Preventing injury in sporting dogs - Veterinary Medicine
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Preventing injury in sporting dogs
Practice makes perfect—and possibly for fewer injuries. By discussing with owners the right conditioning tailored to dogs based on the activity they participate in, you can prolong your patients' healthy participation in canine sports.




Warming up before an athletic event or practice session in dogs is recommended since in some human studies a warm-up has been shown to reduce the incidence of injury.51-53 To increase blood flow to muscles and tendons, a warm-up requires the dog's body temperature to increase by 1 to 2 F by active muscle contraction or active range of motion exercises.40 Lure and coursing dogs such as greyhounds are often encouraged to actively move by walking or jogging for five to 10 minutes before a race.40 Warm-up in human athletes has reduced the incidence of injuries, specifically strains and sprains.53 For sprinting sports such as agility or flyball, I recommend 10 to 15 minutes of walking or jogging on a leash away from the event area.

Once a dog is warmed up, specific stretches including stretching the neck and passive range of motion stretching of the limbs are recommended. In people, stretching may not have any benefit in preventing injury, so some experts do not think this part of the warm-up is necessary.54-56 However, research focusing on static stretching found that holding a passive stretch for about 30 seconds with three repetitions once daily will decrease the incidence of injury.53,57

3A & 3B. A dog and a trainer performing sit-to-stand exercise before practice. Sometimes the dogs are excited and need help performing the sitting portion of the exercise, but it is still beneficial as a warm-up.
Once an injury occurs, stretching of the injured area may reduce the incidence of recurrence, but strengthening exercises along with stretching may provide the best protection against reinjury.58,59 So, after stretching, owners of canine athletes should have their dogs perform sit-to-stand (Figures 3A & 3B) and down-to-sit exercises to warm up and strengthen muscles including the quadriceps, semitendinosus, biceps femoris, gracilis, semimembranosus, and shoulder muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, biceps brachii). These exercises are also recommended on a daily basis to strengthen muscles and prevent injury.

To be effective, the practice or competition must begin within minutes of the warm-up.60 The dogs can practice the sport right before a competition after the initial warm-up, but the exercise must be less intense (less than 70% maximal heart rate)—such as trotting and galloping but not running—and take less than 15 minutes to prevent fatigue during competition.52,61 Excessive warm-up can cause increased lactate level in muscles, resulting in fatigue and increased injury rates.52 Increasing lactate production by high intensity-contracting muscle will result in decreased ionized calcium release from the sarcolemma and contribute to muscle fatigue.62 Muscle fatigue has been linked to increased bone strain in dogs experimentally and may contribute to the development of stress fractures.49,63


A cool-down period after strenuous exercise in sporting dogs has been recommended.52 This period, during which the exercise intensity is between 35% and 65% maximal oxygen consumption—or moving at a walk or easy trot—for 10 to 20 minutes, is recommended to enhance muscle metabolism and shorten recovery time after exercise.64,65 Although no study has identified a decrease in muscle soreness or a reduction in injury due to participation in cool-down exercises after strenuous activity in people, further research in dogs and people in randomized clinical trials is still needed, and I continue to recommend a cool-down period for sporting dogs.66

Stretching after exercise may be warranted in dogs with previous injuries because, theoretically, stretching with massage after cool-down by walking might help reduce edema and stiffness in previously injured tissues.


When owners or trainers express interest in having their dogs participate in canine sporting events, the focus for veterinarians is on preventing injury by providing advice about such factors as conditioning and nutrition. Fortunately, this focus naturally results in improved performance as well, so most goals of the trainer are also those of the veterinarian.

Wendy Baltzer, DVM, PhD, DACVS
Department of Clinical Sciences
College of Veterinary Medicine
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR 97331


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