Typical Injuries in sled dogs. Part 1

If you want to experience the maximum that life has to offer, you must occasionally push your boundaries. Just how much is up to you. 

Text: Geir Wiik. Photo: Marte Stensland Jørgensen

If you want to experience the maximum that life has to offer, you must occasionally push your boundaries. Just how much is up to you. Therefore, if for the sake of argument, we can all agree that injuries will happen, then there are two things that I think are of the utmost importance. The first is to see the injury early. The second is that you have an understanding of what the injury means and what it is caused by. This requires some knowledge and the ability to pay attention.

In the following, I will discuss some injuries that occur in sled dogs. I will focus on what questions a chiropractor gets. Usually questions concern nerve-muscle-skeletal problem, but sometimes about a problem that requires a completely different solution than a chiropractic one.

We send the more acute injuries that require emergency help, to a veterinarian.

One of the absolutely most common injuries in sled dogs is shoulder injuries. I have written about this in Hundekjøring Magazine #4/2004, and Dr. Fridjof Emsell Larsen has shoulder injuries as the theme of his article in Hundekjøring Magazine #2/2004, so I will avoid going into more detail here.


Bunny Hopping

An injury that is much more common than I think both veterinarians and mushers are aware of is injuries/irritations in the lower back and pelvic areas. Many of the dogs that I have had come to me where we can’t find “something” wrong with them but where they have stopped pulling, are experiencing problems in the lower back or pelvis. A dog with problems in their lower back or pelvis will often hesitate before transitioning to a gallop, or they have a very short “bunny-hop”, galloping with their hind legs held together. Under examination, the dogs are frequently tender around several joints in the back where the pelvis and back connect. They hesitate from bending or flexing that area by extending their legs backwards when galloping and avoiding the frontward extention. Sometimes, a dog will begin to pull more sideways (Crab) to avoid the pressure of the harness over their lower spine. The dogs can sometimes while or yelp if there is excessive pressure on the harness during hook-up. If this injury is not severe, a chiropractor or a canine masseur find and treat the problem.

This problem can come from poor pulling or from pressure and wear over a longer period of time. The ideal treatment for this type of injury is to get the affected joint to move and bend normally by manipulating the joint, free up the spine and muscles with massage, pressure point treatments, stretching, perhaps even accupuncture, and a break from the activity that is causing the problem.

That can be as simple as moving the dog to a different position away from the wheel position, and switching from a normal harness and begin using a weight-pull harness.

My experience from treating people, and dogs, is that just rest and anti-inflammatory medicine has little effect. The dog can look like it has healed, but the problem comes back as soon as the workload and resulting wear and tear starts up again.

This may seem counter intuitive for many. Anti-inflammatory medicines should do the trick because the problem is a inflammatory problem. This inflammation is there for a reason. The reason is often a error in functionality between the nervous, muscular, and skeletal system. The failure in functionality is often not solved by rest and medicine. It is this type of error in functionality that chiropractors are experts in finding and treating, and has ensured that chiropractors have butter on their bread, and are getting more and more clients.

A much better solution than just rest, is to go for walks in the forrest where the systems are stimulated. Then there is a chance that the body will find it’s way back to the delicate balance and synchronicity of systems that must be present for the dog to function. Light, unprofessional, massage from the owner is usually also better than just hoping the problem will resolve itself with just inactivity. By massaging to the dogs tolerance, it is unlikely you will cause more injury.

I have a theory that, dogs that move around a lot in the kennel usually have fewer problems than dogs who curl up in their houses the first chance they get.

In the past, the doctor would tell you to stay in bed until your back injury went away. However, they have now learned from chiropractors who say “get up and keep moving and you will be better quicker.”. “Aha!” (think many of you will a relieved sigh.) “If I just keep training my dog as usual, it will heal, that is what Geir said.” If that is you, go back and start reading from the beginning.  

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