Rehab for Dogs with Hip Dysplasia and Orthopedic Injuries
Last year, I shared news that Chibi was cleared by her orthopedic surgeon to live a full doggy life again. Going on walks, running, playing, jumping, you name it.
A few months after the good news, Chibi started showing lameness and limping again on her back legs. We went back to our surgeon, saw our normal vet, and got a consult from another traditionally trained vet. None of them could tell us the root problem behind her lameness. Why was she limping again? Didn’t the hip surgeries solve the problem? Instead, they all prescribed medication to address the symptoms.
Then, we discovered California Animal Rehabilitation (CARE). This facility is staffed with veterinarians AND physical therapists (all of which who have had experience with both humans and animals), different from regular vets who often don’t have much training in really understanding orthopedic injuries in dogs.
After our initial evaluation, we found that Chibi had a wide range of issues, likely all stemming from her poor conformation. Neck soreness, back soreness, swollen knees, arthritis, lack of core strength, internal hip rotation, you name it. All from overcompensating all over her body for her weak muscles, primarily her hind legs.
The vets and physical therapists at CARE helped us develop a plan for rehab appointments (consisting of acupuncture, cold laser therapy, water treadmill exercises, physical therapy, and stretches) in addition to an at-home program to help Chibi build muscle in the right places and relieve tension in sore muscles on a regular basis.
Everything started to make so much more sense after our initial evaluation with CARE. Of course, just like people, if you have weak muscles but also have orthopedic issues with your joints, you would likely have problems with mobility on a daily basis. CARE was able to identify specific areas in which we needed to build up Chibi’s strength to help support her weak joints.
For those of you with dogs who are concerned about your dog potentially having orthopedic injuries, there are a few things you can look for. Sometimes, symptoms do not present as obvious lameness, for example not using a leg completely. Any off-weighting on a limb is usually a symptom that something is going on. Of course, it is hard to notice without a trained eye. AND dogs are great at hiding their pain.
The more obvious symptoms to look out for, especially in corgis, include:
Not sitting properly. Chibi has always tucked one of her back legs in, sitting in the “mermaid” position.
Not standing or laying down properly. Thankfully Chibi has a pretty straight top-line, so her back is not arched in any way. However, her back legs rotate inwards, which is not correct. When laying down, the back legs should go outwards and not be tucked underneath.
Self-crating or hiding. Whenever she’s feeling especially sore, Chibi tends to hide under furniture like our couch or bed.
Just because your dog continues to have the energy to run, sprint, jump, and play, doesn’t mean they don’t have something going on inside that could potentially get worse due to too much activity. Ideally dogs with orthopedic issues are not using stairs, jumping on/off furniture, slipping around on floors, and sprinting too fast. Mentally they are so resilient, they don’t know that some of those things can make their life even tougher!
Today, we are sharing some exercises that we do for Chibi at home on a daily basis. These are some of the exercises recommended to us by our vet, specific to Chibi’s injuries and problem areas. These are not always the right exercises for all dogs, depending on what issues they may have. In addition to these very basic exercises, we also ice problem areas such as her back and knees.
Please keep in mind that you should always consult a licensed veterinarian and physical therapist at a rehabilitation center before doing any sort of physical therapy with your dog. They will be able to teach you things to look out for to learn more about your dog’s body and how they express soreness and pain. For example, squinting, yawning, and licking of lips are indicators that they are feeling some soreness or tenderness. I’ve seen some recent posts with inaccurate information regarding at-home stretches and exercises that could seriously injure your dog without proper education.
Practicing having your dog stand properly seems like something small, but it’s great to get your dog’s body used to being in the correct position to prevent further problems.
Front legs should be straight, not turned outwards as is often with short legged dogs. Hips should be square and the back legs should not rotate inwards. Topline of the back should be straight, not arched.
To make it a little more difficult, have your dog stand properly on a FitBone. Because it is filled with air, your dog will have to try a little harder and activate their muscles to balance.
You can see that Chibi puts a lot of her weight on her front legs as a result of her weak hind. Something we are working on!
While your dog is in a proper stand, knuckle their paws so that they have to put it their leg back in place. This is a good test of their reflexes and the strength of their muscles.
Knuckling can be done on both front and back paws.
This is a good exercise to get your dog to stretch actively themselves if they won’t let you stretch for them. Have them put their front two paws elevated slightly and keep their back legs on the floor.
You can also do this on a foam pad for shorter dogs rather than a fit bone. Get your dog to stretch forward for a treat without moving any of their legs.
Corgis are very prone to CCL tears (basically the equivalent of the human ACL). Chibi has partially torn both of her knee ligaments, so we work on straightening out the knee for stability.
Stretching the hamstring involves pushing the leg away from the dog’s rear. Try to keep the knee as straight as possible and prevent inward rotation of the hip.
In this video, you can see Chibi squints and licks her lips when we’ve reached the point that’s too much for her. Keep a close eye on your dog’s reactions to gauge how comfortable they are during stretches.
To stretch the front of the hip, gently bring the leg away from the dog. You can prevent inwards rotation of the hip and stabilize the leg at the joint with your other hand.
Chibi’s hip flexor is often very tight and sore due to overcompensating for her other weak limbs. This also can reach the lower back and cause lower back pain. Gently massage the area with your hands to relieve some of the tension.
Lightly tap your dog to slightly off balance them. They will have to use their own core strength to stay standing and not fall over. Randomly tap on different portions of their body (shoulder, hips) so they don’t come to expect a pattern.
While your dog is in a proper stand, take a treat and bait them to follow it, bringing the treat back to their hips so they stretch and use their core to stay standing. Ideally their front paws will not move.
Of course, on top of doing the at-home exercises, stretching, massaging, and icing, we regularly check in with our rehab vet and physical therapists to carefully monitor the progress Chibi is making. Her at-home program is meant to complement a program involving acupuncture to relieve pain and water treadmill sets to build strength.
A few final words
With everything we’ve gone through with Chibi, from being diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia at just 1 year old to the multiple hip surgeries to seeing her limp from both CCL’s (knee ligaments) being torn to weekly rehab appointments and daily exercises at home, I can’t stress enough how important it is to do your research when you are looking for a puppy – ESPECIALLY a Corgi. Due to their stature, Corgis (and other long-bodied dogs) are extremely prone to orthopedic issues. Pile on top of that a plethora of backyard breeders in it to make some profit off the current popularity of the breed and what do you get? Tons of puppies who have been bred out of dogs with poor conformation, leading to more and more badly bred dogs who will likely have some sort of orthopedic issue in their lifetime.
It’s extremely hard as a dog owner to watch my dog limp every day. To see that she isn’t able to do all the things a dog should be able to do. No hikes for Chibi, no long walks, no running, no dog sports. It’s not the life that a young dog (or any dog for that matter) deserves.
We’ll continue to share what we learn throughout this journey in the hopes that other dog owners can learn more about this very new field in the veterinary industry!