The frost we had at the end of April notwithstanding, we really are heading for the summer season. Doing activities with our pets is one of the fun ways we can spend time with them. Last month, we looked at different types of trauma that can occur outside. This month, we’ll look at some common musculoskeletal injuries seen in dogs (and occasionally in cats also).
Our pets can certainly suffer from sprains and strains just like you and I can. Technically, the difference between the two is that in a sprain, the injury is in a ligament or tendon, whereas strains occur when a muscle is damaged. Typically, with either a sprain or strain, the pet will start limping. It may be noticeable right after exercise, but sometimes it isn’t evident until after he’s laid down for a while and then gets up. With this type of injury, the pet will often “work out of it” a little, but then it stiffens up again after rest. The treatment for strains and sprains is rest — so no running or jumping — and anti-inflammatories.
A very common injury we see is a rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament. We usually see this in larger breed dogs, but it can be seen in smaller dogs and even in cats. This is also a commonly occurring injury in people — especially football players and skiers (for humans, it is known as an anterior cruciate rupture). The cranial cruciate ligament is found inside the stifle (knee) joint. It crosses from the femur to the tibia and prevents the stifle from sliding back and forth, keeping the joint stable. When this ligament breaks, we can see what is called a “drawer sign”, where instead of the knee only having a hinge motion, the tibia can slide back and forth against the femur. Pets who have this injury will suddenly hold the leg completely up. It usually happens suddenly, often while running around the yard. The best thing to do for a pet with a cranial cruciate rupture is to surgically stabilize the joint. There are several different procedures to accomplish this and which one to choose depends on the individual case. The reason to do surgery is so that the pet returns to function sooner and more importantly, to decrease arthritis down the road. In the weeks following surgery, at-home rehab helps to keep down swelling and discomfort and to preserve the range of motion of the joint and muscle mass of the leg. The worst part about having a pet with a cruciate tear is that 90% of them will go on to tear the ligament in the other leg within one to two years. An important way to prevent this injury is to not let your pet become overweight — obesity is a huge risk factor for cranial cruciate ruptures.
There are other ligaments and tendons which can be injured as well. Tears of the gastrocnemius (Achilles) tendon, biceps tendon and hyperextension of the carpus (wrist) joint are also less-common problems we encounter. A thorough physical exam and often radiographs are needed to help diagnose all of these.
If you notice your pet suddenly limping, please call us to have him examined. Many injuries need prompt treatment and we do not want your pet to be in any discomfort. Just a reminder to stop by our new May display table to see the information we have on exercising with your pet and controlling obesity. As a fitness fanatic myself, I encourage you and your pet to get, and stay, in shape.