Contributed by: Stephanie Geisinger, LVT, VTS (ECC), Emergency & Critical Care Specialty Technician

Animals can fall out of peak condition during periods of prolonged rest, just like people.  Decreased activity in the winter months may lead to weight gain, decreased endurance and stiff joints. There can be a transition period during weather changes, especially from cooler to warmer temperatures. Exercise a dog may tolerate at 60 degrees he/she may struggle with on an 80-degree day.

Soft tissue injuries are common, especially in rough terrain, rapid increase in activity, and in obese or arthritic animals.

Symptoms of Pain

  • Fatigue, stiffness, limping
  • Panting, agitation, salivation
  • Posture changes – rigid, hunched, holding up limb, tucked tail
  • Visible bulging of muscle or swelling

What To Do

  • Limit further activity
  • Cold compress may help swollen areas, if the dog will tolerate it
  • Seek veterinary care to rule out a fracture or more serious injury
  • Before a hike, swimming or outdoor adventure, evaluate your dogs’ fitness and ability to tolerate the activity. Age (older dogs may be weaker or tire more easily), weight, breed (brachycephalic breeds may tire more easily) and other health issues (heart issues, previous injuries) can affect exercise tolerance.

What NOT To Do

  • Do not give over the counter medications to treat symptoms without consulting a veterinarian. Many human over the counter medications such as Ibuprofen are toxic to dogs.  Topical such as Icy Hot are also toxic and can be dangerous.
  • Do not continue to hike/activity if you suspect an injury. Dogs, especially the young or stoic are like toddlers – they can be resilient/stubborn and continue to be active when injured and may overdo/exacerbate injury.

Prevention

  • Pay attention to your dogs’ normal day to day behavior/gait to better help spot abnormalities
  • Discuss activity plans with your family veterinarian to assess your dog’s physical condition and exercise tolerance. They may be able to guide you on exercises to increase stamina or build up to increased activity, which will help prevent injuries.
  • Take frequent water and rest breaks
  • Keep pet on leash during a hike to monitor closely; off leash activity can lead to increased likelihood of injury due to running at higher speeds, jumping, getting into altercations with other dogs and falling in uneven terrain.

Rhabdomyolysis is a life threatening condition where lactic acid build up and increased vascularity cause an ischemic injury (blood supply to tissues is restricted, shortage of oxygen to cells), muscular lysis (rupture), myoglobin (protein that helps carry oxygen to muscle cells) released into urine/blood, and acute kidney injury.

The balance between sodium and potassium breaks down, which if minor, can lead to muscle soreness or if severe, can cause extensive muscle damage, increased potassium in the blood stream and damage to the heart.  Dehydration can exacerbate electrolyte imbalances and worsen kidney damage.

Rhabdomyolysis can occur after periods of intense/prolonged exercise or excitement and can be mild or life threatening/fatal.  In this condition, there is an imbalance inside muscle cells between the amount of energy demanded for work/activity and the body’s available energy stores.  Muscle break down and necrosis can happen slowly or rapidly.

Symptoms

  • Muscle swelling/pain 24-72 hours post exercise; difficulty standing/laying down
  • Stiffness, weakness, collapse
  • Red/orange urine (due to increased myoglobin)
  • Increased body temperature, gasping/panting breath pattern

What To Do

  • SEEK EMERGENCY VETERINARY ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY if symptoms are observed

What NOT To Do

  • Do NOT delay seeking veterinary care if any of the symptoms are noted
  • Do not attempt to actively cool the dog without knowing a rectal body temperature. Cooling measures can tip the body into hypothermia and be a detriment if temperature is not monitored

Prevention

  • Proper conditioning for activity, nutrition and hydration can help prevent rhabdomyolysis
  • Avoid rapid, intense bouts of activity without warm up/conditioning
    • Just like people, dogs who are normally sedentary or have limited activity will have little tolerance for sudden increased activity. Avoid exertion, especially in warm weather.
  • Make sure your dog is adequately hydrated before engaging in activity and take frequent rest and water breaks