Dog Exercises and Injury Prevention

More treatments for canine injuries from springtime overactivity.



Strained muscles, pulled ligaments, sprains, and bruises . . . these are common canine injuries in the spring, when the weather invites us all outside and even seems to encourage our dogs to overdo it. Enthusiastic, rigorous exercise that follows several months of relative inactivity is a prescription for additional canine injury.

Last month, we discussed the “doctor’s orders” for first aid and immediate treatment of canine sports injuries (“When Fido Overdoes It”). The following are additional home treatments and professional interventions that will help Rover get over his body aches and strains.

Dog Exercise


Many essential oils and hydrosols (the “flower waters” produced by steam distillation) have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. They can be used in massage oils and compresses to help the patient feel more comfortable, increase blood flow to the area, and speed healing. In addition, soothing essential oils such as lavender or chamomile can be dispersed into the air with an electric nebulizer or diffuser or simply dropped on a cotton ball placed near the dog’s crate or bedding to help keep the animal calm and relaxed. Hydrosols, such as lavender or chamomile, can be spritzed around the room and directly on the dog for the same purpose.

In her book, Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals, Kristen Leigh Bell interviewed several veterinarians who routinely use essential oils. One is Stephen R. Blake, DVM, in San Diego. He diffuses frankincense essential oil in his exam room and gives canine patients a light massage for a few seconds after rubbing a drop of frankincense essential oil into both hands. “I like frankincense because it’s grounding,” he says. “It helps calm both patient and caregiver, and it has disinfecting properties as well.”

For patients with a possible joint or cruciate ligament injury, Dr. Blake has the owner massage a blend of 1 drop lemongrass essential oil diluted in 1 teaspoon sweet almond oil to the area twice per day.

Dr. Blake uses a diluted blend of four essential oils (spruce, frankincense, rosewood, and blue tansy) as what he calls a “chiropractor in a bottle” for musculoskeletal cases. He instructs caregivers to apply 1 drop of the massage oil blend to each paw pad on all four feet, massaging the pads well.

Dr. Blake recommends doing this on a bed, couch, or table, then placing the dog back on the floor. “Immediately,” he says, “the dog will shake off and in doing so, adjust himself. If the dog doesn’t shake from head to tail the way he does after a swim or when coming out of the rain, repeat the procedure. Since the massage and the oils stimulate all of the acupuncture meridians, this combination of massage, essential oils, self-adjusting, and acupuncture point stimulation really speeds the healing process. I suggest doing this from one to four times a day, depending on the patient’s response to each treatment. Once the patient is stable, I reduce the frequency of treatments.”

Kristen Leigh Bell’s favorite massage oil blend for dogs is 3 drops black pepper (Piper nigrum), 4 drops peppermint (Mentha piperita), 3 drops spearmint (Mentha spicata), and 4 drops juniper berry (Juniperus communis) essential oils mixed with 1/2 fluid ounce (1 tablespoon) hazelnut, sweet almond, or other carrier oil. “This is excellent for animals with muscle soreness, arthritis, hip dysplasia, or sprains,” she explains. “Combined with simple massage techniques, it helps stimulate circulation to the injured area, greatly speeding the healing process. I have plenty of clients who also use this blend on themselves, including one who is an avid runner who applies the blend to her shin splints. Use 2 to 4 drops at a time and try to get the blend as close to the animal’s skin as possible. This can be tricky when your dog has a dense coat, but do your best.”

Because this blend’s essential oils can potentially cause slight skin irritation, Bell recommends doing a patch test by applying 1 drop of the blend on the skin of the dog’s “armpit” and checking 24 hours later for any redness or irritation. “I have yet to see irritation in any dog,” she says, “but it can never hurt to err on the side of safety.”

Marge Clark at Nature’s Gift in Madison, Tennessee, recommends the same massage oil for dogs that she blends for humans, a combination of lavandin (Lavandula hybrida) for soothing and pain relief, black pepper for warming and stimulating blood flow in the extremities, and helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) from Corsica, which she calls “the best anti-inflammatory and bruise healer I know of,” in a base of jojoba oil.

”I use equal parts of each of these essential oils in a 1-percent solution for small or medium-sized dogs and a 2.5- to 3-percent solution for large dogs,” she says. To create a 1-percent solution, add 1 drop of each of the three essential oils to 1 tablespoon jojoba; to create a 3-percent solution, add 6 drops essential oil in 1 tablespoon jojoba.


Like its essential oil, helichrysum’s hydrosol or flower water is an effective anti-inflammatory treatment for bruises, sprains, and other injuries. Simply spray full-strength or diluted hydrosol to soak the skin or apply as a compress. For more about hydrosols, see “Hydrosols Used in Canine Aromatherapy,” April 2005.


It’s magnetic
Seven years ago, Erin Kavanagh, a resident of Wales, suffered a stroke just before giving birth. Semi-paralyzed on her left side, she was told she would never regain full mobility, be able to drive a car with a manual transmission, or type with both hands. That’s when she tried a Bioflow magnetic wrist band. “The pain subsided immediately,” she says, “and gradually the use of my paralyzed limbs came back. The neurologist discharged me six months after I started to use magnetotherapy and I have never looked back.”

Four years ago, Kavanagh’s Border Collie, Celyn, competed in obedience, agility, and flyball. In addition to practicing daily, they trained four times a week, and Celyn worked as a demonstration dog when Kavanagh taught obedience classes.

However, Celyn had been hit by a car as a two-year-old, and the injury often caused him to limp. One day, when he was five years old, he was too lame to work. His left hip was inflamed, he could bunny-hop but not walk, and he couldn’t lie down comfortably.

Dog Pain Releiving techniques


”I borrowed a Bioflow dog collar from the same distributor who sold me the wrist band, and a few hours after I put it on Celyn, he seemed so restless and was drinking so much water that I took it off,” says Kavanagh. “The second day I left it on for longer, and although he still drank a lot of water, he seemed calmer. The third day he was happy with it on all day and night. On the fourth day, he ran outside and cleared a five-barred gate! The next week he was back at work and I signed up as a Bioflow distributor.”

Celyn is now nine years old and retired from competition. “Last year he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and was supposed to die by September,” she says. “Despite Vetmedin (a heart medication) and Frusimide (a diuretic widely used in the U.K.), he was thin, choking, had blue gums, and was utterly miserable. He even stopped barking at the postman. I put a magnetic dog coat on him and within 48 hours he started barking again. A week later his need for Frusimide dropped by half a tablet a day and his visible deterioration ceased. He still overdoes it because that’s his nature, but he no longer suffers an attack afterwards, and when I take his coat off at night all my cats make a bee-line to go sleep on the magnets.”

Bioflow dog collars, cat collars, dog coats, and bed pads contain a patented Central Reverse Polarity (CRP) magnetic module that mimics the pulsating electro-magnotherapy used by physiotherapists in National Health Service hospitals in the U.K. to treat ligament injuries, sprains, and broken bones in humans. “The collar rests directly over the dog’s jugular vein,” says Kavanagh, “so treated blood is able to carry more oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body as well as remove toxins and waste materials more efficiently. Most patients show significant benefits within a week or two, certainly within 90 days, and most sports injuries heal twice as fast as they would otherwise.”

Bioflow dog coats, which come in five sizes, are recommended for use before exercise to increase blood flow to muscles, enhancing warm-ups, and after exercise to help maintain muscle condition and improve tissue repair.

Small dogs usually wear the Bioflow cat collar, and giant breeds wear two dog collars linked together. According to Kavanagh, dogs can safely wear as many magnets as they require for as long as needed. “I know of one dog who only wears a collar in winter when the cold and damp cause him problems,” she says, “and a flyball team carries collars as a first-aid measure in case of injury. Cel, my Collie, now wears a dog coat during the day plus two dog collars 24/7.”

Favorite remedies
Long-time WDJ readers know that nutritional supplements can make a huge difference in the treatment of injuries.

Enzyme products like NZymes and Wobenzym speed healing by breaking down inflammation throughout the body. In systemic oral enzyme therapy, digestive enzymes are taken between meals on an empty stomach so that instead of dealing with food, they are carried through the bloodstream to affected areas. Wobenzym, NZymes, and similar products help older dogs by reducing arthritis symptoms, and they help dogs of all ages recover from bruising, soreness, and swelling.

Most dogs respond well to 1 Wobenzym tablet per 10 pounds of body weight (up to a maximum of 5 tablets at a time) given every 1 or 2 hours until improvement is seen, and that dose is continued for several days or as needed. Once recovery is under way, a typical maintenance dose is up to 5 tablets at a time twice or three times per day. See “Digestive Enzyme Supplements” (October 2005) for detailed instructions.

Willard Water concentrate is a catalyst-altered water (described in “Willard Water – A Powerful Antioxidant,” June 2006) that can be added to a dog’s drinking water at the rate of 1 & 1/2 teaspoons per quart, or 2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce) per gallon. Treated drinking water can be added to food in any amount.

The most frequently received report from consumers whose arthritic dogs receive Willard Water is an improvement in gait, leg strength, and range of motion. Dogs with chronic and acute sports injuries sometimes experience similar improvements, and a maintenance dose of Willard Water (1 tablespoon concentrate per gallon of water) can help keep any canine athlete in good shape.

Adding 2 teaspoons Willard Water concentrate to a quart (or 1/2 teaspoon per cup) of water, herbal tea, aromatherapy hydrosol, diluted herbal tincture, or vinegar wash improves its topical application, helping the liquid penetrate and speeding the healing of sprains, bruises, and inflammation.

High-quality protein is essential for injury healing and for the repair of damaged tissue. Seacure, the deep-sea fermented whitefish powder described in “Securing Seacure” (April 2003), is predigested so that its amino acids and peptides, the body’s building blocks, are immediately absorbed and utilized. The product is available as a pet powder for adding to food and in chewable dog-treat tabs and 500 mg capsules.

To help dogs recover from trauma wounds, sprains, muscle strains, and other sports injuries, give at least twice the label’s recommended maintenance dose of 1 capsule, 1 tablet, or ¨ù teaspoon powder per 10 pounds of body weight for as long as needed.

Colostrum, the “first milk” produced by mammals after giving birth, has become a popular supplement because of its immune-boosting and injury-repairing properties. Dr. Blake recommends offering colostrum powder by itself on an empty stomach half an hour or more before a meal. To help speed the healing of sports injuries, he suggests giving twice to three times the recommended maintenance dose of one 500-mg capsule or ¨÷ teaspoon powder per 25 pounds of body weight per day. For an injured 50-pound dog, this would be 4 to 6 capsules or between 1 and 2 teaspoons powder per day.

Reduce the risk
Prevention is always better than treatment, and the name of the prevention game is conditioning. Keep in mind that young dogs should not jump higher than elbow height until their bone growth is complete, at about 12 to 14 months of age, and overweight, arthritic, or injured dogs should start slowly and increase exercise gradually.

Canine Exercise Tips


Conditioning programs involve both strength and endurance exercises. For example, short runs up steep hills and short retrieves are examples of strength training. Because muscles need about 48 hours to recover from this type of workout, it’s recommended to use this sort of workout only every other day. Long walks, runs, or swims are examples of endurance training, which builds stamina by strengthening the heart and lungs.

Interval training combines short bursts of demanding exercise with longer periods of easy exercise, such as alternating periods of running and walking. Interval training is fun for dogs, and it reduces the risk of injury.

Every workout should begin with a warm-up period and end with a cool-down. According to Carol J. Helfer, DVM, at Canine Peak Performance Sports Medicine & Physical Rehabilitation Center in Portland, Oregon, the best warm-ups for healthy dogs incorporate the same muscle groups that will be used in their events. Going from a walk to a trot to short sprints is appropriate for most dogs, along with low hurdles for dogs who will be jumping.

Amy Snow, who teaches canine acupressure through the Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute in Larkspur, Colorado, gives similar advice, plus she incorporates acupressure into every phase of conditioning. As she observes, “Dogs’ muscles and tendons, like our own, are not designed for dashing over hurdles, pouncing on a box, catching a ball, spinning around, and frantically running back over the hurdles of a flyball course, or racing through an agility course, without an appropriate warm-up.”

Many trainers encourage their dogs to stretch before a workout, but Dr. Helfer disagrees. “Stretches should never be done without some warm-up or prior activity because stretching cold muscles can lead to injury,” she says.

”There are many opinions about stretching, but I prefer to save it for the after-exercise cool-down routine. Stretches should never be painful but should produce a noticeable tension in the muscles being stretched, and the longer the stretches can be held, the more effective they are, assuming that they are appropriate for the dog and the sport. For example, a dog competing in disc likely needs more flexibility than one competing in mushing.”

A cool-down promotes recovery and returns the body to its pre-exercise, pre-workout state by removing lactic acid from muscles and reducing soreness. Slow your dog from a moderate trot to a walk, do some stretches, and keep him moving until he stops panting and his breathing returns to normal.

”The cool-down is often neglected,” says Snow. “I see far too many people just put their dogs into a crate after an agility trial. It hurts me to watch it, and I always want to warn them about what they’re doing. The next day, when the dog starts to limp or gets hurt, they probably never make the connection.”

Overweight dogs are at such a high risk of injury that the only sensible approach to getting them in shape is a change of diet combined with gradually increasing low-impact exercise. Switching him from grain-based kibble to a high-protein food, or preparing a low-carb food for him, should make weight loss easier.

”The single most important thing you can do to lengthen the career of your canine athlete,” says Dr. Helfer, “is to keep your dog lean. The ribs should be easily felt and subcutaneous fat around the ribs should be barely detectable. When you look down on your dog from above, he should have a definite ‘waist,’ and when viewed from the side, there should be a ‘tuck’ from the ribs to the hips.”

Another effective way to prevent injury is to emphasize variety in conditioning exercise. Repetitive motion injuries are as common in dogs as in people, and they come not so much from over-exercising certain muscles as from under-exercising others. Develop a cross-training exercise program that includes many different kinds of motion. Instead of walking or jogging on sidewalks or a level track, switch to grass, bare earth, hills, and valleys. If your hike takes you to a lake or pond where your dog can swim, or if you have a pool or live near the beach, even better.

”An important and often ignored component to cross-training,” says Dr. Helfer, “is balance work and core body strength training. Both are important in injury prevention, especially in events that require quick changes of direction. In sports like agility and disc, the ability to respond quickly not only helps prevent injury, but also improves performance.”

Rehabilitation therapy
Over the years, veterinary chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and body workers have helped dogs of every description heal from injuries, accidents, surgery, and illness. Many competition dogs have monthly appointments for routine maintenance, to catch and correct minor problems before they progress.

Now, in response to the explosive growth of canine sports, rehabilitation medicine is becoming a popular veterinary specialty. At Top Dog Canine Rehabilitation and Fitness in Hamden, Connecticut, Jill Bruno-Sarno, CVT, and other therapists treat dogs for arthritis, hip and elbow problems, spinal injuries, stifle injuries, degenerative myelopathy, wobbler’s syndrome, joint injuries, tendonitis, bursitis, and soft-tissue injuries with the help of an underwater treadmill, massage therapy, electrical stimulation, low-level ultrasound, and therapeutic exercise.

”These treatments decrease pain, increase the rate of healing, reduce the risk of further injury, and re-establish strength, endurance, and range of motion.

”It’s great to be able to help increase the quality of a pet’s life through non-invasive techniques,” says Dr. Bruno-Sarno. “In addition, we offer sports conditioning for the working dog. We get quite a few canine athletes who are getting ready for a big show or trial, and when they win, we know we played a part in helping them shave a few seconds off a round or look their best in the show ring.”