If your dog has a pulled leg muscle or a dog leg sprain, you will notice him limping or refusing to put weight on his leg. The leg, hip, or stifle might appear swollen, tender, and inflamed. If your dog has pulled a neck or back muscle, you'll see stiffness, instability while walking, changes in posture, and pain when touched or moved.
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Dog leg sprain vs. strain
When your dog walks or runs, his muscles contract and relax, moving the tendons that connect the muscles and bones. Strains cause injury to the tendons; they're commonly seen in the hips and thighs. Ligaments, meanwhile, are strong, tough tissues that connect bone to bone or cartilage to cartilage.
Sprains injure ligaments — they are much more serious than strains. Sprains can cause damage to the joints. The carpal and stifle areas, the dog's wrists and knees, are commonly affected by sprains. Both sprains and strains are considered soft-tissue injuries.
Dog sprains and strains symptoms
Leg sprains and strains, common in dogs, can be caused by simple, everyday activities such as running, jumping, and playing rough. Symptoms include limping and sudden lameness. Your dog might whine or be vocal due to pain, and might refuse to eat. However, just because your dog is limping does not mean he has incurred an injury. He could have cut his paw or have a burr or thorn caught in his pad. Dogs can even have an ingrown toenails.
If your dog has pulled a muscle in his neck or back you will likely notice posture changes, such as his back curving upward. He might refuse to turn his head, or appear wobbly and unstable while walking, and might seem stiff or rigid.
Risk of soft tissue injuries
Overweight pets are at increased risk for soft tissue injuries. The extra weight puts additional strain on muscles and tendons, making injury more likely. If your pet is overweight or obese, talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate diet.
Young, active dogs are likely candidates for injury, since they enjoy rambunctious play. Canine athletes who participate in competitive sports such as agility and racing frequently suffer injuries to ligaments and tendon. Hunting dogs can injure themselves while chasing prey.
Treatment for soft tissue injuries
Mild leg strains will heal on their own with adequate rest. If your dog does not stop limping after two days, let a veterinarian assess the injury. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination to look for swelling and inflammation. He will likely observe your dog's gait and perform X-rays to ensure no bones are broken.
Treatment for a soft tissue injury usually consists of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain, and lots of rest. If a ligament or tendon is ruptured or torn, surgery might be necessary. Blood tests, spinal fluid analysis, CT scans, or an MRI may rule out possibility of disease, infection, or fracture.
Caring for your dog's injury
Your veterinarian might recommend placing a hot pack or ice pack on the injury, or suggest physical therapy and massage. You might need to keep your dog in a confined area and take him outside on a leash to prevent further injury. Do not let your recuperating dog climb stairs. Ensure that the injury is completely healed before allowing your dog to resume a normal routine.