Canine Injury Prevention Essentials: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer

Loving dog parents everywhere share a common concern in keeping their pets healthy, happy, and safe.

Canine Injury Prevention Essentials: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer

We go to great lengths to provide proper nutrition, medical care, fun activity, and shelter. When problems occur, we spend the necessary resources to ensure our dog’s needs are met.

Wouldn’t it feel great to also provide safeguards to actually prevent injury from occurring?

The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer

Imagine the ability to have more control in helping your dog stay healthier, reducing financial costs of treatment and care, and overall peace of mind!  All it takes is a bit of knowledge, a few modifications and some helpful insight from a friend (me!) who has been on the frontlines treating injured dogs.

Here are my best suggestions for injury prevention:

Know thy Breed

If you have a pure-breed dog you need to research the details of the normal traits and conformation as well as medical conditions typical for that breed. For example, Dachshunds and other short-limb canines are susceptible to spinal injuries. Great Danes and Weimaraners tend to develop neck instabilities such as Wobbler’s Syndrome. Toy breeds often have difficulty with luxating patella. Shepherds, St. Bernard’s, Rottweiler’s and others tend to develop hip dysplasia.

Good sources of information are your veterinarian, breeder,  books, and the internet.  If your dog is a mixed breed you can still be guided by the general characteristics of the primary breeds that are apparent visually or by DNA testing.  You can also take some measure of comfort that mixed breeds offer in terms of genetic diversity, being less likely to express some of the above disorders or in a lesser degree than a pure-bred dog.

1. Maintain a reasonable weight

Your dog does not have to be thin, just within a fairly normal range for their breed and size. Let your veterinarian guide you accordingly. Along with body weight, keeping good muscle tone is important. A physical therapist can show you some simple exercises and activities to maximize strength.

See prior articles on Paring Down to the Canine Core and Functional Exercises for suggestions. Keeping excess body weight off the joints, ligaments, and tendons will help avoid arthritis, sprains and strains, and aggravation of hip or elbow dysplasia. Good muscle strength and tone also de-loads and supports joints.

2. Hardwood, tile or other slippery floors and surfaces are the enemy!

I cannot stress enough how dangerous slippery surfaces are for causing cruciate ligament tears and soft tissue strains.

Many families love the look of hardwood floors and have it throughout their homes. They also feel wood floors are cleaner and don’t absorb stains and odor. These “positives” are outweighed by the negatives in terms of potential canine injury.

The solution is to use area rugs over the hardwood in large rooms, carpet runners in hallways and on stairs.  

Avoid small “throw” rugs as they can be slippery as well.  Garage and outdoor deck wood steps should be equipped with nonskid pads.  In terms of the outdoors, be mindful to keep your dog off slippery wet grass unless they are on a leash.  Avoid having your dog run or walk on ice or slush.  Snow and sand are usually safe for dogs to walk, run and play in, but use common sense on the duration of activity.

3. Minimize the jumping on/off furniture

Do whatever you can to minimize or restrict this (such as blocking with large pillows, depending on your particular dog.  Larger dogs can easily climb on and off of furniture without danger of injury.

The act of jumping, particularly “down” rather than “up”, causes a shearing force on the knee ligaments, and jarring to the forelimb elbow and wrist joints, and the spine.  In my experience, most dogs don’t use those “little steps” you can buy to climb up and down from the bed.  The best solution is a ramp, preferably lined with carpet or a non-stick pad and built-up sides.

Use a leash to train your dog to use the ramp.  If the dog senses the ramp is sturdy, they should have no problem using it.  Sometimes a little ingenuity is needed and if you are handy, consider building one yourself.  My engineer husband built one for our Dachshund, complete with a hinge to fold it up and store under the couch when company comes!  Use gaits or other ways to block staircases.

4. Keep up the grooming

Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed, pads moisturized, and hair between the paw “toes” clipped, allows proper weight bearing and distribution during walking, play and standing.  This is one of the easiest and most effective ways of avoiding injury.

5. Take it easy

Avoid heavy play with other dogs, or with the dog’s parents! Ball play doesn’t need to be a high-intensity activity.  If your dog loves to lunge and play hard, just moderate the duration and frequency of such activity.

6. Variety is the spice of life

Exuberance can cause excessive running around in circles, sudden twists and turns that can cause acute strains.  The best way to avoid this is by keeping your dog stimulated and not bored, by rotating toys, varying activity or the environment, and taking them for regular controlled leash walks.

Simply letting out in the yard does not provide variety or stimulation. Leash walking in the neighborhood or parks and trails allows them to sniff and explore, receive mail signals and provides mental and physical stimulation.  Exuberance is wonderful but it is much safer to “spread out” the happiness through a variety of activity, to lessen those over the top spurts.

7. Encourage spay/neuter

Readers of this fine blog are already fully aware of the reasons for spay and neutering, from prevention of certain diseases to the dangers of “close” breeding practices resulting in unnecessary deformities.  I am currently working with an adorable dog, obtained from a retail pet store, who has already endured 3 orthopedic surgeries by the time he reached 1.5 yrs. old. He is the product of careless, for-profit breeding and is at risk for future arthritis and pain, hopefully, minimized by having PT.

Please utilize this information to give you a leg-up in helping your dog stay active and healthy.

Is prevention of injury important? It’s essential!

Further reading:
Dog Exercises and Injury Prevention

  1. Angela Schneider

    Great tips! I’ve seen a lot of people dealing with ACL tears in their dogs. While Bella is not the rambunctious sort, I do keep a close eye on her during play time. The quick stops and turns always give my heart a bit of a jolt. As a former sports writer, I’ve seen too many human injuries occur that way.

  2. All of my dogs are fairly small, so I guess I need to invest in a ramp or stairs for the sofa.

  3. Great tips. A lot of it is common sense don’t you think? But a lot of people don’t seem to have common sense do they?

  4. Buffy started limping just from being out in our yard, apparently from a minor cruciate ligament tear since it took weeks for her to recover. She’s blind, so she doesn’t move fast, but she is overweight, which likely was the cause. So sometimes it’s hard to prevent injury.
    Regarding dog stairs for furniture, I think if you train them when they are young, then they will accept them better. My springer, who did agility, loved the stairs up to our bed and the couch, but my cockers, who were not exposed to them until they needed them, never used them. Planning ahead helps, so does more training.

  5. Great tips – our favorite is to maintain the correct weight. It’s amazing how being to heavy impacts dogs (and humans too). Their joints, spine, and muscles do so much better with the proper weight. Now if only I could practice what I preach on myself 🙂

  6. We have an idiot across the back from us. His dog is in a ‘run’ with a kennel out the back and as far as I know, gets no exercise. It must be bored out of its skull so it barks. Stupid damned owner. Dogs are a responsibility and they need the same treatment and care as children do.

  7. Great tips and I am very careful what I do with Layla to prevent any kind of injury as she is a mutt,, and yes I did do a DNA test which also told me in the results that she has no genetic diseases phew

  8. Great tips! We moved recently into a house with mostly hardwood floors, and I’ve been working on covering all the beautiful hardwood with rugs so my dogs don’t slide around as much. For the last tip, I would recommend age appropriate spays/neuters. There’s a lot of info out now about how pediatric spays/neuters can actually cause health issues later in life. For my own dogs, and for other responsible owners, I personally recommend waiting until dogs are full grown, with closed growth plates, before fixing them.

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