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5 daily habits that can harm your dog’s musculoskeletal health

Your dog doesn’t have to be taking part in extreme dog sports or be involved in a major accident to get hurt. In fact most dogs, like most people, pick up the majority of their injuries in life doing normal day-to-day activities.

Do you know which of your dog's day-to-day activities might be putting them at risk of injury?

When it comes to protecting your dog’s bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons from injury, there are some key principles which can help you to identify when your dog’s activities are putting them at higher risk of musculoskeletal injury.

Your dog is more likely to get injured doing activities which:


  • Are repetitive (overuse)

  • Are concussive / jarring (involve sudden and hard stops / impacts)

  • Cause jolting (involve abrupt / rough pushing or shaking movements)

  • Increase the risk of slips, trips, falls and collisions

The types of injuries that your dog could incur as a result of the above include:


  • Broken bones

  • Herniated (slipped) intervertebral discs

  • Damaged cartilage within joints

  • Strained muscles and tendons

  • Sprained ligaments

  • Bruising


Puppies' bodies are vulnerable to getting injured

Dogs are naturally very athletic animals, however they don’t always know or do what is good for them, therefore it is essential that you take steps to minimise your dog’s risks of getting hurt.


This is important for dogs of any age and type, but especially so for those who are more susceptible to injury, for example:


  • Puppies

  • Senior dogs

  • Dogs with disease conditions which affect their musculoskeletal systems directly (e.g. arthritis) or indirectly (e.g. vestibular syndrome)

  • Dogs who have previously sustained musculoskeletal injury and / or received surgery for bone or soft tissue conditions

  • Dogs with inherent weaknesses in their conformation (e.g. long-backed dogs such as Dachshunds and Bassett Hounds)

So what is your dog doing every day that involves repetitive, concussive and jolting actions and increases the risk of them slipping, tripping, falling and running into things? We’re going to run down our top 5 harmful habits, with tips on what you can do to minimise your dog’s risks of incurring both short-term and long-term damage to their body.


Habit 1 - Jumping on and off furniture

  • Can be very concussive – depending on the height of the furniture, the size of your dog and the surface they are landing on when they jump down

  • Repetitious – dogs who climb on furniture typically do so many times throughout their day

  • Can cause over-stretching (straining) of muscles – when your dog jumps a height greater than that of their back, this can push their muscles beyond safe working limits

  • Your dog may slip (especially if jumping down from furniture onto a smooth, hard floor)

  • If your dog cannot easily make the height when attempting to jump onto furniture, they may collide with it and fall

Safety Tips

Train your dog to settle on the floor instead of on the sofa
  1. Train your dog to settle on a bed / mat on the floor rather than getting on the furniture

  2. If you want your dog up on the furniture with you, lift them up and off, and / or install ramps or foot stools to reduce the height that your dog is jumping to less than the height of their back


Habit 2 - Going up and down stairs

  • Very repetitious – the more steps there are, the worse the impact of repetition will be

  • Slips – particularly if the surface of the steps, and / or the flooring at the top and bottom of them, is not non-slip

  • Trips, falls and collisions – are more likely to occur if, for example, your dog runs up or down the stairs, has mobility problems that affect their strength and / or balance, the steps are steep, narrow and / or curving, your dog is small relative to the size of the steps, your dog has a long back and short legs

Safety tips

  1. Use stair gates to prevent your dog going up and down the stairs on a regular basis

  2. If your stairs are uncarpeted, install carpet strips on each step to give your dog some grip

  3. If / when it is necessary for your dog to go up or down stairs - carry them or train them to walk slowly both up and down the steps (keep them on a lead until they have learnt not to rush)

Habit 3 – Walking, running and playing on smooth, hard flooring

  • Very repetitious – our dogs move around the house all the time

  • Can cause over-stretching (straining) of muscles - dogs find it very hard to grip on smooth, hard flooring and slips are common - when your dog’s limbs splay or slip from under them, this can push their muscles beyond safe working limits

  • Falls and collisions – if your dog slips then they may also fall or slide into something


Safety tips

Slips are common on smooth, hard flooring
  1. Install non-slip rugs / mats / runners on areas of smooth, hard flooring most commonly traversed by your dog, in particular in any areas where your dog tends to jump up from, and down onto, the floor (e.g. next to the sofa) and where they tend to rush within the house (e.g. close to doorways in and out of the house)

  2. Train and play on non-slip surfaces such as carpet and grass

Habit 4 - Jumping in and out of the car

  • Is very concussive – for most dogs, they are jumping up to / down from a height greater than that of their back, and usually down onto hard ground

  • Can cause over-stretching (straining) of muscles – when your dog jumps a height greater than that of their back, this can push their muscles beyond safe working limits

  • Your dog may slip (either when they land in the car or on the floor outside)

  • Collisions can occur when your dog jumps into or out of the car, for example with car seats and other dogs who are being travelled with. If your dog fails to meet the height when they attempt to jump in, they could collide with the vehicle itself and fall

Safety tips

Train your dog to wait to be assisted into the car
  1. Lift your dog in and out of the car (if they are comfortable being lifted and you will not hurt yourself lifting them)

  2. Use a dog ramp (you will need to spend time training your dog to be confident and safe using a dog ramp)

  3. Train a solid ‘stay’ or ‘wait’ cue so that your dog does not launch themselves into or out of the car

Habit 5 – Play

Fetch

  • Very repetitious

  • Ball ‘chuckers’ send the toy too far, too fast, and make the ball more likely to bounce erratically. This causes hard jolting and jarring actions on your dog’s body when they start and stop the chase, increases the chance of them slipping, tripping and falling / somersaulting as a result of chasing too hard, and can also cause your dog to abruptly twist their body and over-stretch their muscles in order to try and catch the ball if it bounces off course

  • Throwing the ball up high encourages your dog to jump up to grab it, which means jarring of their body when they land

Jolting and jarring actions are a feature of tug games

Tug games


  • Repetitious

  • Jolting and jarring actions are a feature of the game

  • Lifting a dog up with a toy places immense stress on the dog’s jaw


Other dogs

Dogs can hurt each other, even when their intentions are purely playful.


  • Slips and trips, from chasing too hard and cornering too fast / too tightly, leading to falls / somersaults

  • Collisions – dogs running into each other during chase

  • Getting caught underneath – your dog could be injured by another dog’s body weight coming down on them

Safety tips

For all types of play, keep sessions short duration and low intensity, quality is much more important than quantity for your dog, both physically and psychologically.


Ensure that play always takes place on non-slip surfaces such as carpet and grass.


Do your dog a favour and lose the ball 'chucker'

Fetch

  1. Train your dog to wait calmly for the toy to be thrown so that they are not repetitively jumping up and down before you throw the toy

  2. Ditch the ‘chucker’ and throw the toy underarm instead – this will help keep the toy from going too far, too fast, and bouncing so erratically, and also help reduce the chances of your dog slipping, tripping and falling / somersaulting

  3. Throw the toy low to the ground – this will stop your dog from jumping up to grab the toy and will also help reduce erratic ball bounces

Tug games

  1. Train your dog to wait calmly for the toy to be thrown so that they are not repetitively jumping up and down before you offer the toy

  2. Avoid being too hard and fast when pulling and pushing back on the toy or moving it side to side

  3. When letting go of the toy to let your dog ‘win the game’, time your release carefully so that you do not cause your dog to pull back suddenly against no resistance which is particularly jarring and may also lead them to stumble

  4. Keep the toy at your dog’s jaw level when they are standing with all four paws on the ground, never lift your dog off the ground with the toy

Protect smaller dogs from boisterous larger dogs

Other dogs

  1. Intervene by calling your dog away if play is becoming too hard and fast (e.g. running at full-out gallop, cornering tightly, body-slamming, jumping / rolling heavily on top of one another)

  2. Be mindful of the size and strength of other dogs that your dog plays with, if the bigger and stronger dog is faster / being more physically boisterous, then stop the play immediately


So that’s our top 5 harmful daily habits and our top tips to help you minimise your dog’s risk of injury to their musculoskeletal system. Of course, accidents can still happen, so as always, if your dog is showing any signs of pain or discomfort, call their vet.

For dogs who have sustained a soft tissue injury such as a muscular strain, a professional clinical canine massage therapist will be able to pinpoint the exact location of the injury, assess its severity, and apply appropriate and effective massage techniques to help rehabilitate the damaged tissue, relieve areas of compensation elsewhere in the body, help reduce your dog’s pain levels, and improve their mobility.


To find your local Canine Massage Guild therapist, you can search for therapists in your area using the Therapist Register on the Guild website at http://www.k9-massageguild.co.uk/therapistregister/


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