Silent Pain in Dogs - Harmful Habits
As a pet parent you will be very attuned to your furry friend’s happiness and will strive to provide them with a life full of enrichment, excitement, activity, and joy. However, did you know there are various common, fun habits and behaviours dogs exhibit daily which might be causing them silent pain? And that this silent pain arises from seemingly innocent habits and behaviours which left unchecked, can take a toll on our dogs’ physical wellness and overall quality of life?
This blog shines a light on the “Harmful Habits” that our canine companions may engage in. Habits that often go overlooked but can result in discomfort, pain, and even long-term health issues. From constantly jumping up with excitement to pulling on the lead during walks, from the high-impact activity of jumping in and out of the car to the rigours of strenuous play and exercise. Uncover the potential consequences of these actions and discover how we can protect our beloved dogs from silent pain.
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Dogs love to chase! Balls, frisbees, sticks, furry creatures and even each other. But did you know that any activity that requires your dog to use its hindlegs to propel forward, or to jump upwards, and then the forelegs to steer, brake and slide to a halt, can cause injury?
Immense strain is placed on a dog’s Musculoskeletal system when they chase a ball as this behaviour is usually repetitive, performed in quick succession and often without sufficient warm up. Not only that but sessions can usually be prolonged causing your dog to fatigue, resulting in reduced co-ordination, enhancing their chances of tripping, or landing awkwardly. Add in the use of a ball thrower or frisbee and it can greatly increase the chances of injury as dogs will often contort their bodies into unusual positions to reach the ball or catch it in mid-flight.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) – Micro-tears are tiny, microscopic tears that occur in soft tissue due to overuse or repetitive stress. When a muscle or tendon is subjected to the repetitive motion of sprinting, stopping abruptly and making quick turns to chase a ball is causes an accumulation of micro-tears. When this damage reaches a certain point, it can lead to a strain causing pain, swelling and reduced mobility.
Intermittent lameness – lameness is caused due to muscle fatigue, strain or due to the stress put on the dog’s joints. If the dog is not adequately well rested to allow regeneration (healing) and continues to play chase games the lameness with reoccur. This is known as the strain-restrain cycle.
Neck injuries (whiplash) – When a dog chases a ball and makes sudden stops or changes of direction, their head and neck can undergo rapid and forceful movements. These sudden movements can put significant strain to the soft tissue in your dog’s neck, causing injury.
Aggravate existing Orthopaedic issues – Elderly dogs, puppies, dogs with mobility, orthopaedic issues and so on need to be monitored very carefully when playing chase games as they are at a greater risk of sustaining an injury.
May cause cruciate ligament ruptures due to the repetitive nature of the game.
Ensure your dog is warmed up before allowing them to play chase games.
Throw/ roll items low to the ground and wait for them to stop before allowing your dog to go and fetch it.
Hide objects instead of throwing them. This is great enrichment and allows your dog to use his nose.
Reduce the number of repetitions (times you throw the ball) as this will help prevent injury.
Zero – Sixty
Dogs are very excitable creatures, and we often get immense pleasure out of watching them charge out of the house or car with such explosive energy in readiness for their next adventure. However, it is crucial to consider the potential damage that can be caused to your dog’s musculoskeletal system if we allow them to engage in strenuous activities without warming up first.
Musculoskeletal injuries – When a dog has been resting or confined for an extended period, their soft-tissue can become cold and stiff. Sudden and intense activity, such as running or jumping, can put tremendous strain on these unprepared muscles and joints. This can lead to various musculoskeletal issues, including muscle strains, ligament sprains and joint problems.
Joint health – Allowing your dog to charge out of the back door or shoot out of the car after a period of rest can exert excessive pressure on your dog’s joints, particularly the hips, lower-back (spine) and stifles (knees). Overtime, this can contribute to conditions such as hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament injuries, intervertebral disc disease and early onset arthritis.
Strains – Dogs that leap out of cars or rush from the house are at a higher risk of sustaining a soft-tissue strain (tear), especially if they are not properly warmed up. Depending on the severity of the strain it can cause discomfort or significant pain, limited mobility or complete loss of function.
Warm up – establishing a good warm up routine is crucial if you want to prevent injury.
Cool down – allowing your dog’s body to cool down gradually will help promote rest and regeneration
Elderly dogs – more consideration needs to been taken with elderly dogs, dogs with a pre-existing orthopaedic condition or injury. They will require longer warm up & cool down periods and adequate rest between strenuous activities.
Jumping in/out of the car
Dogs are very agile and athletic creatures, and many can jump in and out of the car with ease, especially when they are excited to go on their next adventure in the great outdoors.
If your dog jumps from the back of your car, on to hard ground such as a tarmac, this will put considerable pressure on to the wrists and shoulders as a huge percentage of the dog’s body weight will be directed into these areas.
If they jump from height on to a wet or muddy surface, they could slip and cause muscular trauma, in the form of strains or trigger points.
Older dogs may start to ‘measure’ before they jump, as they lose confidence, and struggle to propel upwards, or lose their balance on landing.
Jumping out of an 4X4 type vehicle places four times as much strain on the forelimb joints than jumping out of an ordinary car!
Jumping down onto hard ground may aggravate orthopaedic issues such as arthritis or cause wrist or shoulder problems.
Use a car ramp or lift your dog in and out of the car as this will take pressure off their main joints and reduce jarring.
Consider that when your dog jumps out of the car they may not have moved for an extended period, meaning that they lack the warm-up that is essential for injury prevention.
Standing on Hind Legs
Standing and walking on hind-legs is not a natural behaviour or posture for a dog to adopt. Dogs that repeatedly and persistently jump up or stand on their hindlegs are at risk of the following;
Unnecessary pressure is placed on joints and ligaments causing inflammation and tearing.
Muscles such as the quadriceps will over tighten, which may lead to, or heighten issues such as luxating patella, arthritis, hip dysplasia and canine degenerative myelopathy (DM).
This position is also unnatural for the stifle joint and places undue strain on the cranial cruciate ligament.
Try to discourage this behaviour whenever possible and encourage four paws on the floor. This will help to relieve muscular tension before it has chance to develop into a more painful condition.
Pulling on Lead
Your dog’s neck is full of very delicate apparatus and physiology. This includes; trachea, larynx, thyroid gland, cervical vertebrae and muscles. Traditionally dog owners have walked their dogs using a collar and lead, but did you know that allowing your dog to pull on lead or the owner jerking hard on the lead can cause many different injuries?
Damage to larynx
It can also cause the main muscles that support the spinal column to tear and overload the muscles in the neck. As result the neck will become increasingly painful and sore causing secondary issues in other parts of your dog's body.
Be persistent with training and use positive reinforcement techniques to teach your dog to walk on a loose lead.
Using a well fitted harnesses will also help safeguard against the long term affects that pulling causes and help to reduce the likelihood of muscular injury through the neck and spine.
By unveiling your dogs’ “Harmful Habits” you are now aware of how certain seemingly innocent activities and behaviours have the potential to cause silent pain and the toll on our dogs’ physical wellness (musculoskeletal health) and overall quality of life.
Our furry friends rely on us to be their advocates. You are now armed with the knowledge and know how, to make positive and lasting changes. You can take proactive steps to help safeguard your canine companions’ long-term health, quality of life and mobility. Whether it’s implementing new training techniques, using appropriate equipment, creating new lifestyle habits, or simply being mindful of your furry friends’ physical limits you can ensure you are protecting them from potential injury and long-term damage to help them lead a more comfortable and happier life.
Hands Off Assessment
Do you need advice about how to implement simple lifestyle changes and improvements to prevent injury? Get in touch today to book a 45 minute online session with me to see how we can support and enhance the well-being of your four-legged friend.