Post-Splint Care: Managing Limping in Dogs After Splint Removal

Dog Limping After Splint Removal

My dog has a habit of getting himself into trouble in almost every possible scenario. There were times when it just made me shake my head in disbelief or sent my anxiety through the roof.

As dog parents, this is something that we have to deal with and be ready for. If your dog’s leg has been in a splint for some time now and is ready to come off, that’s always a joyous occasion.

But is it normal for your dog to still be limping after the splint removal?

Many dogs will still continue to limp after their splint is removed. Even though the affected leg might have healed, the joint is still weak and can be painful when putting weight on it. It can take weeks or even months for the dog’s limp to disappear. There are ways to help hasten the rate of the dog’s recovery.

In this article, we will be taking a look at a couple of reasons that are still causing your dog to limp and what you can do to help your dog.

What On Earth Is A Splint?

You might be thinking that a splint is actually a long piece of wood and that is true. In the olden days, that was what doctors used to stabilize an injured limb.

These days, a splint can be made from any hard material like plastic, metal and even carbon fiber.

A splint is basically a device that helps to protect a fractured bone or a bad injury. It helps to immobilize the limb to allow it to heal faster. A splint also helps to reduce pain, swelling and spasms.

Splints provide less support than a cast which is custom-made to thoroughly secure the limb. But splints are preferred when there is swelling and the vet can loosen or tighten the splint as required.

Why Is My Dog Still Limping After A Week?

My dog was in a splint before due to a bad sprain in his left back leg which he got from tumbling down the stairs. He ran down too fast and tripped over himself * roll eyes *

The vet put him in a splint for 3 weeks to aid with the healing process of the tender ligaments and joints. When the splint finally came off, with much joy to me and my poor dog, my dog was still limping for more than a week.

It took close to a month before the affected limb was back to normal. Symptoms can last up to twice the amount of time that your dog’s bad leg was splintered.

If your dog has a more serious injury like a broken bone, you can expect your dog to be limping for quite some time. The road to a complete recovery takes quite some time depending on the severity of the injury.

Here are some reasons that can still cause your dog to be limping.

The Injury Is Still Painful

dpg in pain

After the splint is removed, you can still expect the injured area to be sore, swollen and tender. Even though the splint does help with recovery time, your dog’s leg still needs more time to make a complete recovery.

Depending on how long your dog’s leg has been in a splint, the joints will be a lot stiffer than the other legs. There might have also been nerve damage when your dog injured itself.

Putting any weight on the bad leg now is bound to elicit a whimper or yelp from your dog due to the soreness.

Most vets will prescribe some type of pain relief medication for your dog during this period to help with pain management.

It would be best to give it to your dog until the pain has subsided.

Muscle Atrophy

Ever heard of the saying “Use it or lose it”?

The same thing can happen to the muscles in your dog’s leg while it is in a splint. This process is called muscle atrophy which is the thinning or wasting of muscle tissue in your dog’s leg.

It can be caused by old age, nerve damage and in this case, lack of activity. Muscle atrophy is more evident in the back leg of your dog which contains most of its muscle mass as compared to the front legs.

Muscle atrophy happens when the muscle doesn’t send sufficient or no nerve impulses to the brain. This causes the body to think that the affected muscle is no longer required and starts to break it down to maximize the use of resources.

Your dog’s leg muscles can start to atrophy after 1-2 weeks of little to no movement which is what the vet would advise.

When the splint is taken off, your dog’s affected leg will be weaker than the other three due to the loss of muscle mass. It is only natural for your dog to depend more on the other legs and less on the weaker leg which results in a limp.

The good news is that muscle atrophy can be reversed with the proper diet and training but it will take some time for your dog to gain back the muscle.

Limping Out Of Habit

It has been said that it takes about 21-28 days for us to form a new habit. This period can be shorter or longer depending on the level of motivation as well.

Our dogs learn tricks and behaviors through the process of association. When teaching my dog something new, I will reward him with treats when he does it right so that teaches his brain to associate that new behavior with getting treats, which is good.

On the other hand, your dog can also quickly learn that it is best to stay clear of porcupines if it has been stung by one before. This association is learned through pain and discomfort.

So if your dog has been in a splint for the last few weeks and has a bad leg that is weak and painful, it will quickly learn to put as little weight as possible on it.

Even if the leg starts to recover after the splint has come off, your dog will still continue to limp out of habit.

My neighbor’s dog stepped on a nail while out on a walk. They had to rush the dog to the vet as it was bleeding profusely and was in pain. The poor dog had to undergo surgery to clean out the wound and suture the hole.

According to my neighbor, the dog wouldn’t use that paw for more than 3 months. Even the vet was certain that the wound was totally healed. The door was doing it out of habit and with time, started to use that paw again.

How Can I Help With My Dog’s Limping?

There are a couple of things that you can do to help with your dog’s recovery after the splint has been removed.

Please know that depending on your dog’s age and fitness level, such injuries can take quite a bit of time and effort to reach a complete recovery.

Limit Your Dog’s Movement

dog resting in bed

Even though your dog’s leg is getting better after the splint has come off, you still need to make sure that your dog is getting as much rest as possible.

Allowing your dog to run and jump endlessly will only aggravate the bad leg and impede the healing process. If you have a very hyper dog breed like a Border Collie or Dalmation, you need to teach them how to stay and relax.

Use a ramp or a stool for your dog to get on and off higher places and it’s best to confine it to the ground floor so that it doesn’t have to go up and down the stairs for now.

Get Your Dog Moving Gradually

I know that this point might sound contradictory to the first but you don’t want your dog to become a couch potato either after the splint is removed.

Your dog should be able to put some weight on his affected leg by now so it should be good for a short walk a few times daily.

Limit each walk to just 5-10 minutes to not place too much strain on the injury. Even for healthy dogs, too much mileage can harm your dog’s joints.

Getting some exercise daily will help get more blood circulating into the injured area to promote healing. Walking will also help to build back the muscle that your dog has lost while wearing the splint.

See A Pet Therapist

If you have the budget for it, seeing a pet therapist that specializes in the rehabilitation of injured limbs can help your dog recover faster.

Physical therapy is highly recommended for dogs who have just recovered from a limb injury as the therapist is able to put your dog’s leg through a thorough range of motion.

I have to admit that I was never a believer in such a treatment method until I had a frozen shoulder out of the blue. My right shoulder was so frozen in place that I couldn’t even dress myself.

After much bugging from my friends, I went to see a physiotherapist to get it sorted out. It took two months to finally get my shoulder working again.

There are some therapists that have a hydropool to help your dog work out its leg without putting too much strain on it.

Make sure to ask the therapists to show you exercises and massages that you can do for your dog at home in between therapy sessions.

Feed Your Dog A Good Diet

dog eating raw food

Not only should your dog be on a good and balanced diet throughout its lifetime but it also needs it more than ever during the recovery period.

A diet that is high in protein will help your dog’s joints, muscles and bones recover much faster than one which is high in carbs and fats.

If possible, stop feeding your dog dry kibble and start feeding it canned food or a raw meat diet. If your dog doesn’t have much of an appetite, soaking the dog’s food in chicken broth can help whip up your dog’s appetite.

Get Another X-Ray

Given that it might take several weeks to several months for a bad injury to heal, it might be a good idea to get another x-ray done on your dog just to make sure the injury is healing nicely.

It might seem that your dog is tally healed from the outside, but if your dog is still limping after a long time, it could be that there might be some complications during the healing process.

With another x-ray, the vet will be able to confirm if everything is looking good or it could be that the broken bone didn’t fuse back properly and needs another physical examination.

How To Care For A Puppy With A Splint?

Nothing is sadder than seeing a pup limping about in a cast. The good thing is that puppies tend to heal a lot faster than adult or senior dogs.

Their bodies are in the stage of growing, healing and recovering very quickly.

The hardest thing to do if you have a puppy with a splint is to get it to keep still. It would be best to try and confine your puppy to its crate or a room to prevent it from running around too much.

With all the movement, the splint might come loose so make it a point to check on it a couple of times a day.

If necessary, you might need to put an e-collar on our puppy to prevent it from biting and licking the splint.

Not only can the puppy accidentally loosen it but the constant licking and biting can make the area wet and more prone to an infection.

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