Prevent injury in canine athletes

dvm360dvm360 May 2019
Volume 50
Issue 5

6 ways veterinarians can help keep these special patients fined-tuned and happy.

"Athletes have a special kind of life," says CVC-now Fetch-speaker Laurie McCauley, DVM, DACVSMR, CCRT, CVA, CVC. As such, she says they need special attention too. In this video Dr. McCauley outlines several facets of care and treatment for canine athletes:

  1. Nutrition. You must keep the diet in line with the task.
  2. Warm up/cool down. "Decrease the chance of muscle injuries and allow the animals not to have stress and pain after exercise," Dr. McCauley says.
  3. Skill training review. During rehabilitation it's essential to be sure the dog's balance is proficient for returning to its specialty. (Click here to hear from rehab specialists Sherman Canapp, DVM, MS, DACVS, and Debra Canapp, DVM, CCRT, CVA, DACVSMR.) 
  4. Proprioception and balance. Athletes need to be sure where they are in space in order to execute high-flying maneuvers.
  1. Cross-training. Strengthen type I and II muscle fibers to maximize performance.
  2. Rest and relaxation. Just like humans, canine athletes need to chill and reset. Click the video to learn more or read the transcript below.  

Athletes have a special kind of life. There are multiple things that we can look at to help prevent injury. For example, nutrition. Sled dogs, when they're running, actually eat 80% fat to be able to keep up their body mass during the Iditarod.

We have warm up and cool down phases, which decrease the chance of muscle injuries and allow the animals not to have stress and pain after exercise.

We have skill training. Everybody thinks dogs have to practice their sport over and over and that's important. It's also really important to review skill training after an injury when they've been out for at least a month because their proprioception and balance may be off.

Proprioception and balance is another part. We need to make sure that dogs know where their feet are in space. Just like a professional gymnast can do flips and twists and land on their feet, we need our patients to be able to run up a dog walk, go over a jump, run through a field and not injure themselves.

There's cross-training, which means we have to work on strengthening both the type I and type II muscle fibers. Type I muscle fibers are the ones that help endurance, that use oxygen. Type II muscle fibers are our strength training muscles. These are glycogen-using--a lot of strength but quick fatigue. There are studies that show that strengthening both of those types of muscles gives the best performance.

There's also rest and relaxation. We need to let these guys rest at least one day a week and one month a year to allow their bodies to heal. Without rest and relaxation there are multiple things that can happen. We decrease our athletes' performance. We decrease their immune system, so they're more likely to get sick. In animals and humans, it's been shown that they can get depressed. And, of course, without rest and relaxation, we worry about increased chance of injury and lethargy.

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