Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Handle Soft Tissue Injuries in Dogs

By Linda Cole

Dogs love to run, jump and romp inside and outside. But just like us, dogs can pull a muscle, sprain an ankle and even break a bone. Most soft tissue injuries in dogs come from falls, fights, accidents, and during exercise and play. My dogs love chasing each other around their enclosure and until recently, we had a nice layer of snow to run and play in. However, dogs can slip in the snow and ice, and end up with pulled muscles, stretched tendons or torn ligaments. Soft tissue injuries in dogs can range from mild to severe. When a dog develops a limp, that's a sign they're in pain and we need to pay attention to it.

Like us, mild muscle pulls or sprains will heal in a few days; however, unless you are a qualified vet, never try to treat your dog at home if you notice them limping more than two days. Broken bones need to be x-rayed to make sure there are no complications or other injuries associated with it and a vet needs to properly set the bone. Pulled muscles, sprains or strains need to be evaluated to insure an injury is not something serious. Dogs are also not the best patient in the house when it comes to bed rest to allow something to heal.

Soft tissues are muscles, ligaments and tendons. Tendons attach the muscles to the bones, and ligaments connect one bone to another bone. Swelling and pain usually occurs when one of the soft tissues is injured and unless the pain is severe, dogs seldom complain about an injury. To them, it's a sign of weakness and they will try to hide pain and not show they are hurt. We probably won't know how serious an injury is unless they are limping or indicate pain when we touch the injured area. A soft tissue injury can be a mild bruising to a severe tear or rupture and treatment may include medication and bed rest. Surgery may be required to repair the damage.

Anytime your dog is limping, has swelling and can't put his full weight on a leg, an immediate trip to the vet is necessary. If he has taken a fall down a flight of steps or slipped while running in snow or playing with you or other pets and you notice him limping in pain, it's always best to be safe with a call to your vet.

Mild strains and pulls should heal quickly on their own. Two days is the maximum time you should allow for a mild soft tissue injury to heal. If he continues to limp, it indicates the injury has not healed and is more severe than you thought. The severity of the injury can only be diagnosed by a vet who will want to take x-rays to make sure there's been no bone damage before deciding on a treatment.

Soft tissue injuries can be difficult to diagnose. X-rays will only spot problems with the bones and not injuries to muscles, ligaments or tendons. A vet will make his evaluation based on the amount of swelling and pain around the affected area and range of motion the dog has around the injury.

A dog may be limping because they have a cut on or between their paw pads or between their toes. They could have a toenail that needs attention or they could have a rock, burr or some other foreign object stuck in between the pads of their feet. Limping isn't always caused by a soft tissue injury.

A dog with a soft tissue injury will need to be confined to a small area in the home to allow his injury to heal. When he needs to go outside, make sure to keep him on a leash so he doesn't do more damage by trying to run and play. Try to avoid any stairs if possible. Consider a temporary ramp if you have to use steps and the dog is too big to carry. Like kids, they may try to convince you they are feeling better before they've had adequate time to heal. It's important for them to heal completely before allowing them to go back to their usual routine. If their injury isn't completely healed, they will only aggravate it and you'll have to start all over again, and it could be more severely injured the second time around.

Dogs love to play, and things can happen we can't foresee. We may not be able to prevent soft tissue injuries in our dogs, but responsible pet owners need to understand how to handle them. With proper vet care and home care, your dog will get back on his feet in no time.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Readers may want to try the "Pet Stick" to help their pet heal from soft tissue injuries. It is very easy to use and very effective.

  2. My 8 month old Golden Retriever was playing in the snow about 2 1/2 weeks ago. She came home and didnt want to walk. She was hurting. But she had no limp. The next day she was fine. Since then, even the littlest of walks I take her on, (just around the block), she seems to act the same when I get her home. Doesnt want to walk, just sleep. The next day she is usually fine. 2 days ago, I took her to the snow again, and it took almost the whole 2 days to get her back to normal. Yesterday, all she did was lay around, not wanting to walk again. What do you think....

  3. Have you checked her feet between the pads, on her pads and between her toes to make sure she didn't get a cut or step on something hidden under the snow? Check her toenails to make sure one isn't infected.

    I would highly recommend you take her to your vet. It's not normal for an 8 month old pup to just lay around. She shouldn't be that wore out after a walk or playing in the snow, even if she did injure herself in the snow. It shouldn't take a day or two for her to recover from some exercise. There could be something else going on that has nothing to do with the first incident a couple weeks ago.

    You can take your hands and feel her legs starting at the top and working down and feel for any swelling that you may not be able to see. Check her shoulder area and around her hips and check her ankles and feet. But if she were one of mine, I would get her checked out with the vet as soon as possible.

    Linda Cole

  4. My dog's back legs slid out while he was playing and he is okay on walks but after he sleeps for a while and limps when he gets up. He's been at the vets twice and had x-rays after which the vet pronounced it was a soft tissue injury and recommended on the leash walking for three weeks. I am coming to the end of the three weeks now but am worried to let him off the leash as he limped once after his one the leash walks last week. Any recommendations? He doesn't limp for the vet to see so I'm having a hard time narrowing down the injured area.


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