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Just like people, dogs can suffer from sprained and strained limbs, including a sprained leg or ankle. Strains and sprains can be one of the more frustrating injuries that we deal with in our working dogs. They can be difficult to diagnose specifically, and can be very troublesome from the standpoint of healing.

Some incidents that might result in a strain or a sprain include landing badly while jumping or stretching too much.

If you see signs that your dog might have a strain or a sprain, then you must consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and course of treatment.

Strains Vs Sprains

Strain injuries deal with damage to the tendons. Tendons connect muscles to the bones. A strain may be caused by overextension of the limbs, and are commonly caused when a dog falls, jumps, or slips. Strains happen most often in dogs’ thighs and hips.

Sprains harm the ligaments that connect bones, which causes joint damage. Sprains can happen to hunting dogs who jump hurdles, as well as to the average dog who may hurt himself taking a hard landing off the couch, or even by something as simple as stepping in a hole. The wrist and knee are common joints for dogs to sprain. One of the most serious injuries is a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which connects the bones of the knee.

Causes of Sprains and Strains in Dogs

For very athletic and active dogs, there is an increased risk of damage to the tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

Most senior dogs develop arthritis which can make it easier to develop sprains and strains, and overweight dogs are also at a higher risk of injury because excess body weight is a tremendous strain on the joints.

Genetics will factor in for various breeds like how Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds are at a higher risk for cranial cruciate ligament tears. However, it is worth noting that all dog breeds, even mixed breeds, are susceptible to these kinds of injuries.

Signs and Symptoms of Sprains and Strains in Dogs

The symptoms of a sprain can mimic other medical conditions such as bone cancer, bone degeneration, hairline fractures, etc. Even if your pup isn’t showing signs that he’s in severe pain, if he’s limping at all then there’s a problem.

So, if you notice your pup having any of the signs and symptoms below, it’s time to call the vet:

  • Pain that’s mild to excruciating
  • Swollen joints or paws
  • Limping/lameness
  • Excessive licking of an area (due to the pain)
  • Joints that are red/inflamed
  • Decrease in physical activity (playing or even normal activities)
  • Aggression that is not warranted or expected
  • Loss of appetite
  • Not putting weight on a paw or limb
  • Crying, whimpering


Medications, while probably not warranted in mild injuries are certainly beneficial for moderate level lameness. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications are appropriate for either strains or sprains.

Physical therapy can also help your dog get back to full fitness. In more serious cases, vets may consider surgery, but vets usually consider that option as a last resort.

Medications, icing, and hot compressing are all very important, however, by far and away the most important component of a treatment regimen is rest. It is absolutely essential that the affected area be rested for a sufficient period of time to allow for healing to take place. Failure to heed this fact greatly enhances the probability of re-injury, which in turn enhances the probability of the problem becoming chronic or severe in nature.


Obese dogs are more likely to suffer from ligament injuries such as cranial cruciate ligament injury. By keeping your dog at a healthy weight, you can decrease their chance of developing lameness-associated sprains and injuries. Talk to your veterinarian about nutritional support as well. If your veterinarian determines your dog is obese, they might recommend a therapeutic diet to help your dog reach a healthier weight or one that helps with joint and mobility support


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