What if your dog sprains a leg?

What if your dog sprains a leg?

A misstep by Luna caused her to hurt her leg, probably sprained it. A nightmare for every dog owner, because what now? I often get this question from concerned owners, hereby my experience and tips from when my dog Luna sprained a leg.

Let's first describe the moment itself: Luna was loose in the meadow during a walk and chased a bird. During her sprint she did not see a (small) canal and she slipped. I saw her stumble, fall, scramble back up and walk further behind the bird (which was gone, of course). At first sight there was nothing wrong.

I called her to me and she quickly walked over to me. When I arrived I saw that she was shaking a bit and was clearly impressed by what she had just experienced. I tied her back on and we continued quietly. Luna indicated a few times to stop, to look at her right leg and lick it. I left her alone, but already started to consider options: 1) we continued on foot and would still be on the road for about 20 minutes, or 2) I had someone pick us up by car, where we could Had to wait 30 minutes for it. My idea at the time was: calmly walking further will not hurt, sitting still and waiting might cause more problems.

While walking, I could clearly see her raising her right leg while walking, but she was not walking slower than usual. Doing her pee was more difficult and she was clearly not leaning on her right leg.

At the car I carefully helped her to her permanent seat (her bench in the car trunk). Sitting seemed to work well, so I thought that knee and hip were okay.

Mandatory rest and keep an eye on

Arriving at home, I told all family members about the incident and gave clear instructions to each:

  • Don't play outside with Luna

  • Definitely don't let Luna get a ball

  • Walking only on a leash and certainly not too far

This for at least a week. Then we would review how it went.

Meanwhile the leg hadn't thickened and there was no heat... So no sign of a more serious injury, which seemed a good sign to me. I was also allowed to touch the leg everywhere, including where the suspected sprain was. In the evenings Luna was very calm and clearly needed some extra quality time.

Day 2 after the step: no swelling, but when walking still she could not fully support and when standing still she was clearly not leaning on the injured leg.

Day 3: Luna is clearly feeling better, asks to go for a walk, to play. Now it is important that we turn our heart into a stone. For a moment we had to reject cheerful Luna when she looked at us questioningly, which she clearly experienced as a disappointment every time. But it was important that we made sure she took it easy so she didn't force herself.

This is perhaps the hardest part: your dog feels on top, and shows that he no longer feels pain. Now the temptation is great to resume 'normal' life. Back (distant) walks, back to play... but now it is very dangerous for the dog to force itself, and then you are back to square one. If your dog injure itself several times in quick succession, micro-trauma occurs in the soft structures around the joint. If this happens often, this structure will eventually fail, and you should certainly not let it get that far. Also remember that if one leg hurts, the dog will put extra strain on the other legs. So it could be a problem for all 4 legs.

At this crucial moment, we are responsible and must ensure that Luna does not step back or get hurt. We have to make sure she keeps calm and can heal properly. It is our responsibility to restrict Luna in her movement. Up to and including day 5 we will continue with quiet walks and especially not yet playing (with the ball).

Home rest or vet?

This was for me a clear case of an overload, a sprain. Something that can easily be solved with rest and waiting and for which we did not have to go to the vet immediately. But when will that be the case? Here's what you should pay attention to:

  1. Occurrence of swelling

  2. Warmth feeling in the injured region

  3. Dog cannot lie / sit comfortably due to pain

  4. Lameness persists or worsens during the first 3 days

  5. Still no full load on the leg after day 3

  6. If in doubt, it is best to consult a vet

Frequently Asked Questions

My dog didn't whine when he stumbled. So he wasn't hurt then?

As humans, we tend to think: no whining or limping = no pain. But a dog is much less likely to make a pain sound (yelp). Luna is a dog that is very people oriented, so she comes to 'tell' me that she has been hurt, but not every dog does this.

My dog doesn't limp when he walks fast, so there's no problem, is there?

A dog that runs fast will move its center of gravity forward. At such moments, he will not make optimal use, during the load phase, of his four legs. We as humans cannot even notice this. Just think of the dog with an amputation, it can run as fast as dogs with four legs. Only when you walk quietly do you see a difference in load. And another important tip: write down which leg hurts with the date. If this happens again you can see if it is the same leg and how quickly it comes back.


Pull up (toe)
SOFT brace
Dog shoes
Orthopedic pillow

General conditions

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