When we hear the term ‘injury prevention’ we typically think of highly active sporting or professional working dogs, but any pet dog is also at risk of injury. How often does your canine friend play, chase and tumble around with other dogs at the park or perform the doggie equivalent of a handbrake turn when playing fetch? These everyday activities that our dogs love to do significantly increase injury risk. Whilst we may not always see the injury early on, if we’re not careful, a minor microtrauma to the skeletal system can turn into a serious injury, eye-watering vets bills and a lengthy rehabilitation process.
So, what’s the answer? Wrap my dog in bubble wrap and prevent him from playing? Definitely not! While it’s impossible to completely prevent injury, there are some environmental and lifestyle factors that should be considered to minimise injury risk. After all, prevention always beats cure!
1. Know Your Dog
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, with some dogs (and breeds) being more prone to injury than others. “Conformation” refers to a dog’s structure and how individual body parts work together to affect soundness. For example, dogs with upright forelimbs are at a higher risk of shoulder injuries and dogs with very long or short backs (think Dachshund vs French Bulldog) are at a higher risk of back injuries. Any abnormal conformation places excessive stress and strain on the dog’s body, leading to faster skeletal breakdown, increased risk of injury and osteoarthritis.
By understanding the conformation of your individual dog and what injuries are most common for your dog’s particular breed, you can begin to understand their physical limitations. For example, long backed dogs should avoid excessive jumping due to increased spinal stress and insufficient shock absorption mechanisms.
If you’re unsure, the best person to speak to is your veterinarian or dog therapist/ physiotherapist. These professionals are specifically trained to spot risk factors based on the conformation and breed of your dog.
2. Don’t be a Weekend Warrior
Do you wish that you could be outside playing with your dog every day of the week, but those pesky weekday obligations get in the way and you’re lucky if you can squeeze in a quick walk? You both live for the weekends when you can finally have some fun and spend your days off taking long walks and playing with your dog? If this sounds familiar, then your dog is a “weekend warrior”.
Weekend warrior dogs are exercised inconsistently and lack the conditioning to handle the intense physical exercise on your days off, resulting in sore joints and muscles, or even worse, serious injury.
Obviously, the best thing to do is to avoid being a weekend warrior altogether. This does not need to be a huge commitment. Provide your dog with around 15 minutes of high activity 2-3 times during the working week, such as playing fetch. Consistent conditioning will ensure that your dog can handle the weekend fun!
3. Warm Up Before Exercising
You wouldn’t take off at a sprint before walking and jogging first. The same should apply to your dog, especially if you have the highly energetic kind! Giving your dog a quick warm up before turning him loose to run at top speed or throwing his ball as far as possible is a great way to reduce injury risk.
Something as simple as walking and jogging your dog on the lead for a few minutes before intense exercise increases muscular blood flow and loosens up joints, decreasing the potential for muscular sprains and strains.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Even those few extra pounds that sneak on your dog when you’re not looking places additional strain on their joints, tendons, ligaments and research has shown that obesity in dogs significantly increases osteoarthritis risk. What’s more, fat tissue is biologically active, secreting hormones and chemicals that both cause and enhance inflammation. Obesity can also cause pain independent from musculoskeletal wear and tear, further decreasing your dog’s quality of life.
Your dog’s veterinarian is the best person to determine if your dog is a healthy weight. No matter the breed, a dog of a healthy weight should,
- Have ribs that are easily felt, without a thick layer of fat over them.
- Have an abdomen that appears ‘tucked up’.
- Have a wider chest than abdomen.
5. Assist with Vehicle Exits
Do you allow your dog to jump in and out of the car? Research shows that jumping from the boot of a car increases the forces travelling through the forelimbs by up to four times compared to a normal step. Not surprisingly, as boot height increased, so did impact force. Allowing your dog to repeatedly jump from the car boot poses a huge risk for injury, increasing joint, muscle, tendon and ligament strain and osteoarthritis risk.
Either training your dog to be lifted from the boot, or to use a ramp can spare your dog lots of pain and prevent or slow the progression of injury. However, any jump from a height should also be considered risky, including chairs!
6. Regular Physio Visits
Physiotherapy isn’t just for dogs that have injuries already, and most practitioners would much prefer to see your dog before they have a major problem that needs fixing. In fact, most dogs have muscle imbalances, and many have low grade lameness that owners fail to spot. Remember that as humans, we tend to voice our discomforts or seek out medical attention early, whereas dogs are great at hiding pain. By the time we notice they’re limping, it's usually too late into the injury for preventative measures to be effective. Therapists are trained to spot and treat these signs way in advance.
For example, improving the mobility of your dog may drive a reduction in weight and in turn prevent or slow the onset of age-related skeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis. Additionally, your dog’s therapist can further guide you through preventative measures that are specific for your dog, such as muscle building or core strengthening exercises to support a healthier musculoskeletal system.
To Find a Therapist…
Qualification requirements are dependent on country and state so ask your dog’s veterinarian for either advice on which qualifications to look out for or for a referral to a physiotherapist- they are the most reliable source of information!