Be Your Dog's Advocate

All of us who play sports with our dogs worry about musculoskeletal injuries. Whether your dog is very lame or just showing subtle signs of injury, there are few things that may help with a fast and permanent resolution of the problem.

Don't ignore early signs of a problem. Not all injured dogs show an obvious lameness. There may be a decrease in performance, such as slower times in agility, slower response to cues in obedience, a slight hesitation to start an activity. We all know some dogs will do what they love, or what we asked them to do, even if it hurts. Not too long ago, veterinarians were taught not to treat pain in dogs because the pain will make the dog restrict their own activity. Not many of us believe that any more.

What to do when something is "off"

Enforce restricted activity. If your dog is lame, or you suspect an injury, restrict her activity. I'm not talking about sticking her in a crate for a week. I'm talking about stopping training and trialing, limiting activity to short walks on leash, and preventing high impact activities. It's not fun - for you or your dog - but sometimes 5-7 days of decreased activity, then 5-7 days of gradual return to normal activity, will resolve the problem.

See a veterinarian sooner rather than later. If your dog has a marked limp, or is non-weight bearing on a leg, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. It is probably not an emergency, unless there is a lot of blood or you suspect a fracture. On the other hand, if your dog is still lame after 2-3 days, a trip to the vet is in order.

Having said that, we all know that many times the vet can't find anything wrong, and recommends rest and NSAIDs (non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs). That is fine, for a time. If the lameness resolves, you can get your dog back to normal activity.

If not…

See a specialist. Board certified surgeons and board certified sports medicine veterinarians have advanced training in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal injuries. Often advanced diagnostics (radiographs and ultrasound) are needed. Once we have a definitive diagnosis (i.e., we know what is causing the lameness), we can develop a treatment plan.

Be your dog's advocate. Even specialists with excellent credentials can be wrong sometimes. If something any vet tells you makes you uncomfortable, or you are not confident in their advice, seek a second opinion. This can be difficult in some places, where finding even one specialist within a reasonable distance if hard, but it is an option.

In my experience, finding a veterinarian who can do a good orthopedic and neurologic evaluation and make the correct diagnosis can be difficult. I once had a student in my class who got three different diagnoses from three different specialists. That is frustrating, but she kept at it until she got the correct diagnosis. Once we had a correct diagnosis, we could form an appropriate treatment plan. 

Coming back from an injury

Do not return to normal activity too soon or too quickly. I know it is hard to restrict your dog's activity, especially for a long period of time. I recently had to restrict my 1 1/2 year old beagle for almost 5 months. But returning the dog to activity too soon, before the injury is fully healed, could make it worse. Then it will take even longer to get back to normal.

Rehabilitation is important. I tell my clients that rehabilitation is as important, if not more important, than medical or surgical treatment. An accurate diagnosis and proper treatment is necessary, but rehab, in most cases, will get your dog back to normal activity, and competition, faster and better than without it. The rehab should be guided by an adequately trained rehab professional. Many modalities must be done at a clinic, but there is a lot a dog owner can do at home. If you cannot see a rehab specialist in person, on-line options are available. A dog can fully recover without rehab, but it may take longer, and you may not reach your goal of complete return to competition at the same level as before the injury.

If your dog is not getting better, either the diagnosis is wrong or the treatment plan is not appropriate. This may not be true 100% of the time, but in my experience, it is true most of the time. Musculoskeletal injuries can be a minor annoyance or career-ending calamity. The goal of this blog is to give you some steps you can take to try to improve the outcome. Knowledge is power. 

E212: Laura Waudby - "Debuting in Obedience"
E211: Sara Brueske - "Disc Dog Life"

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