Tige Witsberger, DVM, DACVS
Sports-related injuries are a common occurrence for people and an accepted part of the risk associated with sports. The risk of injury is much the same for our pets, even if the “sport” is just playing fetch!
The owners of Duke, a young Labrador Retriever, experienced this firsthand when he was chasing a Frisbee and trotted back limping on his right rear leg. After a trip to the vet and a round of pain medication with no improvement, Duke was referred to an orthopedic specialist, who diagnosed a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL); a very similar injury to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in humans. Duke’s knee was surgically stabilized and after a couple of months, Duke was back to chasing Frisbees. This type of story is more common than most pet owners realize.
Every pet has a different level of regular activity, depending on their personality, age, body condition, and health. The upper tier of activity includes the “professional” pet athletes–agility animals, flyball dogs, and herding dogs. The majority of our pets, however, fall into the “weekend warrior” category. These animals look forward to weekends at the dog park, playing fetch, or a long jog. Even pets who settle into a more sedentary category can experience a sports injury. In fact, a dog who is typically inactive can be at an increased risk for injury if he suddenly breaks into a sprint after a squirrel.
The most common sports-related injuries are orthopedic. Ligament tears like Duke’s are one of the most prevalent, but elbow and shoulder injuries, hip problems, fractures, herniated spinal discs, and dislocated joints are also common. With young dogs, you can also see growth abnormalities. For any suspected injury, see your family veterinarian for an evaluation as soon as possible. Some injuries, like spinal damage, can be time-sensitive and have a short window of opportunity to give your pet the best chance for recovery. For other injuries, your family veterinarian may recommend a consultation with a board-certified surgeon.
Arthroscopy can now be used to treat many injuries with minimal discomfort for the patient. Shoulder ligament injuries, elbow bone chips, tarsal (ankle) and hip injuries, and even dysplasia can be treated with minimally invasive arthroscopy. More severe problems in joints can be treated with a total joint replacement procedure.
No matter what your pet’s level of activity, there is a risk for sports-related injuries. Keep your pet in good body condition to give them the best tools for a healthy, injury-free life. Monitor them closely for any signs of lameness, difficulty going up and down stairs, abnormal gait, or stiffness. Check with your family veterinarian if you suspect your pet has a sports-related injury to determine what treatment or type of surgical intervention may be necessary to get your pet back to playing fetch, competing, or squirrel chasing!
Dr. Tige Witsberger is a board-certified small animal surgeon and Hospital Director at MissionVet Specialty & Emergency. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. After graduation, Dr. Witsberger completed a one-year small animal rotating internship at the University of Missouri. He then completed his three-year small animal surgical residency at Texas A&M University. Dr. Witsberger has a special interest in minimally invasive surgery including arthroscopy, laparoscopy, and thoracoscopy as well as minimally invasive fracture repair.