Can Dogs Pull a Muscle?

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Introduction

Pulling a muscle can be painful and frustrating, regardless of whether you've got two legs or four. Our canine companions love running, jumping, playing, and exploring, often at a million miles an hour, all of which can place a strain on their muscles and joints. And just like us, our four-legged friends are capable of pulling a muscle, not to mention suffering more serious injuries, whenever they're being active.

Soft tissue injuries can be mild and not really any cause for concern, or they can be quite serious and may require veterinary attention. Let's take a closer look at what a pulled muscle can mean for your dog, what the recovery process involves, and what steps you can take to reduce the risk of muscle injuries ever occurring in the first place.

Signs of Muscle Strains and Sprains in Dogs

The signs and symptoms of muscle injuries in dogs can vary depending on the severity of the problem and also on the individual animal. You may not notice mild sprains and strains at all, and many dogs are quite good at concealing the fact that they're in pain.

With this in mind, it's important to pay close attention to your pet's mobility, body language, and even behavior, so you can recognize any signs indicating that all is not right.

For many owners, the first symptom their dog shows after pulling a muscle is a limp. In more serious cases, a dog may suddenly become lame and be unable to use a particular leg.

Regardless of whether or not you notice a limp, you may also pick up on the fact that your dog isn't as mobile as they usually are. Maybe your usually energetic pooch is reluctant to go for a walk, slower than usual to get up and get moving, or has trouble doing specific activities like running or climbing stairs.

The other most common indicator of a pulled muscle is, of course, pain. Some dogs will whine and whimper, vocalizing their discomfort and they may pull away or growl when touched in the affected area. A loss of appetite can also indicate that something is not quite right, while you may notice swelling of and around the injured muscle.

While minor muscle strains will resolve themselves quickly with a little rest and recuperation, when in doubt about the severity of an injury, get it checked out by a vet. 

Body Language

Watch your dog's body language closely for any of the telltale signs that could indicate that they've pulled a muscle. These signs could include:
  • Weakness
  • Whimpering
  • Paw raised

Other Signs

Other signs to look for are:
  • Limping
  • Lameness
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Pain
  • Inflammation

The Science of Muscle Injuries in Dogs

Muscle sprains and strains are common injuries in dogs, and it's not hard to see why. Even walking places an enormous amount of stress on a dog's muscles and joints, while running, jumping and a bit of roughhousing require a greater level of strength and agility. But when your dog asks too much of their muscles, injury can result.

Strains are caused by stretching and can injure the tendons that join muscles and bones. Mistiming a jump, slipping over, or simply pushing too hard when running can all cause strains.

Sprains affect the ligaments and cause joint damage. For example, your dog could twist an ankle while jumping, by accidentally stepping in a hole, or simply by mistiming their exit from the back seat of your car.

Of course, while we tend to think of soft tissue injuries only affecting a pet's legs, keep in mind that your dog could potentially also pull a muscle in another part of the body. For example, your poor pooch could pull a muscle in their neck or back, so you may notice posture changes, stiff body language, mobility difficulties and even trouble turning their head.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Muscle Injuries in Dogs

If your dog is limping, suddenly lame, or showing any other signs of a pulled muscle, monitor their condition closely. If the symptoms persist for more than a day or so, or if your dog is clearly in pain, it's time to get them checked out by your vet. Muscle injuries can be ongoing problems or may occur suddenly, so your vet may base their diagnosis not only on a physical exam but also on the information you provide.

For example, your vet will want to know how long your dog has been showing signs of pain, if you noticed when the injury occurred, and exactly how the injury has affected your pet's mobility and behavior. Depending on the severity of the problem, they may also want to take X-rays to check for broken bones, or an ultrasound or an MRI to examine muscle damage.

However, when it comes to recovery, the steps your dog will need to follow are much the same as what you would need to do after pulling a muscle. Unless your pet has torn a ligament or tendon, they'll usually be able to avoid surgery. Instead, your vet will devise a thorough treatment plan for your pet which may include any of the following:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling
  • An ice pack to reduce swelling
  • A heat pack to reduce pain and stiffness
  • Rest to minimize strain on the affected muscle
  • Hydrotherapy for low-impact exercise and recovery
  • Walking your dog on a leash, at a slow pace, preventing them from running and re-injuring themselves
  • A brace or some other support to hold the affected muscle in place
  • Massage to relieve pain and stiffness, and increase mobility

Other treatment options may also be recommended based on your dog's injury and what caused it. For example, if your dog is overweight and those excess pounds are placing unnecessary strain on their joints and muscles, your vet may put them on a diet.

However, if you stick to the treatment plan and make sure your dog gives their body time to recover, he or she should be back on their feet in no time.

How to Prevent Muscle Injuries:

  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight to reduce stress on muscles.
  • Add non-slip mats or carpet around your home to minimize the risk of slipping and falling.
  • Walk before you run to give your dog's muscles a chance to warm up.
  • Recognize the signs of muscular injuries in your dog so you know when they need to slow down and take it easy.