Written by Guest Expert Jo Cuddy – Zen Canine Therapy
We all put so much time, effort, money and love into our precious gundogs and looking after their musculoskeletal health is vital for them to live a long, healthy and pain-free life. To ensure you are protecting your dog from injury it is important to understand their anatomy and the types of injuries they can sustain.
With a combination of good nutrition, appropriate exercise and regular check-ups, we can help keep our gundogs fit and healthy for as long as possible. There are also many treatments available to help manage any musculoskeletal problems that might occur, such as joint supplements, cold laser therapy and hydrotherapy.
Image Courtesy of Family Dog Services
Repetitive Strain Injury
Ultimately, looking after the musculoskeletal health of our gundogs is crucial for their well-being and should not be overlooked. One of the things we can do to look after our dog’s musculoskeletal health is to reduce the risk of repetitive strain.
- Repetitive strain is insidious.
- Repetitive strain causes your dog to suddenly go lame for no apparent reason as the strain and associated compensatory pain just becomes too much and the body breaks down.
Causes of a repetitive strain include:
- Overexertion when cold – muscles are more prone to injury when not warmed up.
- Slipping on mud and ice and floors – puts the shoulder in maximum abduction (moving away from the body) stressing the soft tissue of the chest and shoulder.
- Carrying birds, especially over uneven ground and over obstacles.
- Stopping and turning at high speeds.
Protecting Your Dog from Injury: Focus On Jumping
I have been asked to look specifically at the impact of jumping. Dogs are biomechanically designed to jump. It is a natural thing for them to do but what they won’t do is do it repetitively. It is the repetitive nature that can cause the damage, although, of course, you can get the odd freak injury caused by a single jump.
Day To Day Jumping Activities
Jumping both in and out of the car puts a lot of strain on the musculoskeletal system, out more so. How many times on a shoot day will your dog jump in and out of the car? If you work on a shoot where you have to drive between drives they may be in and out of the car eight- or nine times including travel to and from home and breaks. Then there are obstacles they may need to jump whilst working as well as jumping into the water. That’s a lot of jumping in just one day.
A dog uses so many muscles in everyday movement, more when jumping. If their muscles are working correctly everything will be effortless, however, if they have areas of injury or compensation (compensatory issues can remain long after the original injury has gone) then they will continue to adapt in an attempt to relieve the stress in the painful area(s) and will find movement such as jumping difficult and painful.
Even in a fit and healthy dog, repetitive jumping will lead to muscle damage and stress on joints and associated structures which in turn leads to compensatory postural changes with muscles being recruited for jobs they are not designed to do. So, you can see how postural adaptation and compensation become a vicious cycle.
Protecting Your Dog from Injury: Understanding Load And Impact
The forequarters of the dog take 60% of the load, this is increased when landing from a jump. For a dog to jump effortlessly the forequarters have to have the ability to match the drive being produced by the hindquarters, take that drive and transmit the landing force into forward movement. The dog needs to be able to hyper-extend the wrists, elevate the shoulder blade and relax the muscles to absorb the landing force. An already compromised dog will not have the ability to do that and will compensate in an attempt to reduce stress. Vicious cycle.
A dog needs a strong back for jumping and running and a flexible back for stopping, turning and shaking. Strong core muscles are key to supporting the back and maintaining its integrity. When jumping the vertebral discs are used to cushion the forces from landing. There is the potential of twisting the spine mid-air. Hyper-extension of the spine can occur if the dog has to really stretch to get over a high or wide obstacle or up into a high-backed car.
Image Courtesy of Family Dog Services
The dog’s front limbs aid stability and movement, absorb the shock of impact and aid balance.
The wrist hyper-extends on landing to absorb concussion and aid stability, the load then travels up to the elbow & shoulder joints and their muscles as well as those of the neck and chest.
photo courtesy of JM Photography
The pelvic and lumbar regions also take a considerable load on landing.
The tail is used to balance, almost like a parachute, as well as ease stress in the hindquarters.
Neck injuries are common from carrying birds, especially in the smaller breeds, and in fact, in an attempt to ease their neck, they carry the birds high which create tension over the sacroiliac joint (where the hindquarters join the spine) a very flexible joint which is easily injured. So, jumping with a bird will increase the load on the neck and potentially the sacroiliac region. Again another vicious cycle.
What can we do to help prevent repetitive strain?
Make sure to spend time warming up and warming down pre and post-event, remember, overexertion when cold is a big cause of repetitive strain. If you are standing around for a long period of time during a drive or at a competition, keep the dog moving. Dry your dog off and put a coat on them at breaks and at the end of the day.
Do not overdo exercises when training, particularly jumping or running out on seen retrieves. Sure we need to teach our dogs to cross barriers and as they see a hedge, a fence, a strip of mown grass, a stream or ditch or a change in the surface as a barrier once we’ve taught a command such as “over” to cross a barrier we can practise this using the strip of grass/change of surface and limit the number of times we ask for it over an obstacle they are required to jump.
Let your dog work it out
Allow your dog to take the path of least resistance – dogs are smart and will always find the easiest route, my dog will retrieve from the water and then come back on the land conserving energy; if we get to a fence where he could either go over or under, he chooses to go under.
Use Common Sense
Don’t over-face your dog, it is unlikely your dog will ever need to jump something several feet high so why practise it and put unnecessary strain on their musculoskeletal system?
Running, particularly after a seen retrieve, the sudden braking and turning is a very common cause of injury and puts a lot of strain on the back, neck, shoulder and forelimbs.
Whilst it is not practical in the field, use a ramp for as many car journeys as possible. Start using a ramp when your dog is young to prevent injury and also to get them confident in its use when they are fit and stable, an old dog suddenly being asked to walk up a ramp will find it terrifying.
Depending on the size of the dog, bones are not fully formed until around one year to 18 months so don’t train your dog to jump over obstacles until they have finished growing. Jumping on and off furniture and jumping up at people/other dogs should also be discouraged.
Finally, please don’t ignore lameness or stiffness.
Signs of musculoskeletal issues can be very subtle
Signs you can look for include:
- Reluctance to retrieve, jump, and do things they used to enjoy.
- Coat disturbance is a big one, where a coat used to lie flat it is now crinkled or raised or lying in a different direction – easier to see in a short-coated dog to be sure but noticeable in other dogs too once you start looking!
- Paws rotating inwards or outwards.
- Head carriage lower or higher.
- The tail clamped to the body, carried lower or not wagging as fully as it used to.
- The dog is not fully stretching out their hind legs.
- Behavioural changes, being intolerant towards other dogs for example.
Every dog adapts and behaves differently but these are a few common signs you can look for.
About Jo Cuddy
Hi, I’m Jo
Jo is Galen Myotherapist based on the Kent/East Sussex border, easily accessible from the A21. Galen Myotherapy is a combination of canine massage, functional exercises and lifestyle management which can help your dog prevent injury, keep mobile & manage pain. Jo is registered with the IAAT, and insured.
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