Downeast Dog News

Ask the Vet

Keeping Your Active Dog injury Free
By Dr, Judith Herman, DVM,CVH | Oct 27, 2017

Q. My dog and I are very active. Everyone is giving me advice on what sport Jake and I should do. My last lab and I use to run road races together and his career ended abruptly with a torn ACL. I don’t want the same thing to happen again. What precautions should I take?

A. A very good question. So often we have active dogs and well meaning folks giving advice on what sport to pursue, but never talk about the dog being fit for the job. This fitness is physical and mental. Also, you have to add into the mix what your goals are and whether your dog has the capability to meet those goals.

First, let’s look at early neutering. Shelters and rescues spay and neuter young because of the need to decrease overpopulation. This is fine if you are going for long walks, hanging out together, or doing low impact sports. Hormones play a role in the timing with the closure of growth plates. The length of your dog’s legs is partially determined by the time it takes to close growth plates. Growth plates are found toward the top and bottom of every bone in a baby’s body. These plates allow pups to grow. If one of these plates is damaged, it will close prematurely and the bone will stop growing, resulting in a shorter or twisted leg. When a dog is spayed or neutered before 4 months, the growth plates stay open, and the bones keep growing. When this happens, the legs are longer and look out of proportion to the rest of the dog. This also makes the legs straighter. Straighter legs cause more stress on the joints resulting in osteoarthritis, torn ligaments, and sprains.

Next let’s look at nutrition. Athletic dogs should not be fat. The more excess weight they carry, the more stress on the joints, heart, and heat exchange. Obesity in dogs carries the same risks as people. If you want to do canicross, agility, winter hikes, or climb mountains, keep your dog trim. Excess weight with heavy exercise can result in Jake overheating and suffering heat stroke. Dogs cool off by panting and by cooling the pads on their feet. If he is overweight, the internal heat builds up while exercising, which will take longer for him to remove. Measure out how much food your pup needs for the day. Take some of the food and use it when training or for treats. This will avoid the risk of feeding too much.

So how do we prevent injuries and chronic problems in our active partners? Just like us, build them up slowly. Being a weekend warrior is a sure way to get Jake injured. Once you find a sport you enjoy, have your veterinarian assess his conformation for any major problems. No one is built perfectly, so knowing your dog’s weaknesses is very important.

Find a trainer in your sport who is knowledgeable of the stresses that sport has on your dog, both physically and mentally. A good trainer will see a potential problem and give you techniques to prevent your dog getting injured.

Find a core fitness class. These classes teach your dog body awareness and, just like us, strengthens his core muscles which will reduce injury to his back and other joints. Your instructor will teach you exercises to do at home. When looking for a class, be sure to check the credentials of the person teaching. You want someone trained and certified.

Now that you and your dog are competing in a sport or hiking up the Presidential Mountains, there are other things you can do to keep Fido in tip top shape. If you compete in strenuous sports, find a good massage therapist to remove the knots in your companion’s muscles. Taking your teammate to a chiropractor on a regular basis will allow him to have a long safe career.

When you compete in the sport you love with the dog you love, be mindful of any change in attitude, behavior, or energy. Our companions will do anything to please us, even performing when they are in pain or injured. Don’t assume the naughty behavior is just attitude to work through. Make sure there isn’t a problem.

Take good care of your companion and enjoy the game!

Judith K. Herman DVM,CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine