Exploring the great outdoors with your best friend—what could be better?
A beautiful day in the woods or mountains can quickly be soured by an injury. Even the most active and resilient dogs can still overdo it or take a misstep that causes short or long-term pain.
As a dog owner, it’s important to be able to identify any injuries when they’re new and know what to do about them.
3 Most Common Types of Injuries for Active Dogs
When a dog is on the move, sometimes a muscle, bone, or ligament gets hurt. These injuries range from little bruises that cause brief discomfort to serious conditions that require veterinary surgery.
Some of the most common dog hiking injuries include:
- Strained tendons – the result of overstretching the link between muscle and bone.
- Sprained ligament – an injury to the joint, often caused by a hard landing.
- Footpad and paw injuries – abrasions or cuts around the foot, which are susceptible to infections.
Fractures and breaks can also occur, though they are fortunately less common. They require treatment so that the bones heal in the proper orientation.
Sometimes there is no big event that causes an injury in a dog. Rather, a weaker point in the body suffers from small, repeated wear until it becomes problematic. The common ACL injury in dogs is one such example.
4 Signs of a Dog Hiking Injury
A dog that’s experiencing discomfort may try to hide the fact.
It’s a natural defense that keeps predators or aggressive members of the pack from identifying a time of weakness. Think of your dog as the coworker who comes to the office even when they’re coughing and sneezing.
These signs can give away a dog’s injury, sometimes in subtle ways:
1. Unusual behavior
You know your dog best. One dog may dislike having their paws touched, ever. For another, it’s a sign that something hurts.
2. Limping or frequent rests
While a dog may still seem calm and collected as you walk along, if their gait seems to be favoring one leg, it’s worth taking a closer look. It’s normal for a dog to get tired out after an active day, but if they seem to need more frequent or longer rests than normal, that’s also cause for concern.
3. Not eating
If your dog usually vacuums up food and now they’ve stopped, it’s time to talk to the vet.
4. Sitting with a leg extended
When your dog lies down, do they seem to be keeping one paw or limb carefully straightened or away from their body? That paw, knee, or hip is probably causing trouble.
How to Respond
When a dog has experienced a hiking injury, it’s time to call it a day, end the excursion, and see the vet.
You can’t always gauge the severity of a dog’s injury through their appearance and behavior. A limp might be indicating a minor muscle strain, or it might be a bone fracture.
Veterinarians have the tools required to fully access a dog for injury. They may use x-ray machines or MRI machines to take a non-invasive look inside your dog’s body.
If your dog’s hiking injury required veterinarian care, make sure that you bring them to all of the requested follow-up appointments. It’s important for your vet to see how the healing process is progressing. Small problems are much easier to fix if they’re caught early and infections can grow life-threatening in a matter of days.
The Follow Up at Home
If there are kids in your home, it’s important to have a conversation with them. They’re probably used to their dog being one of the higher-energy playmates in the house, but their regular roughhousing might be more than their pal can currently handle.
Explain that just like humans, sometimes dogs don’t feel good and need extra rest so they can play fetch again soon.
Get kids involved in age-appropriate ways, whether that’s asking them to help you remember a medication schedule or just practicing how to pet your dog gently.
Of course, the best way to handle injury is to prevent it in the first place. This isn’t always possible, and accidents do happen. That said, providing exemplary care to your canine companion increases their chances of living a long, happy, healthy life.
An active lifestyle is key. Walks around your neighborhood, trips to the park, and hiking adventures all keep dogs in strong cardiovascular and muscular health.
The foods that dogs consume have a big impact. It may seem surprising for a species that loves to find snacks in unattended trash cans, but dogs need a variety of vitamins and minerals for healthy joints, bones, and muscles. A high protein dog food is a necessity for any dog’s optimal health, but an active dog needs it even more so for proper recovery.
Caring for Your Dog
An injury can be scary for both you and your buddy. But, with a proactive attitude and good medical care, common hiking injuries can be addressed and healed. You may well be hitting the trails together before you know it.
This was a guest contribution by Dr. Murtha, the founder of the Canine Cruciate Center and the Chief of Surgery at the Massachusetts Veterinary Surgery Referral Center. She has performed thousands of cruciate surgeries over the last 35 years.