Restricted Activity and Weight Management: Cookie’s Musculoskeletal Challenges

When your dog is recovering from surgery or an injury, a big part of successful rehabilitation is usually dramatic exercise restriction or even strict rest.

While strict rest is often introduced only through the initial period (and there is actually an emerging movement against the use of too much crate rest), exercise and activity restrictions can last weeks or even months.

Restricted Activity and Weight Management: Cookie's Musculoskeletal Challenges

Cookie’s iliopsoas injury

With Cookie’s iliopsoas injury, strict rest was ordered for a long time with extremely slow re-introduction to moderate activity.

To make things even more interesting, just as Cookie started being able to get out a bit more, she went nuts and injured herself once again. This set her way back.

Maintaining optimal body condition

Not only is this much restriction hard on the dog psychologically, maintaining functional muscles and optimal weight is an additional challenge.

That is one of the reasons why some of the rehab specialists don’t recommend too much crate rest and immobilization. While it may or may not be good for the actual injured part itself, such as with a torn cruciate, it results in major muscle atrophy through the entire body. Muscles are what protects the joints. Muscles are what moves the body. With too much atrophy you have a body that becomes dysfunctional. Joints themselves also benefit from movement. So at least some movement is important.

Activity options for a convalescing do

The amount of movement needed to keep the body functional is not likely to be enough to keep it slim.

Particularly when most available entertainment involves food one way or another be it training tricks, chews or stuffed Kong …

As you can imagine, previously very active Cookie started to pack on some extra pounds. I did notice that and implemented some reductions but for the most part, I figured she can lose it once she’s back to full activity.

Restricted Activity and Weight Management: Cookie's Musculoskeletal Challenges

But after the last setback, she wasn’t really improving the way she should and investigation revealed problems with her cruciate ligament(s).

Recovery and body condition

Suddenly, the time I thought we had to get Cookie back to optimal weight was gone.

She needed to drop the extra pounds as soon as possible. Now what? She still needed something to entertain her. But we needed to find a way to stretch the calories she was getting way further.

I had no choice but to sit down, figure out what Cookie’s resting energy requirement (RER) was, then start a spreadsheet and calculate the caloric value of everything that went into her mouth and play around with it to remain within the limit of the RER.

Keeping volume and dropping calories

When I need to offer fewer calories while not skimping on the overall volume of treats, I go for more water content first.

Slow-cooked or boiled lean meats contain much fewer calories than their dehydrated counterparts. Making such a switch allows giving just as many treats while not giving as many calories.

Switching to stuff that carries fewer calories. Did you know that the same amount of cooked chicken or turkey breast actually carries about half of the calories that cooked beef does? So we moved more toward those meats to make her treats even though I’m generally not a fan of feeding much chicken.

Switching to low-fat cream cheese to wrap her medications and supplements. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to care about the difference. Unfortunately, she’s pretty sick and tired of any cream cheese by now so in order to get her to accept it I need to embellish it. Fortunately, I found that smothering the “cheese rolls” in a bit of sour cream works.


After a discussion with Cookie’s local vet, we also decided to include L-Carnitine, particularly since we’re trying both to get her to slim out and rebuild muscle.

Restricted Activity and Weight Management: Cookie's Musculoskeletal Challenges

With all the steps we took, together with Cookie being able to become more active again, the weight is coming down.

What I didn’t do was adding extra fiber to bulk the food up. That doesn’t seem to work and it does not keep a dog feeling satiated. Protein, on the other hand, does, as well as is needed for building the muscles back up as well as for many other important functions in her body. The best thing to cut down on, naturally, is fat. Particularly with Cookie’s diet that contains next to no carbohydrates.

What is the goal?

The goal is to restore her to the body condition she had when she reached two years of age and keep her there. 

Meaning, knowing she has all the challenges, we want to keep her very slim, just like we’ve been doing with JD. I’m not having her lose the weight too fast but it’s going down steadily while muscles are getting bigger and stronger which is good.

I would have never thought that the bullet that is Cookie could ever have weight issues. But such stuff can happen to any dog, particularly after injury or surgery.

Note: we did also go ahead and check her thyroid function. Firstly to find out whether sluggish thyroid could be involved with the injuries in the first place and secondly to make sure that our weight loss efforts are not an uphill battle. Her thyroid seems to be working fine, though.

Here is the problem with pain, injuries, rehab, and weight.

Any reason for a decrease in activity is a welcome mat for weight gain. On the other hand, any extra pound increases pain and inhibits healing and recovery. It’s important to find a way to break out of that cycle.

Related articles:
Injury or Surgery Recovery: Mishaps versus Setbacks

Further reading:
How to Feed Your Dog After Surgery

Categories: ConditionsInjuriesJoint issuesMuscle injuriesWeight management

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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