Athletic Injuries in Dogs

Athletic Injuries in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Athletic Injuries?

The first sign that your dog has an athletic injury is limping or holding the affected leg in the air. He will most likely stop whatever activity he was doing and refuse to continue. It is important to get it looked at as soon as possible or it will likely get worse.

There are many types of athletic injuries in dogs and they are very common in sporting and hunting canines. More than a third of all athletic dogs experience athletic injuries at one time in their lives. Bruising, sprains, and strains are the most common injuries in sporting dogs. The Border Collie is the most commonly injured dog during athletic activity. However, any dog can get injured during sports and hunting, especially if you or your dog are not trained properly. It takes extensive training to make sure your dog does not injure himself during athletic activities.

Symptoms of Athletic Injuries in Dogs

The symptoms of athletic injuries in dogs depends on the area that is injured. However, the most common signs of injury include:

  • Swelling
  • Limping
  • Muscle weakness and pain
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Difficulty standing
  • Falling
  • Popping or scraping sound when manipulated
  • Deformity
  • Whining
  • Depression
  • Refusal to perform


  • Paw injuries such as punctures, lacerations, tendon injury, and hyperextension
  • Elbow and ankle injuries such as sprain, strain, joint or ligament damage
  • Shoulder injuries such as sprain, strain, joint or ligament damage
  • Hind limb injuries are common, including rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), knee displacement, hip dysplasia, muscle or ligament tear, and joint injuries

Causes of Athletic Injuries in Dogs

Athletic injuries are common in sporting and hunting dogs. Sometimes it can be a problem with the training. You must be sure your dog is able to perform the athletic activities you are suggesting. He should also be allowed a warm-up session before any activities. In addition, certain breeds seem to be more susceptible to certain injuries. For example, kneecap injuries are more common in the:

  • Miniature poodle
  • Maltese
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Papillion
  • Pekingese
  • Boston Terrier
  • Chihuahua
  • Pomeranian
  • Yorkshire Terrier

However, athletic injuries overall are most common in:

  • Spaniels
  • Setters
  • Retrievers
  • Pointers
  • Collies

Diagnosis of Athletic Injuries in Dogs

To get the correct diagnosis, be sure to tell your veterinary care provider what you were doing when it happened and provide your dog’s medical and immunization records if you have them. The veterinarian will do a complete physical examination of your dog including palpation and auscultation of all major muscles and organs. Vital signs, lameness assessment, and reflexes will be checked as well. After the physical examination, the veterinarian will get some digital stress and lateral x-rays to check for broken bones or joint damage.

An ultrasound is needed to assess the ligaments and muscles for any signs of damage. If needed, a CT scan or MRI can be performed for a more detailed examination. In addition, the veterinarian will do some laboratory tests such as a urinalysis, blood count, chemical profile, and blood enzymes to look for other abnormalities.

Treatment of Athletic Injuries in Dogs

The treatment your veterinarian provides may be medical or surgical, depending on the injury and severity of the damage.

Paw Injuries

If your dog has a puncture wound or laceration, the veterinarian will clean it up and bandage it if it is mild. Antibiotics will be given to prevent infection. If there is tendon damage or tendinitis, the veterinarian may also give your dog a muscle relaxer or NSAIDS to reduce inflammation. The veterinarian may also suggest physical therapy. If the injury is severe, the veterinarian may need to give your dog some stitches and will provide a splint to keep pressure off his paw.

Elbow, Ankle, and Shoulder Injuries

Sprains and strains will be treated with NSAIDS to reduce the inflammation and a wrap to stabilize the injury. Rest and physical therapy will be suggested as well. Joint and ligament damage usually require surgery to repair the damage. The veterinarian may keep your dog overnight for observation as well. Rest and rehabilitation are recommended.

Hind Limb Injuries

If the injury is mild, the veterinarian will likely just give your dog NSAIDS and a pressure wrap with instructions to rest the leg. More severe damage requires surgery to repair the damage and a short hospital stay may also be needed. Rest and rehabilitation are recommended.

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Recovery of Athletic Injuries in Dogs

No matter what the injury, your veterinarian will most likely suggest rest and rehabilitation. Physical rehabilitation is very important so your dog will not lose any function or range of motion in the limb. Some of the types of rehabilitation include aqua therapy, balance exercises, and extracorporeal shock wave therapy which are all excellent choices for physical rehabilitation in dogs. Be sure to call your veterinarian if you have any concerns.

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