When we think of sports for dogs, we usually think of greyhounds for racing and coursing or luring, field trial dogs for hunting, or even sled dogs in the Iditarod. But within the last 10 years or so, other sports have been gaining in popularity, including agility, flyball, disk dog competitions (Frisbee catching), tracking for search and rescue, dock jumping, and earthdog den trials. More than 940,000 entries in 2,461 American Kennel Club-sponsored agility trials were recorded in 2010 alone.1 Flyball associations are now located in North America, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands; in the United States alone, more than 8,000 entries were recorded by the North American Flyball Association.2
With many of these increasingly popular sports, there is no specific breed requirement or physical examination by a veterinarian. A major concern for veterinarians is that little research has been conducted to determine the effect of these sports on the dogs.
With sporting dogs, just as with working dogs, preventive examinations should be as much a part of their training as the actual practice of their sport. In human sports medicine, recommendations are for athletes to be examined biannually.3 No specific guidelines have been established for sporting and working dogs regarding veterinary examination frequency, but young, healthy sporting dogs without previous injuries may be examined as frequently as every six months. During the examination, full general physical, orthopedic, and neurologic examinations should be performed. If a dog has previously been injured but has made a recovery after treatment (Figure 1), whether surgical or rehabilitative, examinations should be performed every three months for as long as the dog is competing or participating in sporting activities.
Injuries can be sustained to a variety of tissues, including bone (fractures), ligament and tendon (tears), the cardiovascular system (dehydration and heat stress), skin (lacerations), and many others. Types of injuries vary according to the sport a dog engages in (see Which injuries are most common in various sports?). In this article, I'll describe common injuries in sporting dogs. And in the next article, I'll discuss how to prevent these injuries.
1. An agility dog competing after the repair of an Achilles tendon injury six months previously.
FOOT PAD INJURIES
Foot pad lacerations and nail trauma are common in sporting dogs. Most of these injuries are treated by the owners themselves, but full-thickness foot pad lacerations through the dermis need surgical closure if the dog is to return to athletics.4 The suture material should be large enough to withstand weight-bearing, and the interrupted mattress suture pattern is best to prevent tearing out of the sutures.4 In addition, a heavily padded splint bandage may be applied during the healing period to reduce weight-bearing and shear stress on the sutures.
Puncture wounds on the palmar or plantar surface of the paw can be problematic since a dog can develop deep digital flexor tendonitis, a potentially career-ending problem. Systemic antibiotics are recommended as well as surgical management with débridement and suturing of the puncture.4 Broad-spectrum antibiotics should be administered while culture and sensitivity test results (culture obtained during débridement procedure) are pending, and then therapy should be based on both aerobic and anaerobic culture results.