Humans and racehorses aren’t the only creatures who can suffer from sports injuries. In a single year, for example, American dog owners spend somewhere around $1.3 billion to repair their canines' damaged anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL), according to Oregon State University.

Working dogs, such as herding breeds, are especially prone to injury. A British study of hunting dogs found about a quarter of those seen by a vet for an injury got hurt during hunting season. So are dogs that compete in field trials or agility contests. A 2013 survey published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that of 3,801 dogs who participated in agility competitions, 32 percent had had at least one injury.

But even a family Fido can tear a ligament or sprain a leg during an enthusiastic play session. And some dogs have degenerative or congenital problems, such as hip or elbow arthritis related to dysplasia (malformation) of those joints, that raise the risk of injury, according to Felix Duerr, DVM, assistant professor of small animal orthopedics and sports medicine at Colorado State University.

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Sidelining an enthusiastic canine isn't the way to prevent problems like dog hip injuries, sprains or strains and ligament injuries. Duerr recommends these common-sense approaches.

  • Keep your dog lean. "It's the most important thing you can do," says Duerr. Carrying too much weight can stress an animal's ligaments and joints.
  • Feed him a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Provide consistent exercise. If he's a working dog, have a training regimen that's similar to the activity he does on his "job."
  • Mix it up. Cross training is for dogs, too. Not only will doing different kinds of activities keep your dog's interest, he'll also use different muscle groups. When you're playing in the back yard or at the park, alternate between the games your dog likes to play (fetch, Frisbee, nosing a soccer ball around).
  • Warm up before demanding exercise or an activity that involves strenuous bursts of movement. Before you jog with with your pup or set out on a brisk walk, take it slow for the first few minutes, for example. This is especially important if you're taking him out right after he gets up from sleeping.

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Does your pooch have a sports injury?

How can you tell if your dog has an injury?

"Dogs are better than cats at hiding injuries or conditions like arthritis," says Duerr. He advises keeping an eye out for possible injuries if your dog is athletic or strenuously chases squirrels or tennis balls. Here are some changes to look for.

  • Performance changes: Do you notice subtle changes in your dog’s usual performance? Is he slower? Is he not retrieving consistently? Does he not want to play as much?
  • Stiffness: Does he seem stiff or have trouble standing up or lying down? In some dogs, this may be noticeable only after he gets up from resting.
  • Babying one leg: Does he favor one leg when standing, or frequently shift his weight from one side to another?
  • Swelling and pain: Can you see or feel swelling in any muscles or joints? Does your pooch seem to feel pain when you touch him?
  • Range of motion problems: If you gently bend and straighten his limbs can you move them through a full range if motion? Is there any difference between the left and right legs?
  • Wobbling: As he moves, watch his head and pelvis — does he limp or seem off balance?

If you notice any of these, call your vet. He may refer you to a specialist in veterinarian sports medicine and rehabilitation. These experts are trained to prevent, diagnose and care for athletic pets. "Sports medicine and rehabilitation focuses on non-surgical treatment and accelerating recovery after surgery," explains Duerr.

"If your dog has a problem, it's essential to recognize it early. That's key to restoring him to his full level of activity," Duerr adds. Treatment, pain relief, rehabilitation exercise or all three may be needed.

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Dianne Lange is a Lake Tahoe-based freelance writer specializing in health and travel. She is the author of four books on cancer and a former editor at SELF, Health, Natural Health and Prevention. Her work has appeared on websites such as,, WebMD and Everyday Health.