Dogs love to play, run, and chase, and most of the time can do so with no ill effects. When dogs do injure themselves, however, there are a few common leg injuries — and possibilities for rehabilitation — that you should know about.

If your dog suffers a leg injury, the rehabilitation timeline depends on the nature of the trauma. For example, broken bones often heal faster than serious soft tissue injuries. Your veterinarian can help you put together a therapeutic program to safely help your dog recover as soon as possible. Of course, there are some injuries that fully heal only with time.

It’s crucial to have a definite diagnosis of your pet’s injury before embarking on a rehabilitation plan. That includes X-rays to identify possible fractures, and an MRI or CT scan.

cute spotted dog

Source: Lisa Nail via Flickr

Canine leg injuries can result from overexertion, or from trauma – such as getting hit by a car. If your dog starts limping badly, get him to the vet immediately. If he’s just a little “off” and doesn’t appear in pain, wait a day or so, and schedule an examination if there’s no improvement.

The most common canine leg injuries include:

Sprains or strains: Sprains affect the ligaments, while strains affect the tendons. Both types of injuries produce inflammation and swelling.

Cranial cruciate ligament rupture: The cruciate ligament connects the knee bones, and is analogous to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in people. In dogs, partial tears of this ligament generally progress to complete tears, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Fractures: The treatment and prognosis for broken bones depend on the location and severity of the break.

Paralysis: Injury to the spinal nerves results in leg paralysis. If you’re lucky, the paralysis is temporary, and appropriate therapy can help nerves regenerate.

Some of these injuries require surgery, and all require prolonged rest periods. Your vet will let you know when it’s time for rehab to start.

dog running in field

Source: Richard Walker via Flickr

There are several therapies a vet might prescribe to help an injured dog recover.

1. Physical Therapy. 

Usually performed several times daily, physical therapy can aid your dog’s rehabilitation. A veterinary physiotherapist will put together exercises for your dog and teach you how to do them. Depending on the injury, your dog might need regular physiotherapy sessions.

Related: Puppy Who Couldn’t Walk Found His Strength — And A Forever Home
dog runs in field

Source: Chris Ghelen via Flickr

2. Massage

Massage can help your dog get back on his feet sooner, and it’s a good practice to continue once he’s sound. Stretching and massage keep your dog’s legs in good shape and may prevent future incidents.

puppy sleeping soundly

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3. Dietary Changes

If your dog is overweight, it can take him longer to heal. Excess pounds produce additional strain on a damaged leg. A less active dog may not need as much food as an animal receiving considerable exercise. Your vet will advise you on a diet for your pet while he’s recuperating.

happy running dog

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4. Hydrotherapy

Regular hydrotherapy sessions can improve rehabilitation time for many types of injuries. It’s also a therapy that dogs thoroughly enjoy. If your dog’s injury involved surgery, the incision must close before you can begin hydrotherapy. Some dogs diagnosed with a cruciate ligament rupture may even be able to avoid surgery with rest and regular hydrotherapy sessions.

Related: Military K9 Injured By IED Will Return To Active Duty
dog water therapy

Source: K9 Aquatic and Wellness Center

Hydrotherapy increases your dog’s endurance, along with the range of motion in the injured limb. If he’s not up to walking on the ground, he can use the injured leg in the pool. On land, he may be afraid of using the leg due to pain, but it won’t hurt to use it in the non-weight bearing mode offered in the water.

Hydrotherapy is another beneficial therapy to continue using after your dog’s leg heals.

happy dog running

Source: Brian Kelly via Flickr

Even though you want your dog back in action as soon as possible, don’t cut corners with his rehabilitation schedule. A good therapy program can shorten the rehabilitation timeline, but it requires discipline. Refrain from overdoing it and expecting too much too soon. Keep in mind that “overdoing it” is often the reason a dog becomes injured in the first place.

With luck (and good rehabilitation!), your pup will heal and get back to the running, chasing and playing he loves.

Header image: Dallas Krentzel via Flickr

Jane Meggitt is a Writer for K9 Aquatic Center. Jane’s work has appeared in The Daily Puppy, Paw Animal Nations, eHow Pets, The Nest Pets and many other publications. She’s also a nationally known equine journalist.