How Long Does A Dog Sprain Take to Heal?

by | Apr 18, 2023 | TPLO Recovery

Have you noticed your dog lagging behind you on walks, limping throughout the day, or crying out randomly as they move around? These may indicate that your pet has a sprained leg and needs medical attention. But don’t panic just yet–most leg sprains may be tended to at home. 

Sprains are soft tissue injuries that come from physical trauma, resulting in damage to a ligament. They can happen to any joint but commonly occur in the elbows, knees, and ankles of domesticated animals like dogs and horses. Dogs, in particular, suffer sprains from physical activity, joint degeneration, and physical trauma such as car accidents or a bad fall.  


Symptoms of a Sprained Leg in Dogs

Lameness or limping is often the first sign of a sprained leg, followed by swelling in the injured area. It’s possible for the limp to go away on its own within a day if the injury is mild.

On the other hand, if your dog can’t use their leg or move around for more than a day, or if this happens chronically, we recommend scheduling a visit with your veterinarian. 

Other symptoms that point to a sprained leg, depending on the severity of the injury, include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive licking of the legs or injured area
  • Reluctance of placing weight on the limb
  • Hiding and whining
  • Reddened joints
  • Swollen paws


Comforting Your Dog: Sprained Leg Recovery Time

Anything more than a mild sprain should be attended to by your trusted veterinarian as soon as possible. Moreover, if your dog has a leg sprain that lasts more than two days (or 48 hours), we recommend seeking professional help.

Once at the clinic, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination, focusing on your pet’s joints and muscles. X-rays may be utilized to visualize the injured leg and its surrounding area to eliminate the possibility of a fracture, osteoarthritis, or even hypertrophic osteopathy

After evaluating your dog’s condition, your veterinarian will classify the sprain under one of three grades:

  • Grade I means a minor part of the ligament is torn while the joint is still functional. Swelling and pain may be evident, though your dog will be able to move around.
  • Grade II indicates that a larger part of the ligament is torn or stretched and the joint is partially functional, which results in severe swelling. Your dog may be able to move but with quite a bit of difficulty.
  • Grade III is the most severe, indicating the ligament is severely damaged or completely torn. Your dog will be unlikely to place weight on their leg.

Your dog’s recovery will depend on the severity of the sprained leg, as indicated by the grades above. Here’s what you can expect as your pet recovers from its injury:

  • Grade I sprains are considered relatively minor, require minimal care, and take a few weeks to heal fully.
  • Grade II sprains will improve with treatment, such as the use of a splint or anti-inflammatory medication. These sprains take a longer time to heal, especially in cases where your dog must undergo surgery.
  • Grade III sprains will only improve with treatment, specifically surgery, and can take months to recover fully. These sprains should be closely monitored, and your dog should be brought to the veterinarian for follow-ups as indicated.


Treating Your Dog’s Sprained Leg At Home

If your dog is experiencing a minor leg sprain that doesn’t require surgery, it can be treated at home. Keeping your pet generally inactive is the most important element of their recovery since it’s best to use the healing period to avoid causing the injury to reoccur. 

It is essential to ensure their sprained leg is clean and free from dirt. You will need to prevent your dog from interfering with the healing process as they may want to examine, lick, or nibble on the injured area. Here are some methods on how to treat a dog’s sprained leg at home:


Consider A Crate

As you’ll need to prevent your dog from moving around too much–which can further stress them out or cause the sprain to reoccur (if it’s on the way to healing)–you may want to consider having your pet stay in a crate for the duration of their recovery period. If your dog doesn’t have a history of confinement anxiety, it should be fine resting in a crate for a few days. 

Instead of a crate, you can also keep your dog in an enclosed area–such as their favorite room in the house–and move their bed there to ensure they can easily fall asleep. Keeping your pet in a calm, quiet environment with food and water within reach will encourage recovery.


Apply An Ice Pack or Heating Pad

Both cold and heat therapy may also help ease your dog’s pain. Cold therapy is commonly used for new injuries in the last 24 to 48 hours, while heat therapy is for chronic, long-term injuries. 

For minor leg sprains, it’s advisable to use an ice pack, gel pack, cold towel, or a pack of frozen vegetables on the injured area for 10 to 20 minutes, remembering to give your dog’s leg a break in between applications. 


Use a Recovery Sleeve

If your dog is prone to scratching, licking, or nibbling on their sprained leg, you may consider a recovery sleeve or e-collar to keep them from reaching it. A recovery sleeve is generally preferred as it can prevent your pet from further aggravating the sprain or causing it to reoccur without compromising its range of motion. 


Wrap Your Dog’s Leg

Alternatively, you can use a warm, damp towel at home and carefully wrap it around your dog’s sprained leg for about 10 to 15 minutes to help promote blood flow. Ace bandages can also be used to create a makeshift splint for your dog’s leg in case they’re in too much pain to move around properly. Wrapping your dog’s leg will help stabilize and protect it from further injury.


Massage Your Dog’s Leg

Giving your dog a massage is an effective way to relax its joints and muscles. If your pet is recovering from a minor leg sprain, you can try a version of the Deep Tissue Massage which entails slow and deliberate yet gentle strokes on the injured area. Just be mindful of pressing too hard on your dog’s leg. 


Plan A Special Diet

It is important to keep your dog at a healthy weight, depending on its breed and size, as obese canines are more likely to suffer from ligament injuries and sprains. In case of a sprain, your dog’s diet during recovery can focus more on joint health. Their diet can include natural treats like collagen sticks and tendon chews packed with glucosamine and amino acids to promote joint recovery and repair. 


Exercise With Your Dog

Part of your dog’s recovery should also be dedicated to slowly becoming active again. Once they’ve had enough rest, you can plan physical activities like short walks or jogs for you and your dog to help them maintain muscle tone, which supports their joints. Keeping your pet in shape will help them avoid accidents that may lead to further injuries.

Alternatively, your veterinarian may suggest physical therapy, which includes having your dog walk underwater or on a treadmill and balance on a board.

For more articles and insights on dog health, injuries, and treatment, visit the TPLOInfo blog today.

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