Common Injuries in Dogs & the Benefits of Bracing

A leg injury is debilitating for a dog. When a dog experiences joint pain and cannot walk normally, it impacts every facet of its life. Many of the most common leg injuries in dogs can be treated with custom braces or orthotics.

Here are a few of the most common injuries to a dog’s legs, knee, ankle, wrist, and elbow.

Stifle Knee Injuries

Knee injuries are among the most common injuries impacting dogs. A veterinarian may also refer to your dog’s knee joint as a stifle joint. A dog’s knee supports a lot of its weight, and as the dog moves, the knee joint takes a lot of impact over the years. Therefore, when a dog’s knee is injured, not only is it painful, but it also dramatically impacts a dog’s ability to move and stay active. Canine cruciate tears and patellar luxation are two of the most common dog knee injuries.

Torn CCL or ACL Injury

Dog knee brace for knee injury

A torn cranial cruciate ligament or CCL tear is the most frequent cause of hind leg lameness in dogs. A CCL rupture is also the most common reason a veterinarian would recommend a dog knee brace or stifle brace for your pet. The cranial and caudal cruciate ligaments stabilize the knee joint and allow the knee to bend naturally. When a dog’s CCL tears, the dog has likely placed excessive force on the cruciate, causing excessive rotation, tearing the ligament, and leaving the dog to become suddenly lame.

Your veterinarian may recommend a stifle brace to stabilize the knee joint, reestablish a natural range of motion, and allow the pet to bear weight on the injured hind limb again. It’s quite common for a dog to need an ACL brace on both hind limbs.

Recommended Brace for CCL Tear: Stifle Brace

Canine Luxating Patella

Patella luxation occurs when a dog’s kneecap slips out of alignment, this can cause a dog to limp or run on three legs until the kneecap returns to the correct position. A stifle brace keeps the femur and the tibia in alignment so that the patella can track properly. In extreme cases, surgery is recommended to keep the kneecap adequately positioned.

golden retriever wears custom dog knee brace
Custom Knee Brace
Custom Elbow Brace
Custom Hock Brace

Tarsus or Ankle Injury

The tarsus or hock joint is in a dog’s hind leg below the knee. Signs a dog has injured it’s tarsal joint include sudden lameness, limping, and swelling at the hock joint. A hock brace can be used to treat tarsal injuries that require long-term tarsal support and stability. A custom tarsal brace is an excellent option for pets with a long recovery time who need their ankle supported for several months or more. 

Hock Hyperextension

Tarsal brace for dog with hock injury

A hock becomes hyperextended when the tarsal joint is injured, causing the joint to destabilize and collapse. A hock hyperextension or ankle hyperextension can present in many ways. In some cases, a dog’s hind leg will appear very straight without the natural bend of the hock in the lower limb. In severe cases, the hock may even bend in the opposite direction. A collapsed hock occurs when a dog appears to be walking flat-footed with the hock or ankle almost touching the ground. A custom tarsal orthotic or hock brace will stabilize the hock joint, allowing the pet to move while preventing hyperextension.

Dog Achilles Tendon Injury

Achilles tendon injuries are most often caused by trauma, overstretching of the dog’s Achilles Tendon, chronic injury, or severe wound. The Achilles Tendon or calcaneal tendon is composed of five different muscles in the hind leg. When the Achilles Tendon ruptures, it can be a complete rupture or partial tears. A dog’s symptoms will range depending on the severity of the injury. A minor rupture can cause limping, pain, and swelling. If left untreated and the injury progresses, a dog’s heel may slowly drop towards the ground. In the most extreme Achilles ruptures, a dog may walk completely flat-footed with the hock and ankle touching the ground.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Happy Golden Doodle runs in Walkin' Wheel dog wheelchair

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a debilitating condition that impacts a pet’s mobility and limb strength. DM is a genetic condition that affects a dog’s leg strength and progressively worsens as the disease progresses, leaving pets paralyzed. Degenerative Myelopathy disproportionately impacts German Shepherd mobility but can also occur among many other dog breeds.

The Walkin’ Wheels dog wheelchair provides dogs with DM the support they need to stay active throughout the dog’s treatment and disease progression. The fully adjustable wheelchair provides dogs in the earliest stages of DM the back leg support they need to stay mobile. As the condition moves up the spine affecting the dog’s front leg strength, a front wheel attachment can be added to convert the wheelchair into a full-support cart. A quad wheelchair provides equal support to all four limbs. 

Carpus or Wrist Injury

The carpal joint or wrist is located below a dog’s elbow on the lower front limb. A carpal joint injury will impact a dog’s ability to bear weight on its front leg, walking with a limp is common with wrist injuries, and the carpal joint may appear swollen. A carpal orthosis can help to stabilize the injured carpal joint and be incorporated into the pet’s treatment plan.

Canine Carpal Hyperextension

Custom tarsal brace for hock injury

The physical signs of carpal hyperextension in dogs are very apparent with visible physical changes to the leg, such as an exaggerated bend at the wrist with the front leg lowering towards the ground.

Carpal hyperextension can occur suddenly or occur over time through multiple injuries. Traumatic injury that places excessive force on the carpus and chronic, repeated injury to a dog’s wrist are the two most common causes. Joint laxity and overextension of the carpal joint can also occur in puppies and very young dogs. A carpal orthosis supports the affected joint and wrist to stabilize the injured front leg. Bracing the carpal joint makes it easier for the dog to bear weight on their front leg and go back to normal, everyday activities.

Canine Osteosarcoma

Dogs diagnosed with Osteosarcoma or bone cancer may require a custom brace to support the affected leg. Osteosarcoma is a painful condition where tumors break down a dog’s bone causing lameness. Although Osteosarcoma can occur anywhere in a dog’s body, the tibia, fibula, radius, and ulna are the most affected bones. Osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancer, and often the first signs include noticeable swelling, reluctance to walk, and lethargy. As joint instability and increased risk of leg fractures are typical in dogs with Osteosarcoma, a custom leg brace can be beneficial to provide additional support to a front or rear limb. In addition, for pets who undergo a limb amputation, the additional support for a full support dog wheelchair may be necessary to reduce the weight placed on the remaining limb.

Elbow Injury

The canine elbow is a complex structure comprised of three different bones, including the humerus, radius, and ulna. These three bones allow the elbow to bend and function. An elbow injury greatly impacts a dog’s mobility and it’s quality of life. Over time the elbow injury can cause erosion of the elbow joint, increased risk for arthritis, joint inflammation, and pain. Providing elbow support through an orthosis promotes continued exercise as a dog heals and works to strengthen its front limb and elbow.

Dog Elbow Dysplasia

Dog elbow brace

Dogs with elbow dysplasia experience irreversible and abnormal elbow joint development, making movement painful. Dogs with elbow dysplasia will experience joint pain, lameness, and leg stiffness. Common early signs of dysplasia include difficulty navigating the stairs, and dogs often struggle to stand up on their own after resting. Elbow dysplasia can occur in one or both front limbs.

Depending on the nature of the dysplasia, surgery may be a viable option to treat the root cause, but the dog will likely still deal with arthritis later in life. An elbow brace supports a dog’s elbow joint and maintains a natural range of motion as the dog exercises.

Is a custom orthosis the best option for my pet?

Every pet and every injury will have a unique treatment plan. Talk to your veterinarian and ask if a custom brace will work for your dog. In some cases, a canine orthotic can act as an alternative to surgery or play a key part in your dog’s recovery. The benefits of a custom leg brace are clear:

  • Support a pet’s injured joint or limb
  • Allow your pet to stay active as they heal
  • Relieve pain and stabilize the injured limb
  • Provide long term joint support for lengthy recoveries

A custom orthotic is the ideal solution for a pet that requires their injured leg support over a long period of time. A leg brace can also be an alternative to surgery or help your pet heal post-operatively. Talk to your veterinarian today about the benefits of a custom leg brace.

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