Signs your Service Dog may be dealing with an early injury or illness

Service dogs not only provide a lifeline, helping people adapt and function in their day-to-day lives, but also unfettered companionship.

  • Is your dog slowing down?
  • Is he or she having trouble getting up from the floor or laying down on the floor?
  • Is she fine at home, but seems to be sore or limp a bit after being on an outing?
  • Does he hesitate on elevated or slippery surfaces or when coming out of the vehicle?
  • Does she trip just a little in the front legs?
  • Does he have trouble performing specific tasks?
  • Do elevators cause her anxiety suddenly?
  • Is he just not himself sometimes or you’ve noticed a little personality change?

Just because a Service Dog may complete a task or event well, this does not mean s/he is pain-free or feeling his/her best. More often than not, compassion and drive override their own physical and even mental needs as a Service Dog. Adrenaline kicks in and instinct and drive take over, so a Service Dog will ignore pain or injury. Service Dogs are so capable of getting into the Zone, they can focus out even severe injuries. Just as much as a Search Dog is driven to find a victim, a Service Dog is driven to support his/her handler. So even though they train, play, and work hard, they may still be lame, painful, or even have a significant injury they are not revealing to their handler.

Because Service Dogs are often good at hiding their injuries when on the job, looking for subtle signs can help pinpoint an injury early. Routine, job-related physical, medical and mental assessments are important for Service Dogs to help prevent or find injuries early.

Specialized routine evaluation (every 6 months) is highly recommended for early detection of strains (e.g., neck, back, shoulder muscles, forelimb extensor muscles) or injuries [e.g., tendonitis, chronic intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)], avoidance of major injury (e.g., tendon tears, back injury), optimal effective treatment, specialized rehabilitation focused on your Service Dog’s needs and fast return-to-duty. Even with no obvious lameness, an underlying soft tissue (e.g., muscle or joint strain) or altered joint biomechanics (e.g., elbow, shoulder, knee, hip) can contribute to a subtle but uncomfortable change in gait or movement, forelimb reach, head/neck position discomfort, etc. Routine specialized exams relevant to your Service Dog’s jobs are critical in the longevity of their service career as well as comfort and care.

VSC K9 ReC Center Rehabilitation Medicine is not just about a checklist of physical exercises for your Service Dog. Our specially trained K9 team strives to evaluate, diagnose, treat, recover and provide expert specialized and individualized rehabilitation and/or conditioning of your dog so that s/he trains and performs at her/his best!

Remember medical illnesses can also contribute to pain, lameness, and even subtle changes in ability of your Service Dog to perform his or her job. Some examples of general health changes that may hinder performance include the following.

  • Changes in eyesight or eye infections can contribute to decreased ability to perform job-related tasks.
  • Anxiety can produce mild or intermittent stomach upset, even days or weeks after a stressful event.
  • Chronic skin or ear infections can lead to not only decreased hearing but also decreased comfort and willingness to perform necessary activities.

The VSC K9 ReC Center not only evaluates for rehabilitation-related changes (e.g., orthopedic, neurological, soft tissue injury) but also other medical illnesses that may contribute to pain, lameness, and even subtle changes in performance.

Our specially trained K9 team understands that many things contribute to not only health and well-being but optimal athletic performance. We strive to continually better understand the finely tuned, complex, multi-dimensionality that makes up the Service Dog so that s/he trains and performs at her/his best!