Ten most Common causes of Muscular Problems that will cause Lameness and Lack of Mobility in Dogs

Why not come along to our Community Group Dog Walk at OutWoods Loughborough on the 3rd Friday of each month. *April will be 3rd Thursday because of the Easter Holiday.

Artcile Supplied by Julia Robertson from Galen Therapy Centre

All these areas that we discuss are very much from findings that as therapists are consistent over many hundreds of dogs and many combined years of treating these cases. But there are no ‘rules’; we have found that often the same trauma or repetitive strain can affect two dogs completely differently but the rationale is the same.

1. Compensation – From Injury
This is one of the most difficult to diagnose and can be an insidious form of muscle pain or dysfunction that can cause a myriad of problems from lameness, a lack of drive, bad/untypical movement, cramping or spasm, or a drop in performance.  Like us, the older a dog gets, the incidence of injury is going to be increased, from major injury to almost the unremarkable or minor injury.  Major injury can have its obvious affects as any form of trauma will have a muscular issue implication.  However, it is the build-up of many small injuries that can have just as negative effect, as the body will gradually compensate to ease the stress over painful or uncomfortable regions or areas of the body.  This is accumulative and it can affect a dog with no prior warning – one day apparently sound, the next lame; this response can be triggered by the smallest of incident that is just enough to bring down what is fundamentally a ‘house of cards’; giving no apparent previous clues as to what may be going on.  This type of rapid onset lameness can initiate a cornucopia of diagnostic tests that bring no clear conclusion, with often the cause being the pain perception brought on through muscle pain. 

2. Compensation - From Conditions or Pathologies
This is another extremely common form of muscular pain or dysfunction and perhaps the most common is from osteo-arthritis.  The secondary pain from the compensation cause through the muscles trying to stabilise or protect the body or regions of the body will have a real impact on pain perception.  This we have proved time and time again, if you treat the muscles of an arthritic dog they will feel happier and have the ability to move so much easier that will in turn improve their whole quality of life.  This can also be totally appropriate for other conditions that cause a mobility problems.

3. Injury
This only takes one sentence really, if a dog is injured there will be a muscle implication/damage however well they seem to recover. (If left untreated see item 1.) Example – My little dog (who is incidentally 14 years old) was bowled over by a polo pony the other day; afterwards he could still run and walk; he had an immediate Veterinary check as I was worried about all sorts of ‘unseen’ issues and damaging inflammation from trauma. He received a guarded but clean ‘bill of health’.  However, subsequently when the inflammation had receded (about 2 days), I found a small muscle tear over his back and have treated it carefully and was very glad that I had iced his back as soon as I could on the way to the Vets.  (Ice 5 minutes on then taken off for 15 minutes approx. then on again for 5 minutes) Due to that discovery, it will be 6 weeks before I am happy he is ok and he can really resume normal exercise.

Injury not treated – if injury is not treated appropriately it will granulate and form hard immobile tissue that will not function efficiently as muscle should, therefore cause lack of ‘range’ and create compensatory issues (again see item 1).

4. Repetitive Strain
This is probably one of the most common and undetected of all muscle issues.  This can fall into the remit of over training, (very common) over jumping (up or down), slippery floors, continually going up and down stairs.  One of the most common is that of a dog that is thrown too many balls or thrown too many Frisbees during exercise This type of injury will again be insidious and not at all apparent for quite a while; when your dog is young they will apparently bounce back – but the vigilant of handler will begin to feel heat in the affected areas, this is a pre-warning.  We are constantly amazed by how removing or reducing even one thing, whatever that may be, (for example, part of a training regime, a routine pattern of movement or action,) can make such a positive change to a dogs well-being. 

6. Conformation
If a dog is not built with a framework that is not going to aid their balance then there is a possibility of stress points being exposed.  Two examples, my dog George, , has got valgus legs (AKA Queen Anne feet) therefore this front end has always been under a little more stress, the older he has got the more of an impact on his shoulders and legs it is having.  Another gun dog I know has not quite got matching angulation in the front as she has in the back, so the fantastic power from the back end cannot be fully absorbed by her front; again her shoulders take more of the stress as she has not got the ‘reach’ and front end flexibility.  These examples are what I have found in these two specific dogs and it is not always the rule it really depends on what the dog is asked to do that will decide on its own particular balance issues and therefore impact on their muscular condition.

7. Early Puppy Development
Over the years I have treated dogs, I have seen many puppies (meaning less than 9 months) whose injuries most certainly occurred when they were tiny, possibly pre, during or just post parturition (birth); and possibly also,  whelping box injuries when they are a lot more active. 

I have also seen a couple of puppies that have quite obviously been dropped I am not in any way indicating that it was done intentionally but puppies wriggle and when we stand up we take them a long way off the ground, if a puppy takes a ‘dive’ from the carriers arms then it can very easily have a highly detrimental effect.  The effects usually become more apparent much later on, when they are 18months onwards.  One case in particular was a small breed and his neck was so badly affected by what must have been a fall or drop that his nose gave the impression of being crooked and yes, after treatment it ‘looked’ straighter.  There were three of us in the room when this happened and we all saw it, could not believe it!  This was, I am sure the easing of muscle tone on one side of his face and neck, giving the impression of a change of facial expression!

Equally I am absolutely sure that a few puppies I have seen have got caught trying to climb over the sides of a whelping box, as their injuries as such that they feel like they have been creased in the middle!

The giant breeds can really suffer with puppy injury as they grow so quickly comparatively, compared to a smaller breeds that injury can be equally amplified and cause all sorts of almost malformations of legs and feet.  Look on our history of  facebook page ‘Galen Therapy Centre’ about a Dogue to Bordeaux, he is a classic case of this.

I believe this is one area that is not explored fully as for 8 weeks we really have no idea what has happened to our puppy and at that early age nothing will really be apparent until approximately 4 months onwards  when they can have growth spurts (approximate age, breed and breed type specific) or indeed older.

8. Puppy Exercise
I have run a couple of articles on puppy exercise and how repetitive methods of exercise patterns, for example walking on one side of the handler, not allowing the puppy to walk at their own natural pace, therefore training them not to ‘walk’ but just to trot.  Over exercise, only exercising in one plane of movement etc.  and so many more things that can affect the ultimate development of your puppy’s muscular-skeletal system.  This we have put together to form a hardback book called ‘The Gentle and Natural Approach to Puppy Exercise’.

Exercise routines - these does not just have the potential for negative implications for puppies but also adult dogs.  Repetitive actions or regular over exertion can cause long term and apparently unexplained lameness when dogs reach approximately 6-8 years old.  Repetitive issues could be one of many things; jumping down out of cars, off sofas, down stairs or steps, many of these actions are difficult to remove but often they can be reduced.  

9. Warming Up / Down
Just walking your dog for 10 minutes before allowing them off to run can be just enough to warm their muscles that would then allow for the exertion and over exertion most dogs enjoy when they are on their walk.  Likewise, when returning to the car or home 10 minutes on the lead to allow a ‘warm down’ through an active walk or gentle trot; this allows the tissues to get a fresh replenishment of blood through the ‘pumping’ of the venous system through non aerobic muscle action.  It will also allow the muscle tissue to re-align and help prevent shortening.  For all those riders out there, not of you would gallop a horse straight from a stable and yet we allow our dogs to do so!

This is just touching the surface of this subject both from the adult and puppy perspective but just a couple of pointers for thought.

Slippery (laminated floors etc.)– These can have terrible long term affects.  I will not forget an advertisement for a popular brand of dog food showing a young puppy running down a hall slipping and sliding, with his poor legs going at all sorts of angles.  I think this was obviously intended to be in some way captivating for the audience.  Well it captivated me as I thought then how awful it was and how that poor puppy’s muscles and joints would suffer in the long term.   Dogs legs are designed to move forwards and backwards and slightly medially (inwards) and laterally (outwards) and not to do the ‘splits’ either with their front or back legs.  Front leg injury can sometimes be due to pectoral muscle issues (chest muscles) due to exaggerated abduction (legs going away from the body) these are not commonly diagnosed correctly.  I am not sure that I need to even say how bad it is for a dog to abduct his or her hind legs, I only need to mention, cruciate ligament, hip joint ligament injuries and anything within this region is potentially catastrophic; again may not be immediately apparent but most certainly in the long term.

Aggravating of diagnosed or un-diagnosed conditions, by any of the above repetitive or slippery scenarios can have an accentuated effect on any conditions, such as  most commonly osteo-arthritis or any other muscular skeletal issue and unless what is causing this extra dimension can really reduce the chances of improvement on any treatment your dog may be receiving. 

10. Over Exertion / Over Training
Again a subject that could be discussed on its own but training to the correct degree is a critical one.  When training a degree of muscle tissue breakdown (if done correctly) will strengthen and develop the muscles.  However, if this is done without care or knowledge it can cause the damaged muscle groups or tissue to shorten and therefore again in the long term have detrimental effects on mobility and soundness.

Major Muscle damage or tearing due to excessive muscle tension through injury, compensation or a condition, this can cause big problems with no accountable or tangible cause. Facial tears can also occur through compensation or just over tension of the surrounding tissue; these can be disastrous and cause idiopathic temporary paralysis (I have seen quite a few that have been of the hind legs).

Postural issues – beds, crates, car crating.  Like us dogs spend much time in bed and if coupled with this are doing a lot of travelling and crated, for safety.  If these areas do not allow for them to stand and move or almost force them into a particular lying position, it can have a negative effect on their postural muscular system creating an unbalanced and uncomfortable dog.