How to Treat a Sprained Ankle on a Dog

Two Parts:Recognizing the Signs of a Sprained AnkleTreating a Sprained Ankle

A sprained ankle is an injury to the tendons, ligaments, and/or the muscles related to that joint. This can occur as a result of strenuous play or minor accidents. Quickly recognizing the signs of an injury to this area is key to treating it before it develops into a more significant problem.

Part 1
Recognizing the Signs of a Sprained Ankle

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    Understand your dog's anatomy. Dogs actually stand and walk on the toes of their front and rear legs. When a dog is standing, you will see its ankle on its hind leg between the knee and the toes. This is similar to where a your ankle is when you stand on your toes.[1]
    • Dogs do not have ankles on their front legs, just as you don't have them on your arms. Other types of sprains can occur in the front legs, and they are treated similarly.
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    Know the causes of a sprained ankle. Many dogs are athletic. The activities they take part in can put an extreme amount of force and stress on their joints and sometimes this results in an injury.[2]
    • Running, jumping, and making sharp and quick turns can put undue stress on a joint.
    • While not all dogs are equally energetic, their joints can also be put under more stress than they can handle. A sprain can also be the result of slipping, falling, stepping in a hole, or something as seemingly minor as jumping on or off the couch. Any of these can cause your dog to end up with a sprain.
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    Look for limping. The first, and usually the most recognizable sign of an ankle sprain is limping on the affected rear leg.[3]
    • A dog with a sprain will often try not to put weight on the affected leg.
    • Depending on the severity, the dog may carry the leg in a raised position, not using it at all.
    • Be aware of other common reasons for rear leg lameness. Injuries to the hip, knee, or foot area can also cause a dog to limp.[4]
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    Look for a visible injury. You may see swelling or redness around the ankle if your dog has a sprain.[5]
    • You may also notice your dog regularly licking the area.
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    Look for behavioral signs. An injured dog may also display changes in its normal behavior. Changes to look for that can suggest an injury include:[6]
    • A change in appetite, usually apparent in decreased food consumption
    • A change in activity level, such as sleeping more or a reluctance to exercise
    • Vocalization related to the injury, such as barking, grunting, or whining when the ankle is touched or moved

Part 2
Treating a Sprained Ankle

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    Make your dog rest. Rest is the first step to treating a sprain.[7] To ensure your dog gets enough rest, you will need to restrict your dog's activity. You should keep the dog inside or in a small area where it is unable to run or play. The less active the dog is, the better.
    • As needed, you can take your dog outside on a short leash. Keep the walk short and slow.[8] Return the dog to a confined area as soon as possible.
    • Restrict the dog's activity for a full 48 hours to give the injury enough time to heal.
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    Apply an ice pack. To reduce swelling, help with pain, and aid in the healing process, apply an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes.[9]
    • Wrap the ice pack in a towel to protect the dog's skin from any excessive cold.
    • Repeated as needed, waiting at least two hours between applications. This will help prevent irritating the skin and reducing circulation, which can delay healing.
    • You can use a bag of frozen vegetables, such as peas, for an ice pack that you can mold around the ankle. This will allow you to evenly and effectively apply the ice to all of the damaged tissue.[10]
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    Apply heat. If your dog has an older, chronic, or recurrent injury it is not recommended to apply an ice pack. At this stage of an injury it is best to apply moist heat.[11]
    • Heat will improve circulation and help to loosen tightness in the muscles while having a soothing effect.
    • To apply heat, use a damp towel warmed in the dryer or microwave. Be sure the towel isn't hot enough to burn the skin.
    • Apply heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, remove it for at least an hour before applying again.[12]
    • Don't use a heat treatment immediately after exercise.
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    Watch for signs of improvement or worsening. During the 48 hour rest period you should watch closely for signs that the injury is improving or worsening. With rest and treatment, most ankle sprains will be back to normal fairly quickly.
    • If the leg is not better after 48 hours or if it is getting worse, consult with your veterinarian.[13]
    • If you don't see improvement, it's possible that your dog may just need more rest, along with some veterinarian-prescribed medication.
    • Sometimes, there can also be an injury in another area that is delaying recovery. If there is a more serious injury, such as a dislocation or small fracture, your vet can do a full examination and X-rays if needed.


  • You want to start treating a sprain as soon as possible. This will give your dog the best chance of a quick recovery. It will also help to prevent making the injury worse by causing more damage.


  • Don't attempt bandage an injured area without the advice of a veterinarian. Applying a bandage incorrectly can cause other problems, such as skin irritation. If wrapped too tightly you could also restrict circulation. This can delay healing and cause damage to other tissue in the area.
  • Do not give any medication without the advice of your veterinarian. It can be extremely dangerous to give your dog over-the-counter or prescription human medications. Some of the same anti-inflammatory drugs are used for treating dogs. But, the dosages can be very different from people's.
  • If you don't see any improvement within 48 hours, see your veterinarian immediately. If the condition seems to be worsening, you should also call your vet right away. Although it may be nothing more than a severe sprain, more serious injuries are best treated as soon as possible.[14]

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Categories: Canine Health