Most dogs go through their daily activities -- running, walking, jumping -- without peril, however occasionally a dog takes a misstep and tears a tendon in his leg. Whether he stumbled getting out of the car, cut himself or overused his tendon, surgery is the cure for a ruptured tendon.
The most common tendon injury experienced by dogs is a ruptured Achilles tendon, also referred to as the gastrocnemius tendon or the common calcanean tendon. Though it's referred to as a singular tendon, the Achilles tendon is comprised of five separate tendons. It attaches to the heel, or hock, allowing your dog to walk on his "tippy-toes," instead of on his flat foot, known as plantigrade. If your dog has injured the tendon in his rear leg, you'll notice his hock is lower and his toes are curled -- if it's a partial tear -- or, if all five tendons are torn, he'll be walking on his entire rear foot. It's a painful condition, usually accompanied by swelling in the affected area.
Unfortunately, bed rest isn't enough to cure a ruptured tendon in a dog's leg. When the tendon is ruptured, the affected muscle contracts and untreated, can result in a permanent deformity. Cage rest prior to surgery is often advised, as it minimizes swelling as well as additional damage to the tendon. The extent of the surgery depends on how significant the injury is; the damaged portions of the tendon are sutured together and the tendon must be reattached to the heel bone. The affected leg usually is immobilized for the healing process with a cast, screws, pins or other hardware.
It can take as little as six weeks or as as long as 12 weeks for a dog to recover from tendon repair surgery. For the dog with hardware or a cast, regular vet visits are normal so the vet can be on the lookout for infections or change the cast. The patient will be on restricted activity, usually ordered to cage rest for at least a month. Sometimes anti-inflammatories and sedatives are prescribed to assist with recovery. The prognosis is usually very positive, however, the extent of damage affects how complicated surgery is. Potential problems from surgery or during recovery include infection and another rupture of the tendon, as well as routine risks of anesthesia.
Rest the Strained Tendon
A tendon doesn't have to rupture -- it can be stretched or partly torn. Strained tendons usually happen in a dog's front and back forepaws, with symptoms including lameness, pain and swelling. The vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories or pain relievers, as well as the use of cold packs and warm compresses. If a tendon is partially torn, external support, such as a splint or cast, may be sufficient treatment. Rest is crucial to allow the injured leg to heal, meaning your dog can't go about his normal fun schedule for at least three weeks.
- The Merck Manual for Pet Health: Muscle Disorders in Dogs
- TopDogHealth.com: Achilles Tendon Rupture
- Veterinary Medical and Surgical Group: Calcanean Tendon Rupture
- American College of Veterinary Surgeons: Achilles’ Tendon Injuries
- WebMD: Sprains and Ligament Injuries in Dogs
- Michigan Veterinary Specialists: Achilles and Gastrocnemius Tendon Tears
- Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images