A couple months ago, my 6-year-old Rat Terrier mix Yusho was injured at the dog park. It was nothing serious—a large Goldendoodle puppy collided with him. Yusho was pushed to the ground and yelped, but he was fine to walk home and there seemed to be no reason to visit the vet. Fast forward to now, and the area where he was hit—his back right leg—appears to occasionally cause him some discomfort. Sometimes when I touch it he lets out a little yelp. He did limp on it for a few hours, about three weeks after the incident. Other than those rare instances, he seems to be totally fine. Is it possible that Yusho is in pain but hiding it from me? Is there anything I can do at home to help him manage the pain if it is just a small issue? Do you think I should take him to the vet?
I am sorry to hear about Yusho’s injury. Rat Terriers are tough dogs, and sometimes this works against them when it comes to detecting pain. They don’t want to miss out on anything and will often ignore pain as much as possible.
The most common injury to the hind leg in dogs involves the cruciate ligament. This is a ligament that stabilizes the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone) and is prone to slow deterioration over a period of years. If the weakened ligament encounters some insult—something as simple as a slip on the ice or a larger collision like what you mentioned above—this can cause a partial or complete tear of the ligament.
In the case of a complete tear, it is important to start treatment right away. An unstable knee can be prone to other injuries, making future knee problems a certainty. There are a couple of simple exam methods that often can detect this type of injury. Sedation and X-rays are also sometimes needed, not only to confirm the injury but also to rule out other issues, such as a fracture. Treatment can involve rehabilitation therapy, acupuncture, a custom knee brace, or one of several types of surgery.
Other common issues in this breed of dog include hip dysplasia or luxation of the patella (knee cap). Although these are hereditary problems and could have been present for years, a traumatic blow like the one you described could have caused an acute flare- up of the condition. And finally, it is possible to get non-displaced fractures and injuries to other ligaments and tendons. Even some back injuries can mimic hind leg pain. I suggest you have your dog examined as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more likely there could be some long-term implications from the delay of treatment.
You asked about at-home treatments. There are no safe over-the-counter pain medications for the treatment of pain in dogs. Even baby aspirin can cause damage to the stomach after just a few doses. The best short-term treatment is icing immediately following the injury, while you make arrangements to have your dog seen by a veterinarian.
Good luck, and I hope Yusho feels better soon.
Michael Petty, DVM, is a veterinarian and certified veterinary pain practitioner and acupuncturist. As owner of the Arbor Pointe Veterinary Hospital and Animal Pain Center in Canton, Michigan, Dr. Petty has devoted his professional life to the care and well-being of animals. He is the past president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, co-author of the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association Pain Management Guidelines, and the author of the newly released book Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs. He enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling, and lives on a horse farm with his wife, two daughters, and two Portuguese Water Dogs. Follow Dr. Petty on Twitter @MikePettyDVM.