Symptoms of Pulled Muscles in Dogs

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Close-up of a Labrador retriever dog wearing a leg bandage.
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If your dog has a pulled leg muscle, you will notice him limping or refusing to put weight on his leg. The leg, hip or stifle may 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.

Strained Vs. Sprained Muscles

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.

The Symptoms: What to Look For

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 may whine or be vocal due to pain, and may refuse to eat.


Just because your dog is limping does not mean he has incurred an injury. He may have cut his paw; may have a burr or thorn caught in his pad, or may have an ingrown toenail.

If your dog has pulled a muscle in his neck or back you may notice posture changes, with his back curved upward. He may refuse to turn his head, may appear wobbly and unstable while walking, and may seem stiff or rigid.

Risk Factors

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.


Veterinary Care

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 may observe your dog's gait and perform X-rays to ensure no bones are broken. Treatment usually consists of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain, and lots of rest. If a ligament or tendon is ruptured or torn, surgery may be necessary. Blood tests, spinal fluid analysis, CT scans or an MRI may rule out possibility of disease, infection or fracture.


Home Care

Your veterinarian may recommend placing a hot pack or ice pack on the injury. He may suggest physical therapy and massage. You may 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.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.