Spot the Signs of Muscle Strain in Your Energetic Dog

Spot the Signs of Muscle Strain in Your Energetic Dog

Some days, it’s hard to tell where your dog gets all of their energy. It sometimes seems like they can run, jump and roll around for hours without stopping. Unfortunately, even the most energetic dogs can overdo it. One wrong twist or landing could result in a painful injury.

Dogs of all breeds and sizes are susceptible to strains and sprains that affect their mobility. When this occurs, most dogs reduce their activity and become lethargic, unwilling to run or play. However, dogs who just can’t seem to sit still might be motivated to exercise through their pain. Not only can this worsen your pup’s injuries, but it can make it a lot more difficult to spot them!  

Strain symptoms can be subtle

Sprains and strains are two different types of injuries, but they often present in a similar way that affects your dog’s movement and behavior.

Strains affect the tendons—pieces of tissue that connect muscles to bone and facilitate movement. Tendons can be overused, overstretched and torn in what’s known as a strain.

Sprains affect ligaments—tissues that connect bones to each other and provide stability to the joints. Ligaments prevent joints from moving too far in any given direction. If they’re overstretched or torn, it’s called a sprain.

Strains and sprains often affect dogs’ shoulders, hips, thighs, knees and toes. Either can occur when your dog falls, slips or twists during exercise or daily activities. Strains are more common in very active dogs if they overuse certain body parts.

Unfortunately for pet owners, many dogs—especially energetic, active ones—hide pain out of instinct. This can make it extremely difficult to know if your dog is suffering from a muscle strain or sprain. Any slight changes in activity or behavior should be monitored.

If the injury is moderate to severe, these symptoms might become more apparent:

  • Awkward movement/gait: Dogs’ bodies are similar to our own in that they attempt to compensate for a weak or injured body part. This compensation usually requires an alternative movement in order to reduce the pressure put on the body part in question. If a dog is compensating for an injury, they will likely move or run in a different or more awkward way than usual, appearing stiff or hesitant.
  • Limping: More severe strains or sprains might render your dog’s injured body part unusable due to pain and swelling. In these cases, your dog might develop a more noticeable limp or refrain from putting any pressure on the area.
  • Swelling: Injuries to the tendons and ligaments typically result in swelling as the body works to repair the damaged tissue. Swelling might be very noticeable or difficult to spot, depending on where it is located. The area might also be bruised or warm to the touch.
  • Behavior changes: Aside from the way your dog moves, one major sign of a strain or sprain is a change in their behavior or temperament. If your dog is whining or howling out of pain, hiding more or becoming aggressive when you go to touch them, these are signs that something is wrong.

The most important thing to note about strains and sprains is that they won’t go away after a day or two. Minor muscle soreness from a long workout might leave your dog lethargic for 24 hours, but they should be back to normal pretty quickly. However, if they have a strain or sprain, the effects on their body might last much longer—especially if they’re continuing to exercise, potentially worsening their injury in the process.

Once you notice symptoms of an injury in your pup, it’s best to have them checked out by a vet. A lot of different things can lead to mobility problems in dogs, including arthritis and broken bones, so you’ll want to make sure a tendon or ligament is really behind the problem before your dog begins to heal.

What can be done for strains and sprains?

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Just like in humans, most mild and moderate strains and sprains can be healed with lots of rest and pain management. More severe injuries, like major tears, might require surgery to correct, but these are much less common.

Things that can help your pup heal faster and more comfortably include ice packs to reduce swelling, a brace to stabilize their joints and routine massage therapy to promote healing, mobility and scar tissue reduction. Dogs will need to refrain from intense exercise until they are healed.

Unfortunately, energetic dogs who like to go, go, go might challenge your orders to lay down and relax. It’s imperative that you keep a close eye on your dog to prevent them from re-injuring themselves through their boisterous nature.

As they heal, walk your dog slowly on a leash. Do not let them walk or run without restraint, or they might overdo it. Over time, you might be able to let them blow off steam through low-impact and rehabilitative activities like swimming or treadmill exercises.

Additionally, incorporate more mental exercises throughout your dog’s day. This will help keep them stimulated without a lot of physical activity.

R&R will get your pup back to their energetic self

As much as they might dislike it, continued rest will allow your injured pup to heal and help them get back on their feet for fun as soon as possible. Be patient with your pup during their healing period and ensure they don’t overdo any activity, so their strain or sprain heals up nicely.