Did you know dogs can have sprains, just like us? In fact, it can happen to any of our canine companions, whether or not they’re young, old, in shape or overweight, etc. Our pups are busy with us all day long, playing, walking, and running. So, it’s no wonder they occasionally suffer from a painful sprain. In this article, we’ll take a look at what a sprain is, the symptoms associated with this injury and how a sprain should be treated. Let’s get started!
How Dogs Walk
Have you ever noticed how your fur baby walks? If you pay attention, you’ll see he’s actually walking on his toes! His ankles are “in the air” and his knees are forward. If you’ve ever worn a pair of high heels then you’ll have some idea of how that feels. However, for dogs, this is the normal way to walk and run. Your canine companion is used to this and it usually doesn’t bother him at all.
However, walking, running and jumping do put a lot of weight and stress on your dog’s muscles and joints. There are times when your fur baby may overdo it when chasing the cat next door, or that squirrel in the backyard. This can lead to sprains and strains of your dog’s front and back legs. Common injuries are seen in a dog’s shoulders, elbows, wrists, toes, ankles, and knees. Strains and sprains are very common injuries in dogs. But how can you tell a sprain from a strain?
The Difference Between a Sprain and a Strain
Strain injuries deal with damage to the tendons. Tendons connect muscles to the bones. A strain may be caused by overextension of the limbs, and are commonly caused when a dog falls, jumps, or slips. Strains happen most often in dogs’ thighs and hips.
Sprains, on the other hand, damage the ligaments that connect to bones, which can cause damage to the joints. The most common sites for sprains are a dog’s wrists and knees. A sprain can happen to any dog, such as if they jump off the couch, step in a hole, etc. A torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is one of the most serious type of sprains. The CCL links the bones of a dog’s knees. The ligament can tear or rip, which causes severe pain. Sprains can also be caused if a dog is hit by a car, attacked, etc. The joint ligaments can be stretched, ruptured and twisted, which leads to a sprain.
OK—you probably have an idea of what this may feel like for your fur baby, especially if you’ve suffered a sprain at some point. We’ll now leave the painful descriptions and move on to symptoms. Well, that will involve some words associated with pain, but we’ll try to keep it as comfortable as possible!
Is my Dog’s Leg Broken or Sprained?
It can be difficult to tell if your dog’s leg is sprained or broken, especially if he’s got a hairline fracture. Here are some clues that may help you tell if your fur baby has a broken leg or a sprain:
- Broken bone: your dog may not want to put any weight on his leg. However, if he’s able to put some weight on the leg, you can wait a few hours to see if the injury improves. If not, he may have a fracture. Another sign is extreme pain, though this can also be caused by a severe sprain. If you notice a broken bone stick out from his skin, you’ll know this is a fracture that needs the immediate attention of a vet. Or if you notice bones seem out of alignment, etc. this is probably due to a broken bone.
- Sprain: your fur baby may put some weight on the leg, or he may not. A severe sprain can cause pain that’s as severe as a broken bone.
The signs and symptoms for a fracture or a sprain are similar. Let’s take a look.
Signs & Symptoms of Sprains in Dogs
If your fur baby suffers a sprain, you may notice one symptom, or he may display several. Symptoms can be anywhere from mild to excruciating, it depends on how bad the damage is. However, if your canine companion is in severe pain, you’ll have no doubt about it. The symptoms of a sprain can mimic other medical conditions such as bone cancer, bone degeneration, hairline fractures, etc. So, if you notice your pup having any of the signs and symptoms below, it’s time to call the vet:
- Pain that’s mild to excruciating
- Swollen joints or paws
- Excessive licking of an area (due to the pain)
- Joints that are red/inflamed
- Decrease in physical activity (playing or even normal activities)
- Aggression that is not warranted or expected
- Loss of appetite
- Not putting weight on a paw or limb
- Crying, whimpering
Even if your pup isn’t showing signs that he’s in severe pain, if he’s limping at all then there’s a problem.
If your dog’s still limping 48 hours after he got hurt, it’s important to get your fur baby to the vet as soon as possible
Diagnosis of Sprains in Dogs
The vet will first start off asking questions about when the injury happened and what signs/symptoms your fur baby displayed at the time. They’ll then ask for details on how the injury has developed since that time. For instance, has pain or swelling become worse? What other symptoms have you noticed? Is your dog walking worse than when the injury occurred? All of these questions will help give the vet the information they need to determine a possible cause of the pain. Next, the vet will give your dog a physical exam. They’ll pay special attention to those areas that are painful, including the muscles and joints. After the exam, the vet may also order x-rays to check for possible fractures, osteoarthritis, etc.
In some cases, your vet may also need to perform an arthroscopy. This is a surgical procedure where the vet will make a small incision and insert a small scope. This gives them a clearer image of the sprain or fracture and can help make a definitive diagnosis. It’s also possible the vet could order an MRI, which will give the vet a better image of the tissue damage. Another diagnostic tool the vet may use is an ultrasound, which also provides a better image of the soft tissue, when compared to an x-ray. The vet will then give a diagnosis, based on the level of sprain damage. These range from Grade I to Grade III:
- Grade I: only a minor ligament tear, where the joint is undamaged. There may be some swelling and pain, but for this level of sprain, your fur baby is most likely able to walk.
- Grade II: a larger portion of the ligament is torn/stretched, and this may be accompanied by severe swelling. Your pup may be able to walk, but he’s probably limping or lame. The joint will be only partially able to function.
- Grade III: this is the most severe grade of sprain. Here, the ligament is severely damaged, or it could even be completely torn. Bones may not be intact and your fur baby isn’t wanting to put any weight on the paw.
The type of treatment your fur baby will need depends on the grade of the sprain. A dog sprained leg recovery time will vary, again depending on the grade of his sprain. If he has a sprain Grade I, it may be necessary to keep your pup’s leg stabilized with splints. He may also need anti-inflammatory medication, which will help bring the pain and swelling down. A Grade I sprain can take up to several weeks to heal. The vet may prescribe a specific type of dog sprained leg brace or may use another form of splinting to maintain stability. A Grade II sprain may require surgery to help stabilize the joint, and afterwards will need splinting to keep the joint stable. The vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories to help with the pain and swelling. Most dogs go on to a full recovery after this type of sprain; however, the healing time will be longer for this level of sprain.
A Grade III sprain will definitely require surgery to correct and repair the damage. This type of injury can have lasting effects on your fur baby. Some dogs fully recover from the injury, while others are left with some loss in range of motion. Your canine company will need a long recovery period, during which he must not be allowed to be too active.
If he’s too active, he could re-injure the joint, which could cause even more damage
Dog Sprained Leg at Home Treatment
Once your fur baby has seen the vet and received the necessary treatment, you’ll be able to care for his sprain at home. Home treatment for a doggie sprain can involve:
- Giving your dog any prescription medication from the vet—this will more than likely be an anti-inflammatory medicine for the pain and swelling. Never give your fur baby an anti-inflammatory medication made for humans. It can be toxic, even leading to death.
- Application of cold (ice packs) or heat (as directed by the vet).
- Your fur baby will need a lot of rest. It’s important to keep him quiet and don’t allow him to jump and run. For some dogs, it may be necessary to keep them in an enclosed room or even their crate.
- Walk your canine companion, but be sure to go slowly, especially in the beginning.
- The vet may prescribe physical therapy for your dog, which may include having him walk underwater in a tank (only part of your fur baby will be underwater). This can help keep the pressure off his joint, while allowing him to gain strength and stability in the muscles. Some vets may prescribe that your pup walks on a treadmill, etc.
- Massage of the painful area can also help make your pup feel better.
- If your fur baby is overweight, the vet may also advise putting your dog on a diet to lose excess weight.
The most important thing to remember is that while the injury is healing, your canine companion will need to live a quieter life. Otherwise, he could re-injure the sprained area, which could lead to even more serious damage. It’s very important to follow all the directions and advise from your vet on how to care for your dog once he’s home.
Dog Leg Pain Home Remedies
Along with hot/cold compresses, there are some other home pain remedies you can give your dog. These include OTC pain remedies that are available on Amazon and online pet stores. Here are some to consider:
K2xLabs Buster’s Organic Hemp Oil for Dogs & Cats – Max Potency
This product contains 100% pure hemp oil, with no fillers or carrier oil. It can help with pain, stress, and anxiety in dogs, cats, ferrets and other mammals. The hemp is organic and completely grown in the USA. It helps with pain from arthritis, inflammation, anxiety and stress. You can rest assured the product is safe for your fur baby, as it goes through professional, independent third-party testing.
Hip + Joint Support Treats
This is another product that contains hemp, along with glucosamine & chondroitin. It’s made especially for dogs. These soft chews work to relieve pain, swelling, inflammation, while reducing calcium loss and restoring bones and cartilage. This product also helps your pup’s coat and prevents itchy, dry skin, eczema, psoriasis and more.
Vet’s Best Aspirin Free Aches + Pains Dog Supplement
This product is developed specially to help dogs with pain and inflammation. These chewable tablets contain plant-based and other ingredients including glucosamine HCL, pineapple bromelain, MSM, and white willow bark. The tablets work to provide relief for sore, stiff muscles and joints in adult dogs, including large breed dogs.
We hope your dog has an easy, comfortable recovery, and hope he’s back to running and having fun again very soon! In the meantime, as he heals, be sure to keep him quiet and comfortable. Follow your vet’s directions and be sure to give your pup some extra love and attention as he recovers.