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Hydrotherapy for Sprains, Strains & Tears in Dogs

Our four-legged friends stand on their toes, ankles in the air, knees forward. Imagine doing that all day and you’ll have a better idea of the weight and stress your dog puts on his muscles and joints. It takes lots of energy, strength, and flexibility to chase squirrels, scratch behind ears, wrestle with playmates, jump on beds, and leap for toys. Every now and then dogs overdo it, asking just too much of their front legs (shoulders, elbows, wrists, and toes) or back legs (hips, knees, ankles, and toes). Sprains and strains are common injuries. If you hear your dog yelp, they may need your help.

Strains vs. Sprains

The words sound alike, but they mean different things.

Strains injure tendons that link muscles and bones. This can happen if your dog stretches too far, too much, or too often. Athletic dogs get strains, but this injury also can happen when a dog slips, falls, or jumps during normal play. In dogs, strains are common in the hips and thighs.

Sprains harm the ligaments that connect bones, which causes joint damage. Sprains can happen to hunting dogs who jump hurdles, as well as to the average dog who may hurt himself taking a hard landing off the couch, or even by something as simple as stepping in a hole. The wrist and knee are common joints for dogs to sprain. One of the most serious injuries is a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which connects the bones of the knee.

Where Does It Hurt?

The first warning sign of strains or sprains may be that your dog starts to limp or is suddenly lame, meaning they can’t use their leg. If this lasts more than a day or so, or if it happens again and again, it’s time for a visit to the vet.

Both strains and sprains can be chronic (ongoing) or acute (sudden), and can range from mild to severe. Your vet will figure out what kind of injury your dog has based on what you tell them and the results of a physical exam and tests. They’ll want to know when you first noticed a change. You should explain:

  • How your dog is acting differently?
  • What they were doing when you saw the injury happen?
  • What they are or aren’t doing since the injury?
  • Are they sleeping more? 
  • Limping? 
  • Sitting with their leg extended? 
  • Not excited about going for a walk? 
  • Stiff? 
  • Not eating?

…these are all signs they don’t feel well. The vet will check your dog’s muscles and joints. They’ll look the dog over first, then touch and press on certain points to see if they’re sore, warm, swollen, or out of place. They’ll want to see him walk, sit, and lie down. They may take X-rays or do an MRI or ultrasound to get a look at damage that can’t be seen from the outside. X-rays show problems with bones. The other kinds of images are better for seeing tissue damage.

Muscle Tears

A muscle tear can be a very painful experience for your dog. When the normal functioning of the muscles is strained or interrupted, this can result in adverse contraction. Generally, it is the weakest part of the tendon that gets torn. It is essentially the action of over-stretching that causes a muscle tear in a dog. Another classification of muscle tears in dogs, otherwise known as acute muscle tears can occur after high-impact agility movements, chasing over-enthusiastically after a ball or other object or even playing with other dogs.

A common but rarely diagnosed injury is a tear of the iliopsoas muscle. Although there is an elevated risk of muscle tears in dogs that are classified as working or sporting dogs, there is a whole host of reasons that can cause a dog to get a muscle tear:

  • • Improper warm up before exercising
  • • An orthopedic issue
  • • A neurological condition
  • • Post-Surgery (after CCL is common)
  • • Recurring training w/ little variation in activities or movements
  • • Trauma

How to Spot a Muscle Tear in Your Dog


The actual signs of muscle tears in dogs aren’t always easy for pet owners to detect. There are also differing levels muscle tears that your dog can get. However, if your dog appears to be lame, has muscle fatigue (meaning they are extremely tired, more so than normal after very little exercise), they have a pain in their leg, in their lower back, or perhaps they appear to be avoiding putting their weight on one particular side, these can all be tell-tale signs that your dog might have a muscle tear and could be in severe pain. As mentioned above, a muscle tear comes in a range of differing severities.

The Road to Recovery

It takes the same kinds of things to get your dog back on four feet as it would take to get you back on two.

Your vet will decide how to treat your dog based on whether they have a strain, sprain or tear and just how bad it is. They’ll likely try to avoid surgery as a first line of treatment unless a tendon or ligament is badly torn or ruptured.

In a typical plan to treat strains, tears and sprains, your vet may tell you to:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed by your Vet to ease inflammation
  • Apply an ice pack or heating pad
  • Make sure your dog rests & don’t let them jump or run(Sometimes you may need to crate them)
  • Walk your dog on a leash, taking it slowly at first
  • Use a brace or support to hold your dog’s muscle or joint in place
  • Try physical therapy, such as hydrotherapy, canine massage or manual therapy (balancing on a ball or board)
  • Ensure their diet is healthy, nutritious and within a healthy calorie deficit

Surgery is in order for otherwise-healthy dogs that don’t get better, keep injuring themselves, or have a torn tendon or ligament. If your vet didn’t do an MRI or ultrasound the first time around, they may want to see these images before doing surgery. Depending on the type of surgery, you’ll need to keep your dog quiet and limit his activity for a week or longer. The vet may use a bandage or brace to support the joint. If your dog moves too much or too soon after surgery, they could re-injure himself. Physical therapy can help them get back to being active at the right pace.

Whether your dog has injured themselves before or you just want to keep them from getting a tear, strain or sprain, make sure they stay at a healthy weight and get regular exercise (obesity and inactivity make these injuries more likely). Also, please make sure you take your pet into the Vet for regular checkups, especially if they are not feeling well. We do not advise you diagnose or treat any condition your pet may have, without the help and guidance from a Vet or a certified pet professional. 

Physical and Dietary Therapies

The most popular treatments for injured dogs include aqua therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, and massage. All of these therapies can help with pain management, reduce soreness, accelerate repair process, release muscle tension and stress, minimize the building of scar tissue, reduce inflammation and clear the affects of anesthesia. Hydrotherapy provides top notch benefits for dogs recovering from ligament injuries. Dogs receive non-weight bearing exercise without pressuring their joints. It’s also a smart and safe form of release for a dog to let off pent-up energy. 

Using controlled and full range-of-motion swimming, allows canines to build back atrophied muscle. When a dog has a partial tear, water therapy can prevent them from completely rupturing the ligament, as water exercise aids in muscle development. For complete tears, aqua therapy is used for post-surgical rehabilitation as well as continued management. It is almost inevitable that your dog will develop arthritis following this tear, which is why it is important to keep them in these types of therapies that support a healthy means of exercise and management. Joint supplements as well as CBD oil can benefit your dog by keeping their joints mobile and inflammation down. 

Dietary restrictions are just as important as physical restrictions when it comes to a dog’s rehabilitation. Excess weight brings additional stress to a canine’s joints. It is recommend to REDUCE not take away, fat and carbohydrates. Even if your dog is at a healthy weight, he/she will not require the same amount of food, due to activity being extremely limited. Consult with your vet to recommend a nutritious meal plan that works best for your specific dog. 

Hydrotherapy to help heal a tear in Ladybug’s leg

About Dip’ n Dogs Hydrotherapy – Orlando, FL

At Dip’n Dogs Hydrotherapy, we are certified and caring professionals devoted to restoring and enhancing the health and happiness of your beloved pup. Encompassing a pool, as well as a certified hydrotherapist, this can provide effective and long lasting results for your pet’s injury or illness. We are conveniently located in Winter Park, FL. Contact us today at (407) 227-0030. Our Services include the following: Outdoor Hydrotherapy and In-Home Mobile Therapy for dogs. We look forward to hearing from you!

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