dog restrict leg

How to Help Your Dog Recover From a Knee Injury

Knee injuries for a dog, no matter when it happens, can be debilitating.

Unlike humans, dogs cannot do their own physical therapy, ice the injury, or purposefully mitigate activity, so they're completely reliant on their owner to help them recover. Whether you're opting for surgery and need some ideas for recovery afterward, or you want to forego surgery in hopes that physical therapy and natural methods will help, read on to discover how you can help your best fur friend get back on their (four) feet.

Restrict Movement...

In the first four to six weeks after your dog’s injury, you will want to consult with your vet to determine exactly what part of the leg or knee was injured. A very common injury for active dogs and older dogs, tearing the CCL (Cranial Cruciate Ligament) will typically cause your dog to limp and you may notice a “frog-leg” posture when they sit where they injured leg sits out to the side of their body instead of underneath. After your vet rules out other possibilities such as hip dysplasia or paw injuries, they're sure to give you several non-surgical as well as surgical options. If you're opting for the non-surgical option, the best thing to do for your animal is force them to rest. Suggestions for resting:
  • Use a crate
  • Utilize a dog gate for stairs
  • Do not allow them to jump up or down from furniture
  • Take them into the backyard on a leash so that their movement is restricted
  • If you have hardwood or tiled floors, lay down rugs or yoga mats to keep them from sliding
After you’ve rested their leg for several weeks, the vet will want you to check back in. You will probably notice muscle atrophy in the injured leg. Don’t be alarmed. This is normal after resting an injury, but you do want to keep an eye on it.
dog gate restrict ©istockphoto/diane39

...Encourage Movement

Now, it’s time to encourage. After a few months, scar tissue will start to form in the knee and it will have gained stability. With weakened muscle, however, your dog may be reluctant to use the injured leg. Here are a few things to do to encourage using the leg post-rest period to rebuild muscle:
  • Swimming
  • Short 5-10 minutes walks
  • Walking your dog up and down curbs to encourage the use of all four limbs
  • Gently playing tug with your dog so that they're encouraged to use their hindquarters
  • Asking your vet for anti-inflammatories such as Rimadyl to dull inflammation and pain. The less pain your dog is in, the more he or she will want to use their injured leg.

Let’s Talk Food

Your vet will probably suggest you feed your dog less while they're recovering to control weight gain. This may seem cruel but it’s medically necessary, as any extra weight will put more strain on the injury. Make sure you're feeding your dog high-quality, nutrient-dense products. Foods that are fish-based, such as salmon, are excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids which support immune health. They also have anti-inflammatory properties which is exactly what your dog needs during recovery. You’ll also want to consider supplements and broths for your animal during this time. Bone broths can assist with inflammation, bone, and tendon support. Talk with your vet about what might benefit your animal during this time.
dog encourage leg ©istockphoto/sanjagrujic

No Side-to-Side or Freight-Training

If you have a young, active dog you will probably have a difficult time keeping their activity restricted for long. For dogs who like to chase balls, zoom around the house or backyard, and have explosive bursts of energy, make sure you're limited their side-to-side (or, cutting) movements. Unfortunately, that means no playing fetch. However, you can stand in front of them and toss the ball up into the air for them to catch. If you notice they're starting to “freight-train,” or run around like a wild beast, it’s best to stop them and redirect their energy with tugging or a walk. Recovery from a knee injury is a long process and while their knee is still unstable, they have a very high likelihood of injuring the opposite knee.

Listen to Your Animal (But Not too Much)

Animals can be very good at telling us when something is wrong. If you notice the injury is getting worse, they're more lethargic, and experience bouts of lameness, see your vet immediately. If, however, the leg is getting stronger, they have more pep in their step, and they're gradually wanting to be more active, this could be a sign that they're recovering successfully. Just make sure to consult your vet before you hike any mountains or start chasing frisbees again.

Hope Gately

Hope Gately is a haphazard outdoors enthusiast. She summits Colorado 14ners, hikes the backcountry, canyoneers, and climbs with the best of 'em. The best part about her travels is that her loyal Blue Pit Bull, Indy, is by her side at every step!
Back to Blog