Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer

by Susan E. Davis, PT 

Loving dog parents everywhere share a common concern in keeping their pets healthy, happy and safe. We go to great lengths to provide proper nutrition, medical care, fun activity and shelter. When problems occur, we spend the necessary resources to insure our dog’s needs are met.

Wouldn’t it feel great to also provide safeguards to actually prevent injury from occurring? 

Imagine the ability to have more control in helping your dog stay healthier, reducing financial costs of treatment and care, and overall peace of mind!  All it takes is a bit of knowledge, a few modifications and some helpful insight from a friend (me!) who has been on the frontlines treating injured dogs.

Here are my best suggestions for injury prevention:

Know thy Breed

If you have a pure-breed dog you need to research the details of the normal traits and conformation as well as medical conditions typical for that breed. For example, Dachshunds and other short-limb canines are susceptible to spinal injuries. Great Danes and Weimaraners tend to develop neck instabilities such as Wobbler’s Syndrome. Toy breeds often have difficulty with luxating patella. Shepherds, St. Bernard’s, Rottweiler’s and others tend to develop hip dysplasia.

Good sources of information are your veterinarian, breeder,  books and the internet.  If your dog is a mixed breed you can still be guided by the general characteristics of the primary breeds that are apparent visually or by DNA testing.  You can also take some measure of comfort that mixed breeds offer in terms of genetic diversity, being less likely to express some of the above disorders or in lesser degree than a pure-bred dog.   

1. Maintain a reasonable weight 

Your dog does not have to be thin, just within a fairly normal range for their breed and size. Let your veterinarian guide you accordingly. Along with body weight, keeping good muscle tone is important. A physical therapist can show you some simple exercises and activities to maximize strength.

See prior articles on Paring Down to the Canine Core and Functional Exercises for suggestions. Keeping excess body weight off the joints, ligaments and tendons will help avoid arthritis, sprains and strains, and aggravation of hip or elbow dysplasia. Good muscle strength and tone also de-loads and supports joints.

2. Hard wood, tile or other slippery floors and surfaces are the enemy!  

I cannot stress enough how dangerous slippery surfaces are for causing cruciate ligament tears and soft tissue strains.

Many families love the look of hard wood floors and have it throughout their homes. They also feel wood floors are cleaner and don’t absorb stains and odor. These “positives” are outweighed by the negatives in terms of potential canine injury.

The solution is to use area rugs over the hard wood in large rooms, carpet runners in hallways and on stairs.  

Avoid small “throw” rugs as they can be slippery as well.  Garage and outdoor deck wood steps should be equipped with nonskid pads.  In terms of the outdoors, be mindful to keep your dog off slippery wet grass unless they are on leash.  Avoid having your dog run or walk on ice or slush.  Snow and sand are usually safe for dogs to walk, run and play in, but use common sense on the duration of activity.

3. Minimize the jumping on/off furniture

Do whatever you can to minimize or restrict this (such as blocking with large pillows, depending on your particular dog.  Larger dogs can easily climb on and off of furniture without danger of injury.

The act of jumping, particularly “down” rather than “up”, causes shearing force on the knee ligaments, and jarring to the forelimb elbow and wrist joints, and the spine.  In my experience, most dogs don’t use those “little steps” you can buy to climb up and down from the bed.  The best solution is a ramp, preferably lined with carpet or a non-stick pad and built-up sides.

Use a leash to train your dog to use the ramp.  If the dog senses the ramp is sturdy, they should have no problem using it.  Sometimes a little ingenuity is needed and if you are handy, consider building one yourself.  My engineer husband built one for our Dachshund, complete with a hinge to fold it up and store under the couch when company comes!  Use gaits or other ways to block staircases.

4. Keep up the grooming

Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed, pads moisturized, and hair between the paw “toes” clipped, allows proper weight bearing and distribution during walking, play and standing.  This is one of the easiest and most effective ways of avoiding injury.

5. Take it easy

Avoid heavy play with other dogs, or with the dog’s parents! Ball play doesn’t need to be a high intensity activity.  If your dog loves to lunge and play hard, just moderate the duration and frequency of such activity.

6. Variety is the spice of life

Exuberance can cause excessive running around in circles, sudden twists and turns that can cause acute strains.  The best way to avoid this is by keeping your dog stimulated and not bored, by rotating toys, varying activity or environment, and taking them for regular controlled leash walks.

Simply letting out in yard does not provide variety or stimulation. Leash walking in the neighborhood or parks and trails allows them to sniff and explore, receive mail signals, and provides mental and physical stimulation.  Exuberance is wonderful but it is much safer to “spread out” the happiness through a variety of activity, to   lessen those over the top spurts.

7. Encourage spay/neuter

Readers of this fine blog are already fully aware of the reasons for spay and neutering, from prevention of certain diseases to the dangers of “close” breeding practices resulting in unnecessary deformities.  I am currently working with an adorable dog, obtained from a retail pet store, who has already endured 3 orthopedic surgeries by the time he reached 1.5 yrs. old. He is the product of careless, for-profit breeding and is at risk for future arthritis and pain, hopefully minimized by having PT. 

Please utilize this information to give you a leg-up in helping  your dog stay active and healthy.

Is prevention of injury important? It’s essential!


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery

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