How to Treat a Dog's Ankle Sprain

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A veterinarian wrapping a dog's ankle in bandages.
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Call your veterinarian when your dog has any type of foot injury, and keep the dog comfortable with cold therapy until the vet can see him. The injury needs examining to determine if it is a sprain, a strain, or a torn ligament before the appropriate treatment can be determined. An ankle sprain occurs when the joint moves violently enough to tear or stretch the ligaments surrounding the joint. Slipping, stepping in a hole, or just romping and jumping in play can cause a sprain.


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Sprain Signs

If your dog suddenly yelps when he's playing, running or jumping, he may have sprained his ankle. Stop his activity and notice any signs of sprain including limping, nonuse of a leg, or dragging of a paw. Your pooch may appear lethargic, may hold the affected leg extended or may lack enthusiasm about playtime as normal.


Cold Therapy

If you suspect an ankle sprain on your pet, call your veterinarian to schedule an appointment and confirm it's OK to apply cold therapy to the ankle in the meantime. Allow your dog to rest as much as he sees fit before his veterinary appointment, and keep him from bearing weight on his injured ankle.


Place an ice pack in a towel and put it on your dog's injury for no more than 15 minutes at a time, to reduce swelling and inflammation. You can wrap the cold pack and towel with vet wrap or gauze to hold the pack in place, but remove it every 10 to 15 minutes. Refreeze the pack and reapply it every two hours. Bags of frozen peas work well in the absence of an ice pack; they fit around ankles and conform to the legs.


Veterinary Examination

Your veterinarian will examine your dog's physical condition and will likely want to see him walk, sit and lie down. He will palpate the area to confirm a sprain -- the ankle will be warm to the touch, swollen and sore. Your dog may need an MRI or ultrasound to see internal damage of a sprain.


Medications for Sprains

Your four-legged friend will likely receive nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease the pain and inflammation caused by the sprained ankle. The vet may instruct you to apply cold or warm packs on the injury. Some veterinarians will prescribe a brace or support for your dog's ankle, especially if he is an energetic dog, to hold the ligaments in place while they're healing and to prevent further injury.


Exercise Limitations

Your vet will confirm that you should restrict your dog's exercise for about a week or so until his ankle sprain is healed. Walk your dog on a leash to prevent him from bounding around, potentially delaying his healing. Shorten his walks after the injury, and gradually build back up to the dog's normal activity and intensity level.

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.