Preventing orthopedic injuries by Gayle Jaeger, DVM, MSpVM, DACVS

Tips for avoiding canine orthopedic injuries

By Gayle Jaeger, DVM, MSpVM, DACVS

As a veterinary orthopedic surgeon, I treat a range of canine injuries including soft tissue strains, sprains, and most frequently, cranial cruciate ligament disease, or ACL tears. By adding some simple activities, pet owners can prevent many of these injuries from occurring—and enhance the quality of their pets’ lives.

The biggest contributor to orthopedic injuries in dogs is obesity. Those extra pounds put stress on the joints and ligaments and put your pet at risk for a host of health problems. Controlling portions and taking your dog for regular walks will help your pet maintain a healthy weight and keep muscles, joints and ligaments in good condition.

Preconditioning is another way to help your pet stay limber. If you suddenly decided to take up jogging, starting with a 10-mile run on Saturday, by Monday morning you would still feel the pain. It’s the same with pets—weekend warriors are more prone to injuries. To help your dog enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle, take a tip from athletic trainers and incorporate the following into your routine:

  • Warm up and cool down—start with an easy walk before breaking into a run, and end workouts with a gentle cool down. Gradually increase the length of your walks and make sure not to overdo it in the heat.
  • Stretches and massages—gently flex and extend your pet’s limbs to keep them flexible and increase range of motion. Massage your dog (or cat) to loosen any tightness in the joints and muscles. Stretch your pet’s hips by “dancing” — supporting the front paws while your dog takes a few steps on his hind legs.
  • Seasonal activities—summertime provides fantastic opportunities to exercise outside with your dog. Swimming or walking in water, and walking on sand are great workouts for you and your pet. Just remember that these activities can be tiring, and your pet needs time to rest and recover.
  • Playful movements—if your dog or cat is recovering from an injury, or if you want to increase your pet’s agility, stretching and conditioning can be worked into everyday activities. Set up a simple obstacle course, such as a pillow in front of the food bowl or an object in front of the litter box. Scratch your pet’s hindquarters so she’ll shift her weight from one side to the other. Try a gentle tug-of-war. Climb stairs together or walk your dog in figure eights or uphill.


Maintaining a healthy weight, stretching before exercising, and staying playfully active are the simplest and most enjoyable ways to keep your dog happy and injury-free—and it’s good advice for you, too!