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Sprains and Strains: Soft-Tissue Injuries in Dogs

Sprains and strains are “soft-tissue” injuries, which means there is no bone damage. They affect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments and are common injuries in pets, especially in large-breed dogs.

Soft-tissue injuries may occur during any physical activity, but running, jumping, and falling are usually to blame. Sometimes, super excited dogs may ignore the pain and continue playing for a while after the injury happens, which may make it difficult to pinpoint exactly when the ligament or tendon damage occurred.

Is It a Sprain, Strain, or Break?

A sprain occurs when a ligament in or around a joint tears or stretches suddenly. There may be significant pain and swelling, and some animals experience temporary lameness. Because it is difficult to tell the difference between a sprain and a break without a professional exam and imaging tests, it is best to bring your dog to a veterinarian right away if he is unable to put weight on the leg or if there is no improvement in symptoms within 24 hours.

Treatment of sprains involves resting the affected limb and applying ice or cold packs to the area for 20 minutes, every few hours. Do not place ice directly against your dog’s skin, as this can cause injury and pain. Instead, wrap the ice or cold pack in a thin towel and secure it to the sprained area with gauze. After 24 hours, stop icing the sprain and begin applying warm compresses to the area. Offer your dog pain medication, as directed by your vet. Sprains generally take two to four weeks to heal.

A strain is not the same thing as a sprain, and the two injuries are often confused. A strain occurs when a tendon is stretched or ruptured following a sudden twisting. Symptoms of strains are very similar to those associated with sprains. Treatment is also similar, although certain severe strains, such as a ruptured Achilles tendon, may require surgical repair.

Also, any injury that results in a loss of mobility or fails to heal must be fully evaluated. Your vet will perform x-rays and other tests to check for bone fractures or other problems. Any additional treatment depends on the final diagnosis.

Your sprained or strained dog may limp for several weeks and may have difficulty climbing onto furniture. He may also be reluctant to eat or have trouble sleeping in his usual bed or position. Try to make him more comfortable, and consult your vet if you have any questions or concerns. His symptoms should improve a little each day, but it may take a month or more before he is able to run and jump without discomfort.

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