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Sprains and Strains in Dogs; First Aid and Treatment

As in humans, a dog’s bones and joints are subject to strains, sprains, dislocations, and breaks that can cause pain and limited mobility.

Sprains and strains can affect any breed of dog at any life stage, and they can vary from mild to severe. It is important to identify these injuries early so that you can work to get your pup fast relief. Without treatment, certain sprains and strains can worsen and lead to chronic pain.

Take note that dogs are already quite good at hiding signs of illness from their owners, so when your pup is limping, there is likely a sprain or strain isaue behind it.

Steps to First Aid and Treatment

Recognize the signs

Before you administer any first aid to your dog, identify signs of a sprain, which are most common at the wrist and knee. This can help you figure if your dog needs to see your vet or there may be another issue.

Signs of a sprain in your dog are:

  • Limping
  • Lameness, or inability to walk
  • Swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Limb deformity (not usually present with a sprain, but is common with fractures and dislocations)

Restrain your Pup

You should restrict your dog’s movement or exercise for about a week or so until his ankle sprain is healed. Avoid all physical activity for the first 2 days following the incident. Your dog may have to be restricted to a smaller space

Walk your dog on a leash to prevent him from bounding around, potentially delaying his healing. Shorten his walks after the injury, and gradually build back up to the dog’s normal activity and intensity level

Apply a Cold Compress

Applying cold compresses may also help relieve any pain following a sprain. Wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply this compress around the injured area for 10 to 15 minutes, every 2 hours as needed. The cold sensation will reduce pain and swelling, and may help speed up healing.

Contact your Vet

Once you’ve had a chance to examine your pet, call your vet’s office and make an appointment. Explain the situation and get your dog an appointment as soon as possible.

Your veterinarian will examine your pup and discuss with you whether or not x-rays will be necessary to help isolate the cause of your dog’s pain. For sprains and strains that do not resolve with initial outpatient therapy, advanced imaging, and/or a referral to an orthopedic specialist may be necessary.

If the immune-mediated joint disease is suspected, additional testing may be necessary to determine the presence of any concurrent disease, and steroids or immunosuppressive medications are prescribed in some of these cases.

Physical Therapy

The vet may prescribe physical therapy for your dog, which may include having him walk underwater in a tank (only part of your fur baby will be underwater). This can help keep the pressure off his joint, while allowing him to gain strength and stability in the muscles. Some vets may prescribe that your pup walks on a treadmill, etc.


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