How to Treat a Dog's Sprained Ankle

Veterinarian-reviewed advice you can trust when there's too much jumping for joy

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Call your veterinarian when your dog has any type of foot or leg injury and keep the dog comfortable with an ice pack on the affected area until the veterinarian can see them. The leg injury needs examining to determine if it is a mild sprain, a strain, or a more serious soft tissue injury, such as a torn ligament, before the appropriate treatment can be determined.

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An ankle sprain occurs when the joint moves violently enough to tear or stretch the ligaments surrounding the joint. A knee injury is commonly a CCL injury. Slipping, stepping in a hole, or just romping and jumping in play can cause an ankle or leg sprain in a dog. Lameness or limping are symptoms.

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Can dogs sprain an ankle or leg?

Yes, it is possible for a dog to sprain an ankle or leg‌. A sprain is damage to a ligament that connects two bones. Any dog can sprain an ankle or leg, but sprains are most likely in dogs who are overweight or who engage in energetic physical activity, such as jumping on or off high surfaces. However, a sprain is different from a muscle strain. A strain is a pulled muscle or tendon, which is the connective tissue between muscle and bone.

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How to spot a dog's sprained leg or ankle

If your dog suddenly yelps when they're playing, running, or jumping, they might have sprained their ankle or knee. A dog limping is also cause for concern. Note that a sprained ankle in a dog is not the same as a sprained knee or CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) injury. The CCL in dogs is often referred to as an ACL injury, but an ACL is the knee ligament in humans. A torn CCL is a common type of soft tissue injury in dogs.

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However, if your dog does suddenly yelp while playing, stop their activity immediately. Look for any signs of a sprain, including lameness, limping, nonuse of a leg, or dragging of a paw. Your pooch might appear lethargic, might hold the injured leg extended, or might lack enthusiasm about playtime. Any of these signs can indicate a severe sprain in the leg; a sprained ankle; or a serious knee problem, such as a CCL soft tissue injury.

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How to treat a sprained ankle in dogs

If you suspect an ankle sprain on your pet, call your veterinarian to schedule an appointment and confirm it's OK to apply a cold ice pack to the ankle in the meantime. Allow your dog to rest as much as they see fit before the veterinary appointment and keep them from bearing weight on the injured ankle.

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To treat a dog's sprained ankle with an ice pack:

  • 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 gauze to hold the pack in place but remove it every 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Refreeze the pack and reapply it every two to four hours.

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A bag of frozen peas works well in the absence of an ice pack because they fit around ankles and conform to the leg's shape.

Should I take my dog to the veterinarian for a sprained ankle?

Yes, damage to a dog's leg can be serious, so you will need to take your dog to the veterinarian for a physical exam.‌ In the case of a CCL injury in the knee, a dog likely requires surgery. In the case of a sprain to the ankle, the dog might simply require painkillers and rest. Only a consultation with a veterinarian can determine the extent of the injury.

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Your veterinarian will examine your dog's physical condition and will likely want to see them walk, sit, and lie down. The veterinarian will palpate the area to confirm a dog leg sprain — the ankle or leg will be warm to the touch, swollen, and sore. Your dog might need radiographs (X-rays) of the injured area. If the X-ray does not reveal the problem, an MRI or ultrasound might be necessary to determine the internal damage of the sprain or soft tissue injury.

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Medications for a sprained ankle in dogs

Your dog will likely receive nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to ease the pain and inflammation caused by the sprained ankle. The veterinarian will likely instruct you to apply warm or cold ice packs to the injury, sometimes alternating between both. Pain medication, such as Metacam, might also be prescribed.

Some veterinarians might also suggest a custom-designed brace or support for your dog's ankle, especially if they are an energetic dog, to hold the ligaments in place while they're healing and to prevent further injury. Note that if your dog has a torn CCL, your pup might require surgery and possibly physical therapy after the medical procedure.

How long does it take for a dog's sprained ankle to heal?

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

The bottom line

It is possible for a dog to sprain a leg or ankle. A sprain is an injury to the ligament connecting two bones. A strain, however, is an injury to the muscle or tendon. Either can be helped with an ice pack until the dog is able to see a veterinarian. A physical exam is necessary to determine the extent of the injury and to rule out a dislocation, broken bone, or CCL injury in the knee, which can require surgery.

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