What are the most common dog injuries and how can you stop them happening to your pet?
For small-animal vets, every day is different from the last. Treating all sorts of pets for all manner of illnesses, injuries and ailments means that you can never quite be sure what each day will hold.
However, there are some injuries that occur far more often than others and send panicked dog owners hurrying to their local vet on a regular basis. So, what are those most common dog injuries and what dangers do they pose to our canine companions? Let’s find out.
Cruciate ligament rupture
Cruciate ligament injuries are something many of us associate with elite footballers rather than with our furry friends, but they’re actually one of the most common dog injuries vets encounter.
“The knee joint is relatively unstable because there are no interlocking bones in the joint. Instead, the two main bones, the femur and tibia, are joined with several ligaments,” explains Dr Angela Sun, RSPCA NSW veterinarian.
“When severe twisting of the joint occurs, the most common injury is a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament, which is one of two ligaments that actually cross over within the joint to hold the joint in place.”
Common dog injuries like this often occur with jumping or twisting motions such as catching a ball in the park or jumping down from heights and landing on an uneven surface. Large-breed dogs are particularly susceptible, while excess weight can also be a factor as it places additional pressure on joints.
Surgery is usually an essential part of treatment and acts to stabilise the joint so it functions normally or near normally.
“There are various surgical techniques that have been used over the years. Some of these techniques can be performed by general practice veterinarians while others are performed only by specialist surgeons. In small-breed dogs, some may recover with medical management (rest, pain relief and anti-inflammatories); however, surgery is still recommended for the quicker return to function and long-term mobility,” he explains.
To reduce the risk of your dog suffering this painful injury, you’ll need to focus on a couple of key areas. Weight management is important as excessive weight can be a strong contributing factor in cruciate rupture.
“The ligament may become weakened due to carrying too much weight; this causes it to tear easily. Avoiding high-impact exercises and landing on uneven surfaces can also help prevent this type of injury,” Dr Angela says.
Road traffic accident (hit by car)
When you hear the words “common dog injuries”, a dog getting hit by a car is one of the first things that springs to mind. It’s an all-too-common scenario on Australian roads and one that an unfortunate few have experienced first-hand.
“Dogs can become seriously injured by cars if they’re not adequately secured at home or on walks; for example, if the gate is accidentally left open, if there are holes in the fence or if the home is not adequately fenced. Dogs are naturally inquisitive animals and if the opportunity is given, they will go exploring. Deaf or blind dogs are particularly susceptible,” Dr Angela says.
The common dog injuries suffered in car accidents can cover the whole gamut, from superficial grazes right through to instant death. “Pneumothorax is a common injury, which results from rupture of the alveoli air sacs within the lungs, allowing air to accumulate within the chest cavity but outside the lungs. Similarly, external wounds may penetrate the chest cavity allowing air to leak into the thoracic cavity. Both injuries limit the ability for the lungs to expand within the thoracic cavity,” Dr James says. Sadly, many of these injuries can be fatal instantly or even with prompt veterinary attention.
If your dog is hit by a car, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. Often, dogs will be in various states of shock, which Dr James says needs to be promptly addressed with pain relief, intravenous fluid therapy and oxygen supplementation.
Treatment will then depend on the severity of the injuries and the organs affected. For example, if your pet has suffered one or more broken bones, these often require surgery to treat.
To prevent car accidents, ensure your home is adequately fenced and that your dog is on leash when outside the home. Take particular care with deaf or blind dogs to make sure there is no opportunity for them to accidentally wander onto the street, and train your pet to wait safely by your side before crossing the road.
Dr Angela says that cuts and wounds are a major cause of common dog injuries in Australia due to the active lifestyle of our pets and their inquisitive nature.
“We often see animals present with cuts on their paw pads from oyster shells at the beach or cuts and splinters in their mouth from stick injuries,” she says. “Superficial grazes can heal uneventfully if the wound is kept clean and dry; however, deeper cuts can lead to secondary infection and have serious systemic implications if not treated appropriately.”
But the best treatment for lacerations varies depending on the nature, location and size of the cuts. Treatment often involves cleaning the wound thoroughly with antiseptic preparations, while surgery may be required to debride (clean the wound so it can heal efficiently) and suture larger wounds.
And although it’s not always possible to stop your dog getting up to mischief, there are a few simple things you can do to reduce the risk of any nasty and painful cuts. “Avoid playing fetch with sharp objects such as sticks,” Dr Angela says. “And always make sure you have adequate control of your pets so they do not venture into areas with dangerous objects or environmental hazards.”
Australian summers offer plenty of wonderful weather and the perfect chance to get out and about with your pet. Unfortunately, they also bring with them a dangerous health risk: heatstroke.
“Heatstroke occurs when the body’s temperature elevates above the normal range, resulting in tissue injury, and exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat. It’s particularly common in brachycephalic (short-snout) breeds, overweight dogs or dogs with long/thick coats, as they have reduced capacity to lose heat,” Dr Angela explains.
Heatstroke is extremely serious as it can lead to multiple organ failure and animals can die very quickly if not treated. Treatment involves cooling the dog’s core body temperature, including applying cool water to the skin, fanning to maximise heat loss, and intravenous fluid therapy. “Treatment is largely supportive and varies depending on the state of the dog and response to therapy,” Dr James says.
To protect your dog against heatstroke, Dr Angela says to make sure he has a cool, shaded area with good ventilation and has access to plenty of fresh water at all times. Don’t exercise your dog in hot, humid conditions, especially if your dog is brachycephalic, overweight or has a long/thick coat.
Last of all, never leave your dog in the car, even when the windows are down.
“The high temperatures in the car combined with inadequate ventilation or air flow mean that the dog cannot adequately thermoregulate, leaving them vulnerable to overheating,” Dr Angela says.
Dog fight wounds
No matter how well-behaved or gentle-mannered your dog may be, dog fights still happen and can cause serious damage. Dr James explains why fights are so common: “All dogs have different personalities, various behavioural disorders and varying levels of socialisation with other dogs, which means when these dogs mix, there is the potential for conflict,” he says.
Dr Angela says common dog injuries of this kind often occur during hostile interactions between dogs, typically between unfamiliar dogs at the dog park.
“This type of injury is common because we all want our dogs to enjoy exploring the park and socialise with other dogs. However, some dogs may not be well socialised or know how to respond to other dogs in a group setting, or how to respond to particular types of interactions,” she explains.
All dog fight wounds should be assessed by a veterinarian. Although some may seem very superficial, the teeth of dogs are very sharp and can penetrate not just the skin, but deeper tissues and body cavities.
“We sometimes refer to the superficial wound as ‘the tip of the iceberg’, meaning there can be more serious damage beneath the superficial wound. Bacteria from the dog’s mouth can be inoculated into the wound, carrying the potential for local and systemic infection. Dog fight injuries can be fatal if the wounds penetrate body cavities or organs, due to the severe inflammatory and/or infectious processes that result,” Dr James says.
Treatment of dog fight wounds depends on the severity of injury and the organs affected. Antibiotics, pain relief and thorough wound cleaning are required for small puncture wounds, and surgery may be required for more extensive injuries.
Dr Angela recommends keeping your dog on a tight leash when you are outdoors, especially if you are in a park, to minimise the risk of hostile interactions with other animals.
“Dogs that are well-mannered are less likely to fight, so basic obedience training is strongly recommended,” she says.
While it’s not technically an injury, tick paralysis is another of the most common reasons why Sydney’s dogs need to pay a visit to Dr James.
“Paralysis ticks commonly survive in the spring and summer months along the eastern seaboard of Australia. The bandicoot is the natural host for the tick. After feeding on the bandicoot, adult ticks drop off into the environment (long grass, bushland etc) and can latch onto dogs and cats from there to feed and subsequently inject toxin,” the vet explains. Without treatment, tick paralysis can be fatal.
“If a dog presents with tick paralysis, tick anti-toxin needs to be given intravenously to bind to and nullify any of the toxin still circulating in the bloodstream. The toxin that has already taken effect cannot be nullified. After the anti-toxin is administered, supportive care and other medications (as indicated) are required to help these dogs make a full recovery,” Dr James says.
To prevent these nasty parasites harming your pooch, check for ticks daily. The most reliable way to find ticks is to thoroughly run your fingers through your dog’s coat — most ticks will be found on the front half of the body. Your vet can also advise you on the best tick preventative products for your dog.
The cost of treatment
Seeing your pet in pain can be a distressing experience and we all want to give our dogs the best possible care. Accidental injuries not only have an emotional impact on dog owners, but they also have financial consequences.
Bessie Hassan, insurance expert at finder.com.au/pet-insurance says that common dog injuries such as tick paralysis and car accidents can be very costly.
“An overnight stay at the vet can be expensive — let alone surgery, which can reach the thousand-dollar mark in some cases. Typically, the larger the dog, the larger the veterinary bill, but on average dog owners spend $397 a year.”
If you think you might struggle to pay a big vet bill should your pet suffer a serious injury, Bessie says you might want to consider pet insurance.
“Investing in pet insurance is a good idea to cover these costs; you can compare policies online to find the best value,” she explains. “Most pet insurers will cover some veterinary costs but check the details of your policy. Some providers won’t cover preventable costs like tick treatment.”Make sure your furry friend is always looked after at our DOGSLife Directory