How to Handle Soft Tissue Injuries in Dogs

March 30, 2010

By Linda Cole

Dogs love to run, jump and romp inside and outside. But just like us, dogs can pull a muscle, sprain an ankle and even break a bone. Most soft tissue injuries in dogs come from falls, fights, accidents, and during exercise and play. My dogs love chasing each other around their enclosure and until recently, we had a nice layer of snow to run and play in. However, dogs can slip in the snow and ice, and end up with pulled muscles, stretched tendons or torn ligaments. Soft tissue injuries in dogs can range from mild to severe. When a dog develops a limp, that’s a sign they’re in pain and we need to pay attention to it.

Like us, mild muscle pulls or sprains will heal in a few days; however, unless you are a qualified vet, never try to treat your dog at home if you notice them limping more than two days. Broken bones need to be x-rayed to make sure there are no complications or other injuries associated with it and a vet needs to properly set the bone. Pulled muscles, sprains or strains need to be evaluated to insure an injury is not something serious. Dogs are also not the best patient in the house when it comes to bed rest to allow something to heal.

Soft tissues are muscles, ligaments and tendons. Tendons attach the muscles to the bones, and ligaments connect one bone to another bone. Swelling and pain usually occurs when one of the soft tissues is injured and unless the pain is severe, dogs seldom complain about an injury. To them, it’s a sign of weakness and they will try to hide pain and not show they are hurt. We probably won’t know how serious an injury is unless they are limping or indicate pain when we touch the injured area. A soft tissue injury can be a mild bruising to a severe tear or rupture and treatment may include medication and bed rest. Surgery may be required to repair the damage.

Anytime your dog is limping, has swelling and can’t put his full weight on a leg, an immediate trip to the vet is necessary. If he has taken a fall down a flight of steps or slipped while running in snow or playing with you or other pets and you notice him limping in pain, it’s always best to be safe with a call to your vet.

Mild strains and pulls should heal quickly on their own. Two days is the maximum time you should allow for a mild soft tissue injury to heal. If he continues to limp, it indicates the injury has not healed and is more severe than you thought. The severity of the injury can only be diagnosed by a vet who will want to take x-rays to make sure there’s been no bone damage before deciding on a treatment.

Soft tissue injuries can be difficult to diagnose. X-rays will only spot problems with the bones and not injuries to muscles, ligaments or tendons. A vet will make his evaluation based on the amount of swelling and pain around the affected area and range of motion the dog has around the injury.

A dog may be limping because they have a cut on or between their paw pads or between their toes. They could have a toenail that needs attention or they could have a rock, burr or some other foreign object stuck in between the pads of their feet. Limping isn’t always caused by a soft tissue injury.

A dog with a soft tissue injury will need to be confined to a small area in the home to allow his injury to heal. When he needs to go outside, make sure to keep him on a leash so he doesn’t do more damage by trying to run and play. Try to avoid any stairs if possible. Consider a temporary ramp if you have to use steps and the dog is too big to carry. Like kids, they may try to convince you they are feeling better before they’ve had adequate time to heal. It’s important for them to heal completely before allowing them to go back to their usual routine. If their injury isn’t completely healed, they will only aggravate it and you’ll have to start all over again, and it could be more severely injured the second time around.

Dogs love to play, and things can happen we can’t foresee. We may not be able to prevent soft tissue injuries in our dogs, but responsible pet owners need to understand how to handle them. With proper vet care and home care, your dog will get back on his feet in no time.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Rolanda Robertson says:

    Thank you for this information. It was very informative and helpful. My dog
    was jumping into the car and didn’t quite land correctly. He’s showing signs of pain.

  2. Raylyn says:

    Such valuable information. Thank you for sharing this. My dog injured herself when falling from the car, symptoms of tenderness and pain were not present until 2 days after the accident. Is this common?

  3. rosalinda castanon says:

    my dog had a accident fell down and now her back right leg she cant move it she limping has a hard time layind down and getthing up and its also swollen?????

  4. Melissa says:

    Hi, my bf stepped on my 5-6 month old puppy’s paw yesterday during their walk together. She yelped and was visibly in pain for 5 minutes then went on playing and walking for the rest of the day but she would limp all the while. This morning she’s still limping but she hasn’t shown signs of pain at all. Should I take her in? (ps. sometimes she’ll put weight on her paw but not for long periods.)

  5. MJ Menon says:

    My puppy 56 days old fell/jumped (I did not see) from a chair. Would it have injured her.


    MJ Menon

  6. Deb says:

    Thank you so much. This helped me relax but be vigilant over the next two days. My 3 month old Heeler pup bumped the side of his nose into a door as I was closing it quickly to keep a cat from barging into the room. It’s swollen and was more tender but less since he dosed for a couple hours. My prayer is that he is going to be fine. He’s crunching kibble and doesn’t seem to mind that. Air passages are normal and he’s quit shaking his head. I felt HORRIBLE but have helped me relax a little as well as him having improved a little already. I didn’t know if, like humans, dogs have fine nasal and facial bones. Thank you again. No improvement means a vet check on Saturday.

  7. Lupe says:

    My three month pit bull fell from our deck approx 6 steps up and now she can’t put weight on her back leg. I don’t see any swelling looks bruised back lower leg. Should I take her in

    1. E says:

      Yes take her in!

  8. guest says:

    my i dont know how old boxer (he is very old) he likes to ump to my garage where i just sit and watch my dogs play together but one day he just slipped and fell when he jumed. i was like thinking of that commercial help i fallen and cant get up. i laughed and help him up but then and day after he started limping. my daughter watches thses vet shows and she suggestes ut banages on it untill he stop limping but is he dosent take him to the vet

  9. ML says:

    Well, I’m not too late to this thread, eh? I LOVE LINDA COLE!
    Best for me is this quote…
    “Most soft tissue injuries in dogs come from falls, fights, accidents, and during exercise and play. My dogs love chasing each other around their enclosure and until recently, we had a nice layer of snow to run and play in. However, dogs can slip in the snow and ice, and end up with pulled muscles, stretched tendons or torn ligaments. Soft tissue injuries in dogs can range from mild to severe. When a dog develops a limp, that’s a sign they’re in pain and we need to pay attention to it.”
    THANK YOU Dr. Cole… Sophie was chasing a rabbit in the yard, big-snow and cold, and…we are going way over the time when hubby said “oh she will walk it off.”
    Sophie’s R front paw is swollen and she’s acting like a 3-legged-Basset… won’t put her weight on it… it needs X-ray at minimum… Vet appt. tomorrow and AGAIN, thanks for your information! Cordially, mlh

  10. I have an 10.5 yr old golden retriever and she couldn’t put weight on her left paw on Dec 21 she is on muscle relaxer and she still limping after almost 2 rounds of muscle relaxers and I’ve been keeping her on her leash and I’ve been applying ice packs to it. And I also keep in contact with her vet. She has days when she doesn’t limp then days when she is limping I try to keep her still but you can’t keep a dog still. Unless they are hospitalized any recommendations

  11. jennifer walker says:

    My young golden retriever loves to play with other dogs, and is sometimes boisterous but never aggressive. Today she met a young dalmation and was playing chase happily until the other dog slightly twisted a leg. Both stopped playing and soon the other dog walked off on the lead with its owner, with no limp. But the owner was furious with my dog! I think there was no blame here – just play which caused a minor accident. Any ideas?

  12. Pug mom. says:

    I have a pug whom is treated for licking tail crazy recently. He is on anti itch pills and anti biotic. He is still crazy to lick tail. I’m thinking pulled tail accident in playtime he loves to play chase catch me if you can! Help or live with this now?

  13. Shawn garmon says:

    My 7 month old American red nose pitbull pup was ran over by the back of a big truck by God’s will she made it but it caused some damage in her right leg area she is now 14 months and it seem to be hurting her and she loves to play w her pack family we keep her separated the past few days I think it’s harder on me and my husband if anyone has any advice I would greatly accept it thank u

  14. John says:

    I need help my dog was jumping and landed wrong he was limping and couldn’t walk but in 7 min he was walking normal but at times he will like walk to the side and keep walking. He will also run but have a hard time and a point. Should I take him to the vet or give it time to see what happens . He is a German Shepherd about to be 4 months he is a puppy

  15. terry says:

    My 7 year cocker spaniel keeps collapsing on his face and is limping badly. Vet is not sure what is wrong. Any ideas.

  16. Karl says:

    when my husky started to limp we took her to the vet right away to get the diagnosis. turns out the limp was caused by hip dysplasia.. a chronic disorder we’re going to have to deal with for the rest of our lives. my dog’s a young husky, obviously very active, and this diagnosis is going to have an effect on him for the rest of his life. We are using the Ortocanis dog hip brace as a way to help remediate the discomfort and pain. Our vet told us about the brace and how it helps to support his hips and reduce the pain. If anyone’s interested and going through a similar situation:

    1. Ashlyn Beadel says:

      Our husky/lab was diagnosed with this when she was 8 months old. One vet said she would need surgery so we took her for a second opinion at Texas A&M Vet school. They told us to keep her very active, swimming being the best thing and watch her. Sometimes it heals on its own. We give her fish oil pills and glucosamine pills and exercise her daily. We were also told to keep her lean so we keep her at 50-55lbs. She has made HUGE improvements and hardly limps at all. You may look into trying those things too!

  17. charlotte says:

    My 6 month staffie puppy is limping on her back leg. She puts a bit of weight onit while staning and lying down. But when walking she doesnt put any weight on it.

    1. zoe carstens says:

      my 7 yr. maltese x silky terrier when walking not putting any weight on left back leg.puts weight while standing &lying.

  18. Allan Ritchie says:

    my tiniest of dogs 2and half kilos fell and now wont take any weight on rear right leg im told its cruciate ligament tear but it seems shes also damaged next joint down in some way or would this relate to the other as she never will let it go into being anything lesssthen almost straight

  19. Anomysous says:

    My 9 month old husky/beagle was playing and jumped to get the toy and landed on his back. He imediatly ran with his tail down. I’m afraid he might of hurt his back but I touched it everywhere and he doesn’t care. Vet of no

  20. scott kerr says:

    My one year old chi-weenie has been limping for three days but only when he wakes up or when he lays down for a little bit he is not crying and I can touch his leg and he doesn’t show any pain when I do he still jumps and runs and plays and he eats and drinks but I’m concerned about the limping .should I take him to the vet or wait to see if he strips limping in a few days ?

  21. Yarelis says:

    Hi my 10 month old Pomeranian fell and hurt he leg I took him to the vet who did not do an x ray and pulled on his leg made him scream and said he does not think is is broken this was yesterday and he wanted me to take him back Saturday morning. He said to leave him in the cage but I feel bad doing that all day to our puppy, today he is still not better and he was hurt tuesday around 3pm. Am I just freaking out?

  22. mary says:

    My dog Cooper got his legs wrapped around his cord tight. I got him untangled. He limped some and I kept him still. He started walking good after that. That was 5 months ago. He seems to be having problems with his right hind leg. What could be the problem? Thanx

  23. Katy Cahill says:

    Very helpful thank you!!

  24. Ashley says:

    This is a great article- my Mom’s cocker spaniel is part of my heart- I never expected to have such a crush on a dog! She is loyal, faithful, and only gets angry at me when I don’t give her her carrot treats fast enough!~ (LOL) So this a.m. I was so upset when I saw her limping- her back hind leg seems to be the culprit- and financial issues are keeping us from immediately getting her help- but most likely after reading this article, we will if , in two days, the limping does not get better- the strange thing is that no matter WHERE I touch, palpate, (range of motion, etc) she does not whimper, or even turn her head! She just stays off the leg! I realize that she is a lot better with pain than the rest of us- but wouldn’t she at least be a little bit interested in that leg if I am gently rotating , palpating, and doing some tiny range of motion exercises? Well, thank you so much for your very factual and concise article! Help is on the way for our “Sophia”
    Your dogs are lucky to have you in their life!

  25. Diane says:

    My dog started getting up very slowly around New Years. I noticed this and took him to the vet. They did an x-ray to rule out hip dysplasia and then they sedated him to do further testing. No breaks or tears so they think soft tissue injury or possible a popped knee. He started Dasequin and is on medicine as needed for pain. He still is about the same……I started the Dasequin 1 week ago and I guess it takes 4-6 weeks to start working.I have all furniture blocked so he can’t jump on it. There were a couple times I forgot to do it and it took him 2 days to get back where he was. This seems like it is taking forever.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Have you checked her feet between the pads, on her pads and between her toes to make sure she didn’t get a cut or step on something hidden under the snow? Check her toenails to make sure one isn’t infected.

    I would highly recommend you take her to your vet. It’s not normal for an 8 month old pup to just lay around. She shouldn’t be that wore out after a walk or playing in the snow, even if she did injure herself in the snow. It shouldn’t take a day or two for her to recover from some exercise. There could be something else going on that has nothing to do with the first incident a couple weeks ago.

    You can take your hands and feel her legs starting at the top and working down and feel for any swelling that you may not be able to see. Check her shoulder area and around her hips and check her ankles and feet. But if she were one of mine, I would get her checked out with the vet as soon as possible.

    Linda Cole

  27. Anonymous says:

    My 8 month old Golden Retriever was playing in the snow about 2 1/2 weeks ago. She came home and didnt want to walk. She was hurting. But she had no limp. The next day she was fine. Since then, even the littlest of walks I take her on, (just around the block), she seems to act the same when I get her home. Doesnt want to walk, just sleep. The next day she is usually fine. 2 days ago, I took her to the snow again, and it took almost the whole 2 days to get her back to normal. Yesterday, all she did was lay around, not wanting to walk again. What do you think….

  28. Ken says:

    Readers may want to try the “Pet Stick” to help their pet heal from soft tissue injuries. It is very easy to use and very effective.

    1. JoanMarie Shepard says:

      We have a 13werk old German shepherd . I was letting our chickens out and we had a big board by the door . I plopped it on the ground not realizing piper was behind me . It hit her leg .But did not see it hit her . I took her to the vet she has always puts pressure ,but limps . Not broken they said . But she keeps romping around .and re hurting it …