Interview With a Rehabilitation Doctor: Tips for Preventing Injury in Dogs

Dogs play and chase things. They run and jump. They rough-house. And sometimes they get hurt.

“Dogs can injure themselves in countless manners: from a misstep while landing an agility jump, playing with other dog friends, to simply stumbling in a pothole or stepping on glass during a routine trip outside to relieve themselves,” says veterinarian Dr. Danielle Conway, staff doctor in Integrative & Rehabilitative Medicine at New York City’s Animal Medical Center.

But our dogs can’t live in a bubble, and they shouldn’t. However, there are things we can do to help lower injury potential. Conway offers up some tips, as well as educates us on other relevant facts:

The Honest Kitchen: What are some common dog injuries?

Danielle Conway: Dogs can become wounded by environmental factors such as fences, nails, potholes, sharp metal, glass, or by other animals both domestic and wild. Muscles and ligaments can be torn and strained from athletic endeavors, simple play, and even genetic predispositions. Bones are usually broken from traumatic and concussive forces.

THK: What are some breed predispositions to certain injuries?

DC: Large and medium breed dogs such as Newfoundlands and Labrador retrievers are predisposed to cruciate ligament tears—similar to the human ACL ligament. Jumping down from a couch or bed can result in a fracture in smaller, delicate-boned dogs such as toy poodles and Italian greyhounds. All breeds and sizes of dogs can develop osteoarthritis and can become injured during play and athletic endeavors.

THK: What are some traditional and holistic ways to treat the various injuries?

DC: Evaluation of injuries should start with a conventional physical examination by a veterinarian. Once a diagnosis is obtained, then various options such as surgery, X-rays, sutures, rehabilitation, acupuncture, spinal manipulation, or simple rest and pain control both traditional and holistic can be discussed depending on the specific injury.

THK: What are some tips for helping prevent various injuries?

DC: Keep your animal lean and make sure to feed a complete and balanced diet appropriate for their life stage. Obesity is rampant and excess weight places more strain on the joints, which can exacerbate arthritic pain or increase the chances of injury. A complete and balanced AAFCO-formulated/tested diet appropriate for your dog’s life stage will ensure that appropriate levels and ratios of essential amino acids, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D are met to support a healthy musculoskeletal system.

A slow warm-up and cool-down are essential to the canine athlete and weekend warrior alike. Give your dog 10-20 minutes of a gradual controlled warm-up and cool-down walk. Post-exercise massage and stretching could also help avoid injury and will release feed-good endorphins and hormones in both you and your dog.

Set up a safe space both indoors and out. Patrol your yard and your dog’s play spaces for potential sources of injury. Patch any potholes in your lawn, check the fencing for any nails, walk property for barbed wire, glass, or other sharp, unsafe objects. Prevent injury indoors by utilizing ramps, stairs, and other assistive devices. To ensure good footing and safe traction indoors utilize yoga mats and throw rugs on slick surfaces and be sure to keep nails and paw hair trimmed.

Ensure play dates are well-supervised and your dog’s play pals share similar activity levels and play styles. Some doggy day care facilities will screen simply by size. While size is certainly a factor, separation of dog play groups should also keep the rough-and-tumble pooches in a more active play group, and the mellow mutts in another. Also be sure play is well-supervised not only at day care but also dog parks. Too often injuries occur because an owner was distracted on their cell phone.

Keep your dog fit. No matter the size or age, keeping your dog moving with low-impact activity will keep them mobile into their senior years. Consult your veterinarian for advise on the appropriate amount and type of exercise for your dog. You may also wish to consult with a veterinary rehabilitation practitioner. A canine rehabilitation practitioner can make recommendations to help keep your dog fit and healthy regardless of age, activity level, or size.

Also don’t forget common sense tips such as obeying leash laws and asking permission for your dog to approach another dog. Please do not be offended if the request for your pooch pal to play with another is denied. It is nothing personal, the other canine guardian is simply trying to keep all parties safe.

THK: What are some tips for home care once an injury happens?

DC: Quickly, calmly, and safely remove your dog from the situation and seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Be safe and remember that even loving and friendly dogs can bite when in pain. Cold compresses and gentle compression can help control pain and bleeding until veterinary care can be provided. Makeshift slings out of jackets or towels can be utilized to transport larger dogs that cannot be carried.

THK: Is there anything you don’t recommend for treating an injury in general?

DC: Generally I do not recommend home DIY treatments without first seeking the consult of a veterinarian. I have seen some disastrous outcomes from well-intentioned owners trying to MacGyver situations at home. In the event of an injury, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Dogs are dogs and injuries sometimes happen. But take some preventative measures to help reduce the risks for injuries and you’ll rest a little easier.

Meet the Author: Jessica Peralta

Jessica Peralta has been a journalist for more than 15 years and an animal lover all her life. She has had dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, frogs, and rabbits. Her current children are a German shepherd named Guinness and a black kitten named Riot (and he lives up to that name). It’s because of her love for animals that she focused her journalistic career to the world of holistic animal care and pet nutrition. In between keeping Riot and Guinness out of mischief, she’s constantly learning about all the ways she can make them healthier and happier.

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