Spring training is an apt description of this month’s pet discussion, prompted by the incredible weather we’ve been experiencing these past several weeks. It also refers to the rash of injured dogs we have run across coinciding with this early spring. By injury, I mean limping or lame dogs with one or more sore limbs showing varying degrees of severity.
It’s no surprise that there has been an unusually sudden burst of outdoor activity, and who better to accompany us on these forays than our canine companions? But let’s face it, just like some of us, some of our pups aren’t in shape enough for this rapid return to spring. Without an easing into increased activity comes a much heightened likelihood of injury. What are some of the things you can expect and prevent during this wonderful weather?
Preventive medicine starts with beginning the good-weather routine slowly, but slower than you think. Imagine if you can, that the weather is NOT as good as it is, and resist the urge to go gangbusters right out of the chute. Almost all have been acute onset injuries where the dog was fine five minutes ago and is three-legged now with a paw held up— thankfully, nothing serious like broken bones, just hurt legs. The take-away is start slow, and then ease your pet into longer, more vigorous runs. ‘Work out’ with your dog before unleashing the hound to the wilds of the dog park where frivolity and frolic may trump your dog’s winter gut. Try some one-on- one fun at home. Try some short jaunts and feed a little less to get them to lose a few. Remember, depending on their size, they are anywhere from 4 to 7 years older this spring.
Resist by doing the hardest thing of all: Don’t include your canine triathlete in every strenuous endeavor you embark on. I know that’s sad because that is what our buddies are for, but give them a break for the short term. A few weeks in dog years are actually a few months, so they will tune up quickly and be ready in no time.
As you see them welcoming a longer walk or run without plopping down on the sidewalk and expecting a human chariot ride home, you can safely increase the exercise load with reduced fear of inadvertent injury. Sometimes your pooch will sleep like a lion of the Serengeti after a play date with your friend’s dog, ‘Bruce Jenner,’ only to wake up stiff and sore. That is just muscle soreness likely, just like you and I after our first three-on- three hoops session at halftime during March Madness. But there are more severe injuries that can and often do occur, some of them costly.
The worst of them would be fractures of different bones. It takes a lot to break a dog’s big leg bones, so it hardly ever occurs in playtime or exercise with a healthy pet. Toes are a little more fragile, as they are the bones in constant contact with the various terrains of your exercise real estate of choice, and as such, are much more vulnerable as are cracked toenails and painful hangnails that seemingly never stop bleeding.
Next in the list of severity—one step down from bone fractures, but FAR more common—are ligament injuries. And the most common of those would be the cruciate ligaments of the knee joints.
No. 3 on the descending list from severe to minimal is the pulled muscle. You hardly ever truly diagnose one but surmise that since there are no broken bones or ripped ligaments, and that the lameness lasts longer than the one-day soreness of a rough-housing session, it must be a ‘pulled hammy.’
Ease as best you can into the warm-weather routine. Slowly build up some stamina, while losing winter weight by having one-on-one time. And then when you’re both feeling ‘right,’ join the others at the dog park for an injury-free, rompin’ good time. Enjoy!
Dr. Kenneth Geoghegan, of Village Veterinary Hospital in Warson Woods (villagevethosp.com), has been a neighborhood veterinarian since 1992.