Pet Talk: Winter injuries your pet could face
The change of seasons from summer and fall to winter can sometimes be a difficult one for pets and their owners as the type of outdoor activities we do, the quantity and the duration change quite quickly.
I always observe a large increase in human orthopedic cases at our local medical center with this change of seasons and the influx of winter athletes, but have you ever thought that we may also see an increase in orthopedic injuries in pets as well? With the increase in recreational activities such as skiing, hiking, snowboarding, sledding or even just walking on snow (as opposed to grassy sidewalks) comes all types of orthopedic injuries leading to diagnostic challenges to veterinarians that are not as often found in other seasons.
One of the more common orthopedic injuries I have seen in recent years as a veterinarian here in the Vail Valley, has been moderate lacerations in dogs due to the edges of snowboards and skis. It is so exciting to take our pets in the backcountry for shared activity until that moment when your pet lunges in front of you and you accidentally ski over his leg. Within seconds, lacerations are created and tendons are torn with the very sharp edges creating a perfect cut. This can require immediate surgical intervention and potentially casting up to eight weeks. Please be careful when boarding or skiing with your pet.
In addition to lacerations, we can often see soft tissue injuries to muscles, tendons or ligaments as our pets are more likely to take their regular steps and find their footing is suddenly off and they quickly lose balance. Torn cruciate ligaments in your pet’s knee (known as the stifle) are common and most do require surgical repair. If your pet has been playing in the ice and snow and is suddenly tiptoeing on that hind leg, there would be a high concern for a ligament tear. Losing balance and slipping can also cause damage to “collateral “ ligaments in your pet’s joints leading to life long issues with instability and arthritis. Older pets with underlying arthritic conditions can also be more susceptible to these injuries as their balance and stability on icy ground can be even more challenging. So before you head out for a hike on the icy path, be cautious about where and when you are walking your young or old pet, and slow down your pace so you can avoid a life-changing injury in your pet.
Spine, foot problems
In addition to injuries to our pet’s limbs, I have also seen an increase in the number of spinal injuries in pets in the winter season. Just like humans, pet’s have intervertebral discs which with trauma or age, can become increasingly more unstable in your pet’s spine, causing acute pain, paresis or even paralysis. This can also happen with slipping on the ice or snow, or even playing too hard in deep snow and is considered a true veterinary emergency possibly requiring surgical intervention. A pet with spinal injury will often present with a hunched spine, in addition to trouble using one or more of it’s paws and often times will be acutely very painful. If you suspect a spinal injury in your pet, see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Foot problems are also common during the winter months. Due to the ice and snow, we often see torn or cut pads, as well as torn toenails. Cut pads can be very painful for your pet, as can be the toenails and applying a protective wax such as Musher’s Choice to your pet’s pads can help prevent pad injuries, while keeping toenails trimmed helps with injured nails. Deeply torn pads will require surgical intervention such as staples or sutures and obvious rest in the upcoming weeks. Frostbite in pets can be seen, though not often in most pets, is common in sled dogs that are out extended periods of time.
Regardless of the injury, it is important that your veterinarian is able to perform a good physical examination with careful palpation, radiographs and even ultrasound.
Our basic “Rice” approach to healing (rest and ice) can work for the mild injury. Cold laser therapy, acupuncture and massage can even help the mild injuries. With more significant injuries, joint protectants as well as anti-inflammatories are essential for proper healing. Of course, in the case of surgical intervention, the faster the repair, the better outcome in most cases.
Best of luck with your pets this winter and be safe out there.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, is the owner of Mountain Animal Hospital Center and Mobile Veterinarian.
Chris Anthony’s documentary film project chronicles post-war activities of the 10th Mountain Division.