SlimDoggy Health Check: Muscular & Skeletal Systems
A dog’s muscular system, like humans, is designed to support movement. A basic understanding of the major muscles and how they work together is important to help you diagnose any potential issues and determine whether it is a muscular, skeletal or a nerve disorder. We will look at all three, but start this section of our Health Check Series with muscles and ligaments.
Let’s start with this image of a dog’s muscular anatomy and then discuss some of the potential problems.
The muscles in dogs, while different in structure, perform the same function as they do in humans. They connect to the skeletal system, the skin and other muscle structures. They are connected to the bones of the skeletal system through tendons – strong and elastic fibers that hold them in place. Also like humans, some of the muscles are voluntary (striated muscles) and take orders from the brain – i.e. to run after a ball that’s been thrown and other muscles are involuntary (smooth muscles) and operate without conscious thought, i.e the heart and lungs.
The most common muscular problems in dogs are strains and sprains, and yes, they are different. A strain is injury to a tendon and a sprain is an injury to a ligament. What do these soft tissues structures do? A tendon connects muscle to the bone, so that when the muscle is contracted, the tendon moves the bone. A ligament is the tissue that connects two bones together across a joint.
Either of these injuries can be very painful and reoccur if not healed fully and correctly. Symptoms of a strain would include limping, decrease in activity, swelling and possibly vocalization of discomfort. Strains are typically treated using the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation). You can also administer pain killers or anti-inflammatories as recommended by your vet.
Sprains can be more severe and vets sometimes grade their severity from Grade I, a simple stretching with a slight tear of the ligament to Grade III, a full tear of the ligament requiring surgery to repair. Nine out of ten ligament injuries come from torn ACLs (anterior-cruciate ligament). We’ve had three dogs with that injury and as a matter of fact, our Sally tore the ACL in both of her knees – luckily not at the same time! Both were treated with surgery, the second injury was treated with the more advanced TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) surgery which is done arthroscopically to minimize invasiveness and reduce recovery time.
Neither strains or sprains can be diagnosed with xrays, only through manual manipulation or a more advanced MRI scanning. Although, your vet may take xrays to ensure there’s no accompanying fracture or break.
Most strains and sprains are caused by accidental injury. We all know our dogs can be fearless, especially puppies and young adults. They’ll jump off cliffs, climb canyon walls, leap and roll and twist and turn while playing in the backyard. It’s hard to prevent these types of injuries without keeping your dog in a box. But, that’s not going to happen, so just be aware of potential hazards and if your dog does suffer an injury, make sure you take the time to properly heal it.
Next we will look at muscular diseases that may befall our canine companions.