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Canine Wrist/Carpal Injuries - What You Need to Know: Signs of The Condition, Treatment Options, Preventative Measures

Posted by Noah D. on

When we think of wrist injuries we don’t often think of dogs. But, just like a human, a dog’s bones and joints are prone to injuries, including dislocation, strains, sprains, and even breaks. All of which may lead to severe pain and agony for your poor pup. Here are things you need to know about canine wrist and carpal injuries. 

What’s a Carpus?

Made of seven major bony structures, the carpus is located at the dog's forelimb. The carpus is the equivalent to the human wrist. Also, just like humans, a dog can hyperextend his carpus, leading to the potential collapse of the carpal joint. Carpal injuries occur when excessive force is applied to the carpus.

Most dogs diagnosed with wrist or carpal injuries have suffered traumatic events like falling from a significant height, getting hit by a car, or getting involved in the wrong exercise. Pains from carpal injuries can cause your dog to limp, have swelling in the ankle, and show weakness in their foreleg. Basically, it hurts your pup to have a carpal injury.

Causes of Canine Wrist/Carpal Injuries

While trauma is most likely the cause of canine carpal injuries, there are other things to consider. These include:

  • Falls and Working/Exercise-Related Injuries - Often created from a severe force, the wrist ligaments tear and can severely collapse the joint.
  • Inflammatory Polyarthropathy - Or an immune system’s inflammatory response that causes swelling, pain, and laxness in the carpal joint.
  • Degenerative - Common in working breeds, this can lead to bilateral carpal joint hyperextension.

Signs of Canine Wrist/Carpal Injuries

While it seems that you would obviously know when your dog has a wrist injury - recall that dogs are good at hiding pain. Some of the major symptoms of dog wrist/carpal injuries include the following:

  • Limping
  • Abnormal, hyperextending stance gait
  • Whining
  • Swelling or redness of joints
  • Swelling of the forelimb
  • Lameness
  • Swollen paws
  • Not wanting to get up from a sitting position
  • Favoring one leg over another
  • Joint instability

Diagnosis of Canine Wrist and Carpal Injuries

 If you notice your four-legged friend is having carpal issues, the first thing you’ll want to do is to take him to a veterinary clinic for a physical examination. Typically, the vet will observe your dog while standing and walking in order to access weight-bearing ability. Also, this may include radiographs (sedated) or blood work depending on the severity of the illness. Once there, the vet will do a thorough exam which may include an x-ray and blood work depending on the severity of the injury. Also, the vet may choose to perform an arthroscopy, which is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that allows a veterinarian to examine the inside of a joint.

Treatments for Canine Wrist/Carpal Injuries

After diagnosis, the vet will diagnose the severity level of your dog’s carpal injuries in order to plan the most appropriate treatment.

Some of the treatment options available for carpal injuries include:

Rest and Limited Exercise

If the sprain is low grade, rest and limiting activity is the first line of response. Your vet will also suggest a supportive splint for your dog. Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy may come into play down the road.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

The use of anti-inflammatory drugs helps to reduce inflammation and thus pain from the injured joint. This approach can be alone or combined with other treatment and will help your dog get some level of relief. 

Use of Wrist Braces

Stabilizing the injury is often the best approach. A wrist brace (or splint) helps support your dog’s weight while healing - just like when you have had a sprained ankle. Wrist braces are also used post surgery if the sprain is severe and requires clinical intervention.

Orthopedic Surgery

Surgery is often the last treatment for wrist/carpal injuries. The surgeon first determines if the joint is unstable before deciding if the surgery will involve a partial or complete fusion of the wrist joint. Partial fusion result to the near-normal function of the wrist, while the complete fusion results in a wrist that has minimal to no movement at all. Surgery for carpal and wrist injuries is usually quite expensive (between $1,000 to $5,000).


A water-based treatment, hydrotherapy can help to heal the injury and reduce the pain caused by wrist/carpal injuries. Usually, the sessions are carried out or monitored by a specialist. The entire hydrotherapy session is aimed at providing support for natural healing. Many sessions may be required in order to expedite healing.

Steps for Pain Management in Dogs with Wrist and Carpal Injuries

To help your dog heal faster and more efficiently, we’ve identified some critical steps that you should follow for a wrist/carpal injury.

  • During the healing phase, ensure that the limb is supported with a cast or splint for about six (6) weeks.
  • Change the cast and splint after every two weeks.
  • Limit leash work until the injury has been confirmed as healed through
  • Ensure that radiographs are taken six weeks after surgery
  • If your dog has had surgery, post cast removal, gradually introduce your dog to exercise over the next six weeks. For the first week, only take five (5) minute walks with your dog. Then increase each week until the right amount of walking has been achieved.
  • Do not allow your dog to be involved in any form of strenuous

When Your Dog’s Wrist Hurts

So does your heart! It’s hard to see your furry family member in pain. That’s why it’s good to take a preventative measure and build up your dog’s wrists. You can do this with a stability balance disc or half ball. This will require that your dog learn to stand and balance on the disc/ball, helping to build strength in the legs and wrists. By including this type of training in your dog’s regular schedule you can potentially save him from future pain.


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