In Part Two of our series on typical injuries in sled dogs, Geir Wiik discusses overuse injuries and proper treatment.
Text: Geir Wiik. Photo: Marte Stensland Jørgensen
Another potential cause of injuries in sled dogs is overworking the muscles. If not checked, this can become a big enough problem that the muscle fibers actually begin to tear and bleeding occurs within the muscle causing a swelling or a hard lump.
If the tear is small, light massaging after several days will help remove dead blood cells and assist the rehabilitation process so the dog can start training usually after about a week. In the case of a bigger tear in the muscle, medicine against infection must be administered, and the dog must relax for up to three weeks without any form of training.
If the tear is extensive, and a large portion of the muscle has torn, the career of that dog can be over. A fairly common injury for sled dogs is that the muscles in the leg tear. In sled dogs this is most common after the muscle has already begun to bleed internally. It is often the muscle itself that tears in sled dogs. This usually happens in the middle of the muscle and it is therefore fruitless to operate. Think of it like cutting your finger. You can get a paper cut and you can take a finger off with a knife. Both injuries are cuts, but they require slightly different care!
If the over use of the muscles is more gradual and evenly spread though-out the musculature of the dog, the injury will be at the cellular level. This will cause stiffness, soreness and joint pain. These are normal occurrences during training, and the microscopic tears stimulate the building of muscle fibers and strengthen the muscles. Therefore, the symptoms are normal as well (to a degree). If there is suddenly an excess of microscopic tears, a problem has arisen that both reduces the training progress, and can create a situation where the dog has to be taken out of active training or racing.
If the number of microscopic tears become to great, the dead blood and cells start getting flushed through the kidneys and the dogs urine becomes pink/brown/coffee colored. Once this occurs the dog has developed a condition called rhabdomyolysis and that is extremely serious. The dog must be given emergency veterinary care, and it is important to administer fluids. Contributing factors of rhabdomyolysis is dehydration and not training properly for the task the dogs are being asked to perform. This is a common condition problem in Grey Hounds, but also occurs in sled dogs. Rhabdomyolysis was a common problem in the past, and is no longer as frequent. A possible explanation for the reduced frequency is improvements in diet and more vitamin E.
Regular muscular and joint stiffness is much more common, and resting the dog as treatment is wrong. If the dog is stiff, it should not be inactive for long periods after training, but be taken out for short jogs. If the dog is not very tired, after a mid distance race for example, small jogs about four hours after exertion are ideal. If the dog is very tired, as in a long distance race, and is functioning on a sleep deficit, allow the dog to sleep and rest. However, it is possible and recommended that the dog be allowed to move the following day. If the dog is very stiff, it should be kept on a leash and not allowed to run recklessly around. If the dog shows no signs of stiffness, then allow the dog to run without restriction or take them for a light training run. This is called Recovery Training, and is normal in cycling, running and football.
Many of you have heard about Recovery Training in people, but how many do it with their dogs? Following a long period of rest, even after a long mandatory rest during a race, the dog should benefit from the chance to stretch its legs on a leash before leaving the checkpoint. The dog can look very stiff after having lay quietly in the straw. The dog can even appear to be so stiff as to warrant leaving it behind. Stiffness can often go away after the dog has a chance to warm up, and is usually not any worse than that a little bit of time is required for the dog to stretch out after a long sleep following a strenuous day. It is not against the rules in most long distance races to leave a checkpoint with a limping dog. It can therefore be smart to walk the dog a little bit before you plan to leave after a long rest.
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