Performance Dogs Need Advanced Veterinary Support

12 Sep 2004Steve Schwarz

I might have had a minor injury the other day, but Milo came up limping after playing in the backyard and that is a more serious matter. Minor injuries aren’t uncommon in performance dogs. They are athletes whose drive and desire to work with us while running, turning, and jumping at full speed put them at the same risk of injury as human athletes. But, unlike human athletes, they can’t communicate that they are sore, or have tight muscles or aren’t feeling well. So it is up to us to learn the signs of fatigue and injury and build a support “team” around our athletic teammates.

So as soon as I saw Milo limping on his front left we stopped playing immediately. I tried squeezing and manipulating his leg, foot, toes, and shoulder while carefully watching him for any hints as to where exactly he was hurt. By carefully observing your dog during a slow, gentle examination they will often “tell you” where they hurt. From small actions like changes in pupil dilation, eye focus, looking away/towards you, all the way to moving away, snatching their limb away, to growling, dogs will express their discomfort. Unfortunately, Milo has always been very difficult to diagnose when it comes to front leg injuries. Even after years of desensitization he will raise his lips and show his teeth and even growl if you work on his front legs “too” much.

After an evening of icing, stretching, massage, and aspirin, the next day it was clear Milo wasn’t going to “shake this off”. So I got on to the phone to the finest facility I know of for canine physical therapy TOPS Veterinary Rehab in Grayslake, IL. We are very fortunate to have TOPS within an hour’s drive of Chicago. Milo is a semi frequent visitor to TOPS so they didn’t require a regular vet’s referral for this visit. Ironically we had just been there the week before for his bi-monthly chiropractic adjustment when we all commented on how well he was doing…

Dr. McCrackendid a full work up on him and found a knot forming in his tricep and some stiffness in the bicep. His mid-back was also stiff and the muscles were twitching when touched. She couldn't find any specific injured area indicating a serious trauma, so attributed his limp to a muscle sprain. She treated him with acupuncture to address the pain. We had been icing his limb, giving him Traumeel, and baby aspirin to reduce swelling and control pain. We were (and still are) also stretching and massaging him several times a day and giving him very controlled walking exercise. With luck he'll be back to his old self in two-three weeks.

How did we know what to do? A couple years ago I wouldn’t have known as much. Last year we went through seven months of rehab with Milo with a tendon/muscle tear (after an altercation with a closing door that trapped his foot). So we’ve been to classes in massage and stretching for dogs and Nancy is very thorough in investigating alternate medications and treatments for dog injuries. But just as important are the contacts we’ve made with veterinary specialists in rehab, orthopedics, neurology, holistic medicine and nutrition.

We are also very fortunate that we have an extremely diligent “General Practicioner” for our dogs too. Dr. Kwak Young in Chicago, is very thorough and patient. He’ll pull out medical books with the related research and pictures to describe any injury or illness and is available for calls and visits at all hours. It isn’t uncommon for our 1/2 hour appointment to run an hour as he carefully investigates any issues. I’ve nothing but praise for Dr. Young, all dog owners need a GP like him on their team.

Once you start talking with other performance dog handlers in your area you’ll find to whom they’ve been for various injuries and treatments. You are likely to hear the same names come up (in both positive and negative light). Start building up a list and keep it in a convenient location. In addition to several emergency vets, I’ve got a half dozen veterinary specialists programmed into my cell phone.

Please start collecting those contacts that I hope you’ll never need.

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