How long will my dog's lameness last?

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Vet Roberta Baxter responds to a reader who's dog isn't able to bear weight on his leg...

(Q) Two weeks ago, my Cocker Spaniel jumped awkwardly and landed funnily on his back legs. He had a small cut on his back right leg and could not bear any weight on it. He was kept in overnight at the vet's and the next morning he was able to put some weight on his leg.

The vet examined him a week later and said it was muscle strain. Rest and anti-inflammatory medication were prescribed. He continues to improve but still struggles sometimes, and he can't jump at all. He does not seem to be in pain, and eats and drinks normally. How long will it take to heal completely and is there anything I can do to help speed up the process? 

(A) Vet Roberta Baxter says: A non-weight bearing injury is normally fairly severe and involves a fracture or damaged ligament. A muscle strain would not normally cause this degree of lameness at the time, and normally responds quite quickly to rest and anti-inflammatory medication. I wonder whether there is a more serious injury present that might only be detectable with further investigation such as radiography and/or ultrasound, perhaps by an orthopaedic specialist?

That said, if he is a bright, bouncy dog who is difficult to rest, then it may just be that healing is taking its time.

Consider going back to your vet for a check up to make sure he is happy with your dog's progress. If further investigation is needed, the sooner it is carried out the better. Most strains settle down within days, and affected dogs are often sound within a week or two. However, it may take a convalescent period to regain full strength.

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The most effective treatment for strains is rest and anti-inflammatory treatment, although physiotherapy and/or hydrotherapy may aid healing and enable rapid recovery.

Ask your vet if this is appropriate and to arrange a referral to a practitioner.

Frustration during enforced rest is a common problem. Working on training and commands, and hiding treats and toys can help prevent boredom.

The severity of the injury will determine how long the period of convalescence is. Your vet will be able to advise when your dog is sufficiently recovered so that he can start to build up his exercise levels, and if/when he is ready to resume athletic activity like flyball.

Regular vet checks will allow you to ensure the issue is effectively monitored during recovery.