Bird Dogs & Training  |  11/02/2015

Treatment and Rehab for Orthopedic Injuries in Bird Dogs

The tactical approach in treating and rehabilitating an orthopedic injury in a hardworking bird dog centers on getting the dog back in the field. Before recovery can begin, an accurate diagnosis is essential to planning a successful strategy.
“Bird dogs are different,” says James L. Cook, DVM, PhD, DACVS, DACVSMR, a veterinarian who is board-certified in small animal surgery and in veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation. “Their types of injuries, methods of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation are different than for nonsporting dogs.”
A complete examination, often with diagnostic imaging, is important in determining the cause of an injury and developing a treatment plan. Veterinarians who are trained to recognize injuries in sporting dogs are knowledgeable about steps to take for a successful outcome.
Understanding orthopedic injuries in bird dogs begins with understanding how their bodies work. “The forelegs are the brakes and steering,” Cook explains. “Their hind legs are the motor.”
Some of the more common injuries related to a bird dog’s front legs include strains to the muscles and tendons, sprains to the ligaments, shoulder instability, and paw and pads injuries. Meanwhile, some common injuries related to a bird dog’s hind legs include strains to the muscles and tendons, sprains to the ligaments, lumbosacral instability in the lower spine, and paw and pad injuries.
A successful injury management and rehabilitation program takes into consideration the timeframe desired to return a bird dog to function. “Nonsurgical management and rehabilitation are the preferred options but are not always feasible,” Cook says.
“Arthroscopic or minimally invasive surgery is preferred over traditional surgery in nearly all cases when possible because a dog recovers quicker since there is less disruption of tissues. This allows the rehabilitation process to begin sooner and progress more expediently.”
Among the common rehabilitation practices in dogs are pre- and postoperative therapy, treatment for chronic illness and osteoarthritis and neurological conditions, preventive care, weight-loss programs, and performance training. Benefits include improving body condition and endurance, decreasing pain, reducing severity of signs of disease, decreasing the need for medications, preventing injury, promoting healing, improving function and quality of life, and overall better outcomes.
Therapy programs may include a wide spectrum of activities, exercises, manipulations, and modalities depending on what is being treated. Low-impact and active range-of-motion exercises, as well as strength and conditioning exercises, are often used.
While recovering from an injury, bird dogs should continue to be fed a performance dog food, such as Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula, though the portion should be reduced during rehabilitation when dogs are less active.
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Optimal rehabilitation requires a partnership with a committed owner and a program that is tailored to an individual dog. “Rehabilitation works,” Cook says. “We can be very successful in returning dogs to their previous level of performance in the field when the owner, trainer, surgeon, and therapist work together to optimize the outcome.”