Common.

Forelimb & Hindlimb Conditions & Management of Osteoarthritis.”

Oregon State University: “Research shows that therapy and rehab can prevent ACL surgery – for your dog.”

Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Reviewed on 10/11/2014

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors