Knee injuries are one of the most common reasons that your dog will limp on his back leg, and it may take several months for him to recover. That means you’ll not be able to enjoy his company when you go for your afternoon stroll, and he’ll have to miss out on chasing his favorite ball for a while.
Although knee injuries can occur in any breed, some breeds are more at risk than others. Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, St Bernards and Labrador Retrievers seem to be more prone to hurting their knees. Smaller breeds such as the Bichon Frise and Miniature Fox Terriers can be born with a loose kneecap, which can predispose to joint injury. Lastly, breeds such as Chows who have very straight hind legs may be more likely to injure their knees purely because of their conformation.
In many cases, knee injuries occur while you’re playing with your dog. You throw his ball and he twists to grab it as he runs past, and ouch! He limps back to you on three legs. If he leaps into the air to catch it, he can land awkwardly, and that too is a common cause of injuries to this joint. If your dog is like mine and has dug several short cuts to China in your backyard, he may trip in a hole as he runs, and twist the joint.
It’s obvious when your dog has hurt his knee, as he is suddenly lame, and won’t walk on the sore back leg. You might not be able to tell which part of his leg is hurting, but your veterinarian will be able to confirm that it is the knee that is sore. It’s important to get that diagnosis quickly, so you can plan the best treatment program for your dog.
There are several options for treating a knee injury in dogs.
1. Rest. We’re very familiar with the Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation regime when we sprain a joint. However, your dog may not sit back and let you do this to him. Often, the best we can hope for is rest. This means no walks, no chasing balls, and no romping with the other family pets. Ideally, keep your dog confined in a crate as much as possible, and only take him outside on a leash to go to the toilet. If you’re used to spending lots of time walking and playing with your dog, you’ll feel nearly as frustrated as he does.
2. Pain relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as meloxicam will reduce swelling and take away a lot of your dog’s pain. These need to be prescribed by your veterinarian. Be careful: if your dog feels better, he may want to walk and play more than he should, which can make his injury worse. Make sure you follow your vet’s guidelines regarding restricted exercise, even if your dog wants to do more.
3. Weight loss. Any leg injury will take longer to heal if it has to carry excess weight. If your dog is a little generous around the waistline, it’s time for some tough love. It’s even harder to take weight off your dog when you can’t exercise him. Put him on a strict diet, and don’t give in to those big brown eyes. It really is for his own good.
4. Physical Therapy. Your vet can give you guidelines on how to slowly increase your dog’s exercise, and gently bend and stretch his knee, so that it maintains its flexibility and increases its strength. Alternatively, ask for a referral to a specialist physical therapist. How you exercise your dog after his knee injury is as important as anything your vet can do, so follow her directions to achieve the best outcome for your dog. Underwater treadmills and swimming are great for exercising his knee joint without putting any weight on it.
5. Joint Resolution. This product contains glucosamine and collagen, both of which are known to improve joint health and reduce lameness. It also contains herbs which reduce pain and inflammation. It’s a safe and natural way to support your dog’s knee joint as it heals, and you can relax knowing that there are no dangerous side effects.
6. Surgery. If your dog has in fact torn a ligament in his knee, it will leave the joint very unstable and may result in arthritis. The best way of treating a torn ligament is orthopedic surgery to restabilise the joint. Unless you have pet insurance, this will make a huge dent in the family budget. After surgery, all of the above treatment options are useful as your dog recovers from his operation.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
There are many reasons for trying to prevent your dog from injuring his knee. He won’t be in pain, he won’t miss out on the fun activities you share, he won’t be at risk of developing arthritis in his joint, and he won’t use up all your spare cash with his veterinary care.
Is it possible to prevent these injuries? It is, to some extent. Don’t let your dog become overweight, or he will put more strain on his knee ligaments as he runs. Don’t throw balls that encourage your dog to jump, because he may land awkwardly and injure his knee.
At the end of the day, dogs will be dogs, and they do hurt themselves. We can only do our best. If your dog does injure his knee, treatment is available that will have him out enjoying his walk with you very soon.