What is Canine Sports Medicine and is your Dog Missing Out? by Deborah Shores.


You are probably familiar with sports medicine for humans, especially if you or someone in your family plays a sport. Perhaps you use this doctor for conditioning, prevention of injury, as well as treatment and rehabilitation after injury. These same principles of sports medicine are available and apply to your dog. There are multiple canine sports medicine associations and groups over the world, as well as certified practitioners.


Canine sports medicine is a field of veterinary medicine devoted to the special needs of working and athletic dogs. However, the philosophies and methodologies of sports medicine can be transferable to your average family dog. Dogs participating in canine sports, such as agility, disk dog, dock jumping, fly-ball, retrieving, track, weight pulling, schutzhund, and many others, may benefit greatly from the alternative therapies of canine sports medicine. 


Canine athletes rarely receive the type of conditioning and preventative care that many human athletes do. Canine sports medicine practitioners can help to condition your dog to keep them strong, balanced, and fit for their sport. Senior dogs can also benefit from canine sports medicine therapies, increasing their flexibility and enthusiasm.  


Some practitioners prescribe a home exercise program with suggestions for activities prior to exercise or competition. These exercises may be simple movements, designed to loosen, flex, and strengthen your dog’s muscles. 


Prevention is an integral part of canine sports medicine. Alternative therapies, such as hydrotherapy, shockwave therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture and massage therapy are often used in conditioning and strengthening to prevent injury from occurring, as well as a rehabilitation tool after injury. 


Hydrotherapy has become increasingly popular in veterinary clinics and canine rehabilitation centers. Hydrotherapy equipment was first designed for Thoroughbred race horses, but has since been adapted for dogs and cats. It is typically performed in a swimming pool or chamber with an underwater treadmill. It helps to stimulate the cardiovascular and lymph systems and strengthen muscles. Hydrotherapy can be a great therapy for dogs with joint pain, as joints can move better without the additional weight and hard surfaces. Dogs with arthritis and hip and elbow dysplasia may benefit from hydrotherapy. Dogs recovering from surgery, such as knee or spinal procedures, are also aided with the use of hydrotherapy as a rehabilitation exercise. 


Shockwave therapy is a type of treatment when high-energy sound waves are directed to a target area on a dog’s body. The shockwaves trigger the body’s own repair mechanism, which can speed healing and provide long-term benefits. Shockwave therapy has been used in human medicine as a non-invasive treatment for orthopedic and urological conditions. Shockwave therapy is most commonly used in treating hip and elbow dysplasia, arthritis, chronic pain, degenerative joint disease, tendon and ligament injuries, and more. 


Laser therapy is another form of therapy that is commonly used by sports medicine veterinarians. Use of this therapy is steadily rising with good results. Laser beams provide focused energy in a small point of intense power. At normal levels, the light from a laser can burn and destroy tissue. However when used at a low power, this light has the ability to alter cell function without destroying the actual cell. Low Level Laser therapy can help with chronic pain, joint issues, and arthritis.(1) 


Massage therapy is an ancient healing practice that has now become popular among humans and pets. Massage allows practitioners to target a specific weakness.  Massage therapy often improves digestion, weight regulation, emotional/behavioral issues, pain control, and immune function. 


The benefits of canine sports medicine, both for the canine athlete and for your average family pet, are endless with aiding and treating a variety of conditions and strengthening your dog’s overall health. For more information and to find a canine sports medicine veterinarian in your area, refer to the American Canine Sports Medicine Association (www.acsma.org) or the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (www.vsmr.org).


Schubert, T., Draper, W. “Low Level Laser Therapy as an Adjunctive Therapy to Thoracolumbar Decompression for Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease.”  ACVIM Proceedings (2011).

About Dr. Deborah Shores

Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida. 





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