Caring for a newly injured dog is difficult. You may not be sure what caused their injury or exactly how to handle it properly. Going to your vet when your dog is in pain is always the best step to get your dog on the right road to recovery. But it doesn’t end there. Sometimes it can be difficult to truly understand the level of injury and figure out the best way to assist your dog moving forward.
Understanding the diagnosis and different grades of sprains will help you to prepare for your dog’s recovery.
The Difference Between a Strain and a Sprain
Although they sound similar, there are significant differences between a strain and a sprain. Not only can do the two injuries vary in severity, but they also vary in terms of location.
Strains involve the tendons that connect the muscles and bones. A strain often occurs when a dog has slipped or overstretched the tendon. Most often, a strain occurs in a dog’s thigh or hips.
A sprain impacts a dog’s ligaments connecting the bones and leads to joint damage. The wrist, ankle, and knee are among the most common joints affected by a sprain. Left untreated, the damage caused by a sprained leg can lead to lasting joint damage.
Signs of a Sprain
The symptoms of a sprain can mimic those of more severe conditions, such as a broken bone or even bone cancer. If your dog is exhibiting signs of pain or injury, they need to be seen by their Vet immediately. Common symptoms that a dog has a sprain include:
- Leg or joint pain, especially when touched
- Swollen paws or joints
- Limping or lifting a paw off the ground when walking
- Joint appear red or inflamed
- Loss of appetite or signs of lethargy
- Consistent licking of one part of their body
The Degree and Severity of the Sprain
When your dog is in pain, the first thing you need to do is contact the Veterinarian. Only your Vet can properly diagnose your dog’s leg injury. Along with the diagnosis, your Veterinarian will form a treatment plan and advise you on how to care for your dog’s injury. It’s pretty common to have questions. What does it mean if your dog has a sprain? What can you expect from the healing process? And what do I need to do? It’s ok to ask questions. Take the time you need with your Veterinarian to understand better your dog’s injury and what needs to be done.
Understanding the degree of your dog’s sprained leg is crucial to helping your dog heal. There are three grades of sprains, and they range in severity:
While a Grade I sprain is the mildest sprain, it can still be painful for your dog and show signs of swelling in the affected area. Your dog should be able to walk with this kind of sprain, but it can still be uncomfortable for them as they have a slight tear to their ligament, but the joint will still be functional. Support to the affected area and anti-inflammatory medication is standard, and it usually takes from 2 to 3 weeks to heal without invasive surgery.
A slightly more severe sprain is considered a Grade II sprain. Like the former, a Grade II sprain is a tear to the ligament. In a Grade II, while the ligament is still connected to the bones, the significant stretch of the injury will cause normal movement and walking to be much more difficult. Dogs with the level of damage can not move normally and certainly not at the same level your dog can typically move or use the affected limb. Your pet will most likely display some lameness and will struggle using the leg to move compared to a Grade I. These take a little longer to heal and can take over a month. Splinted support and anti-inflammatories are usually recommended for sprains. Depending on how bad it is and what your veterinarian recommends, your dog may need surgery for this to heal properly.
A Grade III sprain is the most difficult of the three to treat. A Grade III sprain is the most serious as it describes the most damage to the area. This is less of a sprain and more like a complete tear as the ligament. Sprains at this level can no longer connect to the bones as they should. This will be the most painful, and your dog will not want any pressure on the injured area.
A Grade III sprain can not be healed as simply as the lower grades, and most often, the dog will require more than a splint and anti-inflammatory. Either a traditional form of surgery or laser surgery is required to be properly repaired and then healed.
Provide Your Dog with the Proper Joint Support
After speaking with your dog’s vet and determining the grade of sprain, they will advise you on the next steps. For the first two Grades, they may prescribe an anti-inflammatory for swelling, or even advisable to use an ice pack or heating pack to assist with swelling along with some support.
Rigid Leg Support
With a Grade, I sprain your dog may only need minimal support, something like the Walkin’ Carpal Splint or Walkin’ Hock Splint. A hard splint provides rigid support to your dog’s carpal or hock joint. This helps to limit the range of motion in the joint. Any extra movement of an injured leg can make the healing process more difficult or even prolong a dog’s recovery time. As the damage is relatively minimal, this splint will still allow the paw to be uncovered and is usually quite easy to get your dog to grow accustomed to.
A Grade II sprain may require a bit more support even under the paw to hinder movement in it that could affect a more severe sprain to heal correctly. The Walkin’ Front Splint or Walkin’ Rear Splint are great options to keep the carpal joint or hock joint and paw from moving, allowing the healing process to go smoother.
Soft Leg Support
A rigid or hard splint is excellent support during the day when your dog may be more active. But the leg support your dog needs at night can be completely different than daytime. It is recommended they are taken off at night time to allow for a bit more airflow in the area and keep from being a potential chew toy for your dog.
While they will be lying down for an extended period, you may still want to provide them with some support that limits how much they can bend their sprained joint. That is when you would want to use a soft splint or wrap like the Walkin’ Wrist Hugger or Walkin’ Hock Hugger. The level of support provided by this neoprene wrap can be compared to that of an Ace Wrap and will help provide some light support above and below the carpal and hock to help reduce the risk of further strain at night. The neoprene wrap will provide the dog the ankle support they need to heal.
Dog Sprain Aftercare
Give your dog the time they need to heal. Follow your vet’s guidelines and give any prescribed medication. Here are a few other ways you can support your dog’s recovery:
Plenty of Rest
Your dog will need to stay off its feet while they heal. Crate rest may be recommended with short walks while leashed to go potty. There should be no running, jumping, or playing, placing additional strain and further injury. For a dog’s sprain to heal, they need to take the weight of their injured leg.
Changes in the Level of Leg Support Needed
Through the various stages of your dog’s healing, their needs will change (as will their leg support). Once your dog’s sprain has fully healed, you should no longer need rigid support. And it’s unlikely that you will need a leg brace that covers the bulk of the lower leg. After the initial sprain, a dog’s ligament will be more susceptible to injury in the future. That’s why upkeep and maintenance in the form of small supports can be beneficial even after healing. The Wrist Wrap or Hock Wrap are great options for a light amount of continued support. These lightweight neoprene wraps support above and below the carpal or tarsal joints. Switching to a leg wrap keeps your dog’s leg supported while allowing your dog to maintain their range of motion. This protects your dog’s joint from re-injury while enabling them to stay active and move naturally.