Soft Tissue Trauma in Dogs


Canine Soft Tissue Trauma

No matter how hard we try and no matter how well we take care of our dogs, they may still incur injuries from accidents, ranging from severe to mild.  Soft tissue injuries fit into either category, depending on the severity. Soft tissues are those tissues surrounding bones and joints – primarily muscle, tendon and ligaments. Soft tissue trauma, sometimes charted by veterinarians as STT,  is a common term used in dogs to describe injuries that cause symptoms such as pain but have no obvious skin lacerations or bone fractures.

Muscles are responsible for movement of the body as well as body support. Tendons are tough fibrous tissue that connect the muscles to the bones. Ligaments are very strong and attach one bone to another. Damage to any of these can result in significant swelling, pain or inability to use that part of the body.

Soft tissues can experience crushing, bruising, stretching, tearing or rupture injury. Some can be treated with medication, while others may require surgery to repair. The most common cause of soft tissue injury is trauma. Automobile accident, animal attacks or fights, falling from a high area or injuries during running or exercise are most commonly implicated.

Diagnosis of Soft Tissue Trauma in Dogs

Diagnosing soft tissue injury can be quite challenging. A thorough physical exam can pick up swollen or painful areas, but X-rays may be recommended to determine bone damage. Soft tissue injuries are not routinely seen on X-rays.

Diagnosis is usually based on swelling, pain or inability to fully use a part of the body and the absence of bone damage. For example, a dog that is limping after falling from a second story window may be diagnosed as having soft tissue injury if there is no evidence of bone damage on an X-ray.

Determining the extent of the soft tissue injury can also be very difficult. Crushing and bruising injuries to muscles typically improve with medication and time. Some muscle tears can also recover with medication and time. Muscle or tendon ruptures and ligament damage may need surgery.

Treatment of Soft Tissue Trauma in Dogs

After determining the absence of underlying bone damage, treatment depends on the severity of the injury. Mild bruising is generally treated with anti-inflammatory medications, such as deracoxib, ketoprofen, carprofen, etodalac or aspirin. You’ll generally see improvement in 3 to 5 days.

Moderate injury corresponding to muscle or tendon stretching may require splinting in addition to anti-inflammatory medication.

More serious injury, especially in cases of joint injury or possible ligament rupture may require surgery. Many veterinarians will choose to begin a course of anti-inflammatory medication and wait 3 to 5 days for improvement before progressing to surgery.

For any soft tissue injury, if improvement is not seen in 3 to 5 days, reevaluation by your veterinarian is recommended.

Home Care of Soft Tissue Trauma in Dogs

Home care for mild soft tissue injury is primarily aimed at minimizing additional injury and allowing the injury to heal. Keep your pet strictly confined to a small area. Do not let him outdoors unless on a leash. Keep him away from stairs. If no improvement is seen in 2 to 3 days, consider examination by your veterinarian.

After treatment for soft tissue injury, restricted activity is important. If your pet was given anti-inflammatory medication or pain medication, he may feel much better and attempt to use the injured area. However, your pet is still healing and needs to be restricted from activity for several days. Re-injury is common when the pet is allowed to return to normal activity too soon.


Preventative Care

Most causes of soft tissue injury are trauma related. Diminish the chance of injury by leash walking dogs. Remember: Pets are like children and accidents happen. It is difficult to suppress a wound up, happy playful puppy when he really wants to play.

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