September is Animal Pain Awareness Month. Recently I was asked by an owner whose dog had just hurt their front leg if I had any recommendations on what she could do to help her dog recover. As I was giving her my thoughts I realized that there is a framework to follow for musculoskeletal injuries and it is really quite simple.

Having an injured dog can be worrisome! Most owners start out by trying to poke and prod their dog until they can find that one spot that makes them react. If that’s you, know you aren’t alone. Also know that a lot of owners can’t find the spot that causes any reaction! Think of each leg on your dog like a chain, what happens at one end will affect the other end and vice versa. So your dog could have hurt their ribs and be limping on their front leg because the whole area is connected.

So what is an owner to do? Here are my 5 steps for helping your dog with acute pain.

1. Allow gentle movement and activities

2. Avoid activities that are aggravating

3. Gradually increase activity

4. Don’t let your dog fool you

5. Get more help

1. Allow your dog to do gentle movements and activities

In the human physiotherapy world, long gone are the days when complete bed rest is encouraged for a musculoskeletal injury. Surgical patients get up out of bed to move the SAME DAY as their surgery because muscle loss can happen so quickly! Why should our dogs be any different?

Allowing your dog to get up and move around is good for encouraging blood flow in the body to reduce inflammation, bring the build blocks of healing to the area and to prevent muscle loss. This could include short, leashed walks or encouraging your dog to follow you around the house.

2. Avoid aggravation

If you know HOW your dog was injured, preventing your dog from doing the same activities for now is a must. You should also limit any impact activities, such as jumping off furniture, and high intensity activities, like running. Instead, slow and controlled walks or practicing brain games or obedience skills might be appropriate.

3. Gradually Increase Activity

When your dog is looking like they are better, stop yourself from jumping right back into your pre-injury routine! This is a great way to end up right back where you started. Though you’ve been keep your dog moving, they haven’t been doing the same activities as they were pre-injury. This has allowed for some weakening and deconditioning to occur. As well, at the injury site, an new tissues that have been added during recovery are still new and fragile and are not as strong as they will be once they mature. They need protection to prevent injury!

Instead, gradually increase over days (or weeks if needed) back up to your pre-injury level of activity.

4. Don’t let your dog fool you!

Dogs are magical, stoic beings that complain WAY LESS than humans. A dog’s level of pain has to be quite high for them to completely stop wanting to play. Just because they are trying to convince you they are ready to get back to normal, don’t let them convince you. If you are still seeing signs of pain (e.g. any lameness) it isn’t time to get back to the norm just yet! You have to be smarter than your dog!

5. Get Help

So you’ve done your best to manage your dog’s injury on your own. You’ve followed the steps above but things still aren’t right. It might be time to add to your recovery team. Often the best place to start is with your veterinarian to ensure you aren’t missing anything that could be more serious (i.e. cancer, Lyme disease) or to trial some pain medication. Your next best bet is to work with someone who is knowledgeable about dog injuries like a physiotherapist or chiropractor. They can help you to identify the cause of the problem, treat the pain and guide you though the process of getting your dog back to normal!

Have you tried on your own to help your dog feel better and now need more help?

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