Have you ever focused intently on how your dog walks? The motion is counterintuitive to humans. Dogs don’t walk as we do. They walk on their toes, ankles up, and knees forward. If your dog is walking like that, there’s nothing wrong. But if she’s walking tentatively or favoring a leg, it’s time to find out why.
What is a Dog Sprained Leg and How Does it Differ from Strains and Breaks?
Unlike joint sprains, strains damage tendons. These tissues link a dog’s muscles and bones. A sprain is an injury to a joint. It generally affects the ligaments connecting bones. A break is a crack in a bone. It may show up when a dog’s limb is bent in an awkward position or when there’s bleeding. All these injuries are painful to dogs, but breaks are far more serious injuries than strains and sprains.
What Kinds of Sprains Do Dogs Suffer From?
Sprains generally affect the legs in dogs because the legs are the most active parts of their body. Sprains can also affect their neck, back, and shoulders. Less often, sprains can damage tails and jaws.
What Causes Dog Sprains?
Dogs normally have lots of fun walking, running, and jumping. But occasionally your dog will overdo things. She may slip on ice or snow. She may stumble and fall. She may step in a hole and overextend her leg. She may pull, stretch, twist, or tear her ligament.
If your dog is one of a fast-growing breed, she may sprain a joint during one of her growth spurts. If she has a long back, she may sprain her neck or back.
Dog sprains also happen during dog fights and car accidents. If you hear her yelp in pain after an incident, you know there’s serious trouble. Attend to her immediately.
Why Might I Think My Dog Has a Sprain?
You may note something off in her gait while she walks. Is she favoring one leg? Is she limping? When she sits, does she extend a leg? Has she stopped playing? Has she lost her hearty appetite? Does she cry when trying to get up? Does she growl at you when you try to touch the wounded area? Does she lick that area far too much? Is that joint swollen? If so, these are the top symptoms of a sprain.
What is the Best First Aid for a Dog Sprain?
Check your dog for wounds, bleeding, and pus. If none, put an ice pack on the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Wrap the ice in a towel to protect her skin from freezing. For an older dog or a recurring injury, try a warm towel wrapped around the limb.
Keep your dog in her bed so she can rest. Don’t allow any physical activity for the first two days. Don’t let her aggravate the sprain by playing or running.
When Should I Take My Dog to the Vet for a Sprain?
If the swelling doesn’t go down and your dog isn’t feeling any better in a day, that’s when you should take her to the vet. She may have a serious sprain or a hairline fracture.
Your vet will give your dog a physical exam and tests to assess whether the sprain is a Grade I, Grade II, or Grade III sprain. A thorough exam will also eliminate other possibilities, such as a break or arthritis, as explanations for your dog’s symptoms. The vet will also be able to eliminate the possibility of such conditions as dog paw infection or pododermatitis during the examination.
Your vet may need to take X-rays to determine if there’s a break or give your dog an MRI or ultrasound to identify any tissue damage. Your vet may also insert an endoscope through a small insertion to examine your dog’s ligaments. These tests can also eliminate the possibility of bone degeneration or even cancer.
What Treatments Are Best for a Dog Sprain?
A Grade I sprain will need minimal care, including splinting and anti-inflammatory medication. It will take several weeks to heal.
A Grade II sprain is more serious. It involves damage to the cranial cruciate ligament. This ligament links the bones in a dog’s knee. The joint can work, but only with great pain to the dog. Surgery may be required to correct the damage to the ligament.
A Grade III sprain is the most serious. It means the ligament may be completely torn and the bones are no longer connected. The joint will no longer function. Surgery will be required.
Your dog may need to be x-rayed to make sure there isn’t a break. If there isn’t and the injury is minor, the vet will then splint it and prescribe medication. The vet will do the same if it’s a Grade II sprain, but surgery isn’t required.
Your dog will take longer to heal from a Grade II sprain and extensive healing time to recover from surgery after a Grade III sprain. A Grade III sprain may result in permanent loss of full mobility.
How Should I Treat My Injured Dog at Home as She Heals from a Sprain?
Give your dog her anti-inflammatory medication as prescribed by the vet. This will help with pain and swelling. Never give your dog medicine designed for humans. It may be toxic to her.
Make sure the splinting stays put. Keep your dog from interfering with it. You may need to use a wide recovery collar to keep your dog from licking or nuzzling the wound. Make sure the splinting stays clean. Use ice packs or heat. Your vet will tell you which ones to use and for how long.
Check on the wound for bleeding, pus, or severe swelling. Inform the vet when you see any sign of infection.
Keep your dog comfortable and quiet. Don’t allow her to jump and run when she has to go outside. You may want to keep her in a dog crate and on his dog bed most of the time. Leave bowls of food and water within reach of your dog so she doesn’t have to strain to get at them.
What Should I Allow My Dog to Do as She Gets Better?
As she improves, she will get feistier and want to run and play. Let her play gently but hold her back from rough-housing and running. Take her for a walk on a retractable dog leash when your vet tells you it’s okay. Don’t overdo it. Walk slowly. Don’t take her on long hikes. Don’t allow her to run. When she gets tired, take her home. If necessary, pick her up and carry her.
Don’t take your dog to the dog park. She will be tempted to run and play with the other dogs.
What About Physical Therapy for a Dog Sprain?
Your vet may prescribe physical therapy to strengthen the injured joint. If so, take her to a licensed canine therapist. Work may include water therapy, permitting her to walk on a treadmill in a pool. She’ll be buoyant, moving without pain. Make sure you do the “homework” with your dog as prescribed by her therapist. Take her for several visits so the therapist can determine how well she’s progressing.
You can provide her with therapy as well. Try a gentle massage on the joint. Consider adding coconut oil to the massage. This will help her become more comfortable. Hold your dog and pet her softly. Baby her. Tell her how much you love her. She will relax as you scratch her ears.
How Do I Know When My Dog’s Sprain Has Healed?
When your dog is moving properly without pain, when her gait is back to normal, and when your vet diagnoses her as fully healed, then you can begin letting her play as she used to . You can take her for long walks.
But be aware joints that have suffered sprains are prone to reinjury. Taking it easy with her at first is a wise move. Let her build up her tolerance to vigorous play. Maintain Fido’s healthy weight to avoid extra pressure on your dog’s muscles and legs. She’ll then be your playful companion for years to come.
Will a Dog’s Sprained Leg Heal on its Own?
It may if it’s a very minor sprain. But if your dog shows signs she’s in pain, it’s better to be safe. Take your dog to the vet to find out if the injury is serious. Get tips from your vet on how to take care of her at home after treatment.
How Can I Tell if My Dog Sprained Her Leg?
When you notice your dog limping, will not want to play, licking his leg, and showing clear signs of significant pain, he could have a sprained leg. The joint may be swollen or inflamed. Your dog may growl or snap at you if you try to touch that joint. She may have lost her appetite. Even if the limp is minor, it is cause for concern.
Your dog loves you and wants to be with you. If she won’t get out of her bed to greet you when you come home, examine her for sore spots on her limbs.
How Do I Know if My Dog’s Leg Injury is Serious?
If your dog can’t put any weight on that limb or if she yelps in pain, it may be a serious sprain or an injured leg. It may even be a broken bone. If there are any signs of bleeding or pus, or if you notice a bone bent in an odd way, don’t hesitate. Bring your dog in to see the vet immediately.
How Much is it to Fix My Dog’s Sprained Leg?
The average cost of an exam is $100 to $150 per visit. If your vet is worried about a possible breakage, X-rays may be needed. They will cost $150 to $250. With a follow-up exam, the total cost can run from $300 to $600 for an ordinary sprain.
For a serious sprain, orthopedic surgery will cost far more. A partial carpus fusion or fusion in the carpal joint can run from anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.