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How to Bring a Dog Back from Injury


25 Feb 2019

By: Sarah McFarlane CCRA, CMT

Category: Dog Wellbeing

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Dog Injury Paw

Has your dog injured itself and you have not been able to get him/her, well right?  Are they hesitant to jump up or go downstairs?  Does your dog present lameness after a big run at the park?  Or perhaps they are limping for 3-5 steps after rest and then seem to walk it off.  On a daily basis, Canine Balance is asked by dog owners about dog injury.  You follow all the vet’s advice but your dog just doesn’t seem to move as freely or back to being 100% after their injury.  Your dog’s back or legs still seem to be tight and rigid.  That’s because once our dogs are given the all clear to go back to exercise we go about it all the wrong way.

Ralf’s Dog Injury Story

Dog Injury

Doctor and assistant checking up golden retriever dog in the vet clinic

Today I received a call from “Joe” asking for help in regards to their injured dog.  Joe went to the vet with his dog “Ralf” when he first hurt himself.  Ralf received a 2-week course of anti-inflammatories, X-rays which came back all fine and was suggested more tests in the future.  The vet gave Joe specific instructions to “rest the dog” and come back and see them in 2 weeks.

Joe takes Ralf back for the follow-up visit.  After examination, Ralf seems fine and the vet gives the “all clear” to go back to exercise.  Great news!  The next day Joe takes Ralf down to the park for a run around off lead, plays with other dogs and chases the ball a couple of time for about 15 minutes.  All appears well, however in the last 2 minutes of exercise Ralf is showing slight signs of lameness or soreness.  This routine continues daily and a week later the exercise is increased to 30 minutes.  Unexpectedly Ralf starts limping every time straight after rest for 4 or 5 steps and then he seems to walk it out.  Joe also notices that Ralf is not running as fast when they first start their session at the park.

Back to the vet and this time Joe is recommended to rest the dog again and try another course of anti-inflammatories.  Joe happily follows this until day 4 when he lets Ralf out for a toilet and he suddenly takes off down the back yard to chase the birds.  Ralf seems pretty good in himself and moving well, so he must be OK.  Joe sees that Ralf is fine and takes him out of confinement and tries to keep him quiet around the house and yard.  Ralf being a young dog, by this stage has a lot of pent up energy because he hasn’t been for a run.  Ralf’s not resting as much as he should be as he has no restrictions.  They finish off the anti-inflammatories and life returns to normal.

Ralf gets back to the park, off a lead and running mad with excitement because he is finally out of the house.  This time no signs of pain, soreness or lameness.  Perfect, Ralf is better!  Joe continues his normal routine with 30-minute walks for a few more weeks.  Until one day Joe started to notice after Ralf had rested, he would get up and limp for the first 4 or 5 steps.  Oh no, not again!  “Why does this keep happening mate?” Joe says to Ralf.

Recent Case of Dog Injury

Recently I treated Smoko, a working farm dog that had partially torn his left Achilles tendon.  He is apart of Barry’s team so he took him to the vet. His vet made the diagnoses and instructed 6 weeks rest, anti-inflammatories and laser treatment twice per week.  Barry followed his vets’ instructions and 6 weeks later was given the all clear on allowing Smoko to lightly exercise.

Next day Barry opened the pen and let Smoko out with the other dogs for their morning toilet.  Smoko raced around and played with all the other dogs until Barry noticed Smoko lifting his back-left leg again.  Barry rested Smoko again for a few days and again let him out with the dogs.  Same outcome.

How to Fix a Dog Injury

When a dog injures itself, we are naturally in such a hurry to get them back to normal activity.  When a vet or dog therapist provides you with instructions to “REST the dog”, rest your dog!  Rest is confined rest and it is your responsibility to do this.  Rest is KING and it actually makes or breaks your dog injury recovery.  Another thing that can help significantly with the rest recovery phase is to apply heat or ice to the injury.  This is something to discuss with your vet as it is depending on the injury as to which one to apply.  Just because we are given the clearance from our vet, it doesn’t give us the OK to go straight back to normal activity.  We do not take into consideration if it is a sprain on a joint or strain on the muscle.  Have you ever pulled a muscle?  It is painful and it restricts your movement.  Our bodies compensate to avoid using that muscle and it weakens.  Did you know that a dog can decondition its muscles in as little as two weeks?  So why in hell would you allow your dog to go back hooning around the park?  We must bring our injured dog back slowly.

Your Dog Injury Plan

Dog Injury PlanIn fact, it is imperative that we bring our dog back slowly after 2 weeks of rest.  We must encourage our dog to walk on all legs equally to help regain functionality, build strength within the muscles, improve the flexibility of joint movement, increase lymphatic flow, as a result, reduces pain.  When you have sprained your ankle, would you go back to playing sport at competition level after 2 weeks of rest?

Week One

  1. Keep them off any slippery surface at all costs.
  2. Ensure there is no running, jumping or rough play with other dogs which means confinement.
  3. Allow your dog out of confinement for 15-minute periods three times per day, by themselves.  Allow them to roam around the yard under your supervision and move at their own pace.
  4. Walk your dog slowly on lead to ensure that all legs are being used equally and are touching the ground.  Do this 3 times per day for no more than 5 minutes.  Moving frequently for short periods aids in improving functionality but not exercising to the point of pain.
  5. Swim your dog once per week or get them to walk through water for no longer than 5-6 minutes maximum.  The ground must be firm, no soft sand or thick mud underfoot.  On the water day, no other exercise.   No off-lead running on the soft sand or in muddy banks of rivers or dams. 
  6. Lightly massage the entire back of the dog as it has compensated by being on three legs.  Lightly massage up all legs for 30 seconds every day.  Learn how to apply a simple dog massage technique here.
  7. Seek Canine Rehabilitation Therapy for a strengthening program.

Week Two

  1. Keep up all the instructions in Week One.
  2. Walk your dog slowly on a lead and gradually increase their time to 2 x 10 minutes and 1 x 5 minutes.
  3. Getting your dog back to normal activity it must not only heal but also regain strength to not go on and reinjure.  Seeking a Canine Rehabilitation Therapist will help your dog with a strengthening program and prevent reinjuring themselves.
  4. Most importantly, if your dog is not showing signs of improvement, it will require further dog injury therapy and a follow-up visit with your vet to discuss what to do next.

Getting our dogs back to 100% after an injury has many challenges.  Remember we must allow the body to heal properly no matter how good our dog feels.  Once you are given the all clear from your vet or therapist, gradually bring your dog back normal activity by keeping them on a lead and increasing the activity gradually.  A good strengthening program will help your dog avoid reinjuring itself.  For further information on treatments, pricing and plans, go to our services page for a full breakdown of what is involved in our consultations.