In the second part of a two part blog, I explore what immediate steps you can take if the worst comes to the worst and your dog strains or tears a muscle and what you can do in the longer term to prevent these painful injuries from occurring.
What to do if you suspect your dog has torn a muscle.
- Don’t panic! Ok, so that bit’s easier said than done and if your dog suddenly goes lame or doesn’t seem their normal selves, it’s quite natural to panic. The good news is that there are some simple steps you can immediately put into place to help your dog.
- Rest. The acute or really painful phase of a muscle strain lasts for approximately 72 hours or about three days. During this time, the injury is extremely painful and it is critical to rest during this time as the dog can easily injure themselves further. It is important to note that that the dog may be unwilling to rest but it is important that you, as a responsible owner, enforce this in their behalf.
- Ice can have a transformative impact on a muscle strain. If you apply ice to the affected area it will reduce swelling and ease the pain. Initially you can apply it for up to 10 minutes every hour during the first 72 hours. Please avoid heat though. Contrary to popular belief it won’t assist in reducing inflammation one little bit.
- Ok, so this one is a bit controversial but I would definitely consider a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory in the first 72 hours. Why? Because if you’ve ever experienced a muscular strain yourself you will appreciate just how painful and debilitating they can be. Anti-inflammatories prescribed by your vet (and I wouldn’t recommend you using anything else) like Rymadil and Metacam don’t get a great press because, just like Ibuprofen in humans,they can have some quite unpleasant side effects. However, I’m not suggesting for a minute that you put your dog on these long term or any longer than 3 days. What I am suggesting is that whilst your dog is experiencing the intense pain of a muscular strain, they will almost certainly appreciate some help getting through this. After the first three days I would not continue with this as intense pain will subside. The remaining pain does have a useful function in curbing your dog’s exuberant behaviour that might cause further damage
- Monitor your dog. If you don’t see an improvement after 72 hours please consult your vet. The symptoms you are seeing might indicate an orthopaedic or other issue or, in rare cases, muscular strains can require surgery.
- Consult a canine massage therapist after the first 72 hours have elapsed. As a muscular strain, which is essentially a tear in the muscle, has begun healing scar tissue will naturally form. This is all part of the healing process. However, this scar tissue can cause inflexibility in the muscle and over time this can restrict mobility. Your canine massage therapist can friction out the scar tissue and stretch your dog’s muscle, restoring the natural range of movement and function of the muscle. The earlier you can get your dog to me, the more I can do to help it.
Preventing muscular strains in dogs
So we’ve looked at what to do if your dog is unlucky enough to sustain a muscular strain but we all know that prevention is better than cure. So what can you do to safeguard your dog against injuries of this type.
Fortunately there is a lot you can do:
- Always warm your dog up correctly prior to physical exercise. I go through this in detail in my Canine Conditioning courses but the warm up is designed to ensure that the dog’s muscles are warm and the rest of the body is prepared for exercise.
- Future proof your dog. By making sure that your dog has a strong core, is flexible, coordinated and strong, you will be minimising it’s risk of becoming injured. Again, I cover this in detail on my Canine Conditioning course which is based on the latest scientific research and does not use potentially unsafe equipment like wobble boards.
- Know when you’re overdoing things with your dog. Your dog will chase a ball until the point of exhaustion and many agility dogs will quite literally run themselves into the ground. Your responsibility as an owner is to ensure that your dog doesn’t injure itself by overdoing things. A high drive dog coupled with a high drive owner can be a recipe for disaster, with neither knowing when to stop. In this scenario, mild injuries can quickly become serious injuries. Rest is as important to fitness as exercise. Take it from me that your dog will not be monitoring this. If you want a strong, fit, durable dog, this is something you will need to take responsibility for.
To book onto the next Canine Conditioning course or to book a Canine Massage Therapy session please leave me a message at the end of this blog or text or ring me on 07842 153831.
How did my dog injure itself?
As a canine massage therapist, one of the most common questions that clients ask me, is how a dog developed a particular injury. Without being there I am obviously not going to be able to tell you specifically how your dog obtained an injury, but there are some broad principles that can give us some clues.
In part one of a two part blog, I explain about the most common muscular injury that I encounter as a Canine Massage Therapist and Canine Conditioning Instructor – the strain – the symptoms to look out for and what causes them.
A strained muscle is a stretch or a tear to the muscle fibres or tendons. It should not be confused with a sprain which is a stretching or tearing of a ligament.
A strain can be either acute or chronic.
An acute strain occurs when the muscle is suddenly stretched beyond it’s usual range of motion, resulting in a tear or a pull to the muscle.
Acute strains usually happen as a result of:
- Slipping eg on laminate floor or on a muddy field.
- Running, jumping or turning suddenly.
Chronic strains are a result of prolonged repetitive movements and may occur as a result of any number of activities the dog does on a regular basis eg playing ball, tugging, jumping on and off the sofa.
How do I know if my dog has strained a muscle?
The truth is that it will be difficult for you to know for sure. If you’re in any doubt, please seek advice from a Canine Massage Therapist. However, some of the symptoms to watch out for are:
- Your dog is in obvious pain
- There is swelling or bruising in an area
- Your dog may be limping
- Your dog is licking a particular area
- Your dog’s behaviour and temperament suddenly changes ie they may appear depressed and withdrawn or may suddenly become aggressive with other dogs
- Your dog is unwilling to do certain things it could previously do eg jump in and out of the car or lie in a particular position.
- Your dog “presents” a particular area to you to be rubbed e.g. it’s neck or hind quarters.
What sort of things put your dog at increased risk of muscle strains?
Of course your dog can injure itself during a routine walk in the park. But what are the key factors that puts your dog at increased risk?
- Poor conditioning. If a dog has weak muscles, particularly core muscles, they are at an increased risk of injuring themselves. As a Canine Conditioning Instructor, I see many supposedly “fit” dogs that could easily run twenty miles yet their core muscles which support their spine and pelvis are weak. In such cases the risk of the dog straining it’s muscles are high as muscles not designed to do a particular job try to take over. Being overweight is also a risk factor.
- Fatigue. Tired muscles are less able to provide ample support to the joints. When a dog becomes tired it’s natural movements become compromised and the dog is more likely to succumb to forces that could over-extend a muscle.
- Improper warm up and cool down. How often have you seen people drive their dog to the park, let them out of the car and immediately start throwing a ball for them. This is a recipe for disaster. Usain Bolt would never arrive at the starting blocks and go into a full sprint without warming up, so why would you let your dog do exactly that? Always ensure that your dog is warmed up properly before you let your dog run off at full pelt. Ten minutes on the lead is ideal for this, gradually increasing the pace from a walk to a trot.
- Environmental conditions such as wooden flooring (which should always be covered by mats to prevent your dog slipping), muddy fields or ice are all risk factors. On cold days your dog’s muscles will need extra time to warm up.
- Repetitive activities. If your dog is habitually doing an activity such as chasing a ball, jumping on and off the sofa or tugging it drastically increases their chance of injury.
On Saturday, Wolf Run dog Harvey and I attended a Tellington Touch or T Touch workshop run by Rachel Jackson, one of the most experienced T Touch practitioners in the UK.
Rachel explained that T Touch is particularly good for dogs (or any animal, for that matter) suffering from fear reactivity or sound sensitivity. It’s also a great way of bonding with your dog and getting your dog to be happy with being handled rather than just tolerating it.
T Touch Groundwork
Before I attended the workshop I was under the misapprehension that T Touch is all about the different contacts you make with the dog. Despite the slightly misleading title, a good part of T Touch is something called groundwork where you don’t actually touch the dog at all. Many dogs are too touch shy to begin with any hands on work so the groundwork is all about observing how the dog moves and it’s behaviour.
We were told to become “dog detectives”, looking out for how they moved, their balance and posture as well as their behaviour i.e. were they happy, confident and curious enough to interact with the equipment.
Rachel laid out some props on the floor – think enriched environment meets an obstacle course – and the dogs chose what they’d like to interact with. Particularly popular was the ball pit, the snuffle mat and the slow feeder, all of which contained treats, surprisingly enough.
How dogs interact with touch
In the afternoon we had a go at doing some T Touches which, Rachel explained, are very light movements of the skin. We applied the kind of pressure you would use to move the skin on your own eyelid. Take it from me, the touch is incredibly light.
Throughout the workshop Rachel emphasised that none of this was ever about forcing the dog to be touched. If the dog will only tolerate one T Touch before walking off, that’s still a great starting point to build upon.
Now I’m home I’m trying out the various T Touches on the Wolf Run dogs, Sasha and Harvey. They seem quite accepting of it.
Longer term it will be interesting to see if any of the other hoped for benefits manifest. I’ll keep you posted.
Another amazing day with people that want to get fit but can’t bear to do it without their dogs. If you’d like to take part in this complete exercise system that will build both your cardiovascular capabilities and your strength whilst having the best time of your life, email me today at email@example.com.
Your dog will love you for it.