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Muscle Tears in Dogs

What Are Muscle Tears in Dogs?

Muscle tears in dogs occur when there is trauma to a specific muscle area, either directly or indirectly. These tears can happen at three main points within the muscle:

  • Point of Origin: This is where the tendon, located at the ends of the muscle, attaches to the underlying bone. It serves as the anchor point of the muscle.
  • Tendon: Thick, fibrous bands that connect the meaty portion of the muscle to the bone or bones it moves. Tendons act as a tether from the muscle to its anchor point.
  • Muscle Belly: The central section of a muscle filled with myofibers, which control relaxing and contracting. The muscle belly is responsible for the muscle’s movements.

Direct trauma occurs from incidents like broken bones, where the movement of the bone can stretch or sever surrounding muscles and tendons. Indirect trauma happens when the muscle is twisted or overloaded, leading to stress and tearing.

Muscle tears are classified into two types:

  • Partial Tear: This occurs when the tear extends partway through the muscle. Although the muscle remains attached at both ends, its strength and integrity are compromised.
  • Complete Tear: This type of tear extends through the entire muscle, resulting in complete detachment from its original position.

While muscle tears cause discomfort or pain, they do not typically constitute a medical emergency. If your pet experiences a muscle tear, it’s advisable to schedule an appointment with your regular veterinarian for an examination and workup. Emergency visits are generally not necessary for this type of injury.


Signs indicating a potential muscle tear in dogs encompass several key indicators:

  • Sensitivity to touch in the affected area
  • Limping or difficulty in movement
  • Swelling of the muscle
  • Presence of bruising around the painful region
  • Adoption of an abnormal limb stance, such as resting the hock (the angled joint in the middle of a hind leg) on the ground

Since muscle tears are internal injuries, they may not always be readily visible externally. Mild tears might be challenging to detect. However, if your dog exhibits any of the aforementioned signs, it’s a clear indication that something isn’t right.

If you notice your dog favoring one leg and showing reluctance to use it, it’s advisable to gently run your hands over all parts of the limb. Swelling resulting from a muscle tear typically feels firmer and warmer compared to other areas. Your dog might react by flinching when you touch the affected area.

Observing your dog’s gait and conducting a thorough examination of the painful limb by palpating for abnormalities will help you ascertain the source of discomfort. It’s crucial to relay these findings to your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Muscle tears in dogs can stem from various factors, given their active nature. Common causes include:

  • Lack of warmup before engaging in strenuous exercise.
  • Overexertion, where dogs may jump higher or farther than their muscles can comfortably handle, leading to muscle overload.
  • Joint strain or twisting during vigorous play and jumping activities.
  • Prolonged stress, such as consistent long-distance running on hard surfaces.

Any muscle is susceptible to tearing if it undergoes excessive stretching beyond its capacity. However, the most prevalent muscle tears typically occur in the major muscles of the front and back legs.


Veterinarians employ various diagnostic methods to identify muscle tears in dogs:

  • Blood work: This can reveal elevated levels of enzymes, specifically creatine phosphokinase, which supports the diagnosis of a muscle tear.
  • X-rays: X-rays enable veterinarians to visualize both soft tissue and bone within the affected area. Some tears may cause bone fragments to detach from the main bone, while others can lead to bony calcifications where the tendon attaches. Occasionally, x-rays may show areas of soft tissue swelling in the dog.
  • Ultrasounds: These imaging techniques can detect disruptions in tendon fibers within the muscle, pinpointing the location of a tear.
  • CT or MRI scans: These advanced imaging methods provide detailed, 360-degree views of the dog’s structures. While not typically available at regular veterinary clinics, veterinarians can refer patients to specialty clinics equipped with this specialized imaging equipment.


Treatment for muscle tears in dogs typically involves the following steps:

For partial muscle tears:

  • Immediate rest is essential.
  • Administration of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication.
  • Application of a cold compress to reduce swelling.
  • In cases where applicable, mild compression bandages may be utilized to alleviate swelling.

For mild partial tears:

  • Veterinarians may initiate a passive physical therapy program aimed at preventing complications during the healing process.
  • After approximately a week of therapy and clearance from the veterinarian, controlled exercises such as short leash walks may be permitted. Activities like vigorous play, jumping, or running should be avoided during this period.

For complete muscle tears:

  • Surgical intervention is necessary to restore full function to the affected muscle and the corresponding body part it controls.
  • Surgery typically occurs a few days after the injury to allow for the reduction of swelling and inflammation.
  • Post-surgery, the dog undergoes a passive physical therapy regimen, followed by at least a month of strictly controlled exercise to ensure proper healing and reduce the risk of further injury.

Can Muscle Tears in Dogs Heal on Their Own?

With proper supportive care and adequate rest, numerous partial tears in dogs can form fibrous scar tissue and self-heal. However, complete tears cannot naturally return to normal on their own. They pose potential risks in the future if the severed end of the muscle forms scar tissue, leading to attachment to surrounding tissues and disruption of muscle function. Ideally, complete tears should undergo surgical correction and receive a healing period before resuming normal function.

Living and Management

The duration of recovery and management for muscle tears in dogs depends primarily on which muscle is affected, its location, and the type of tear incurred. Tears involving tendons and ligaments necessitate a longer recovery period due to their slower healing process, attributed to lower blood flow in those areas. While a mild tear may resolve in just a few weeks, a complete tear requiring surgery may demand several months for recovery.

In both scenarios, restricted activity plays a pivotal role. Following an initial period of rest to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation, controlled activity becomes crucial. This may include short leash walks or passive range-of-motion physical therapy.

It’s essential to avoid complete inactivity and immobilization of the affected muscle or muscles post-injury. Failure to do so may result in permanent muscle contraction, rendering the muscles incapable of functioning properly and causing stiffness in the limb. Therefore, controlled exercise is of utmost importance in the rehabilitation process.


To minimize the risk of muscle tears in dogs, consider implementing a few simple measures:

  • Allow your dog to warm up before engaging in physical activity. A brief five-minute walk can help increase blood flow and enhance muscle elasticity, especially before high-energy or high-load activities.
  • Ensure your dog is supervised during playtime with other animals. Dogs may become overly enthusiastic and easily overstretch their muscles while playing in the yard or at a dog park.
  • Avoid games or toys that have a higher likelihood of causing muscle tears or chronic muscle injuries. Activities involving rapid pivoting or turning, sudden stops, or large leaps pose increased risks for muscle injury. Examples include fetch, dock diving, hunting, agility sports, and herding.

Muscle Tears in Dogs FAQS

Is a torn muscle the same as a pulled muscle in dogs?

A muscle tear involves the complete or partial ripping of the fibers comprising a muscle’s structure, while a pulled muscle entails an overstretching of its components.

Can dogs pull a muscle?

Yes, a pulled muscle occurs when the muscle fibers within the muscle are stretched beyond their capacity but remain intact and not torn apart.

How can you tell if a dog has a pulled muscle?

Dogs experiencing a pulled muscle will exhibit symptoms akin to those seen with a torn muscle, albeit less severe. Signs to watch for include muscle spasms, weakness, cramping, and limited mobility, along with indications of pain, bruising, and swelling.

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