Sprains and Strains

Sprains, Strains and Automobiles

After a series of accidents within the family over the last two weeks, I thought I’d write about the tiny little miscalculations that are done in a fraction of a second that can have profound knock on effects. 

Animal bodies are so well tuned to deal to with fast situations, that we respond to them without making a thought-out decision.  Before a fly can land on our eye, the eyelids have already blinked. The eye has spotted the fly coming towards it, has alerted the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) and the instructions to blink have been followed before the forebrain, the part that holds conscious awareness, has even been informed. We have reacted instinctively to something that might have harmed us. Animal reflexes are even faster than ours, and their muscle speed is far greater than ours too. Try catching your dog before she chases that squirrel.

But what happens when these instinctive responses are ever so slightly miscalculated so that even when the brain is crying “NO!”, we still do it anyway?

Sprains and strains occur when the joints and muscles have been damaged. If your cat mistimes landing on a narrow fence and lands awkwardly, then the joints becomes overstretched and damage can occur.  A sprain is tearing of the ligaments that hold the bones together at the joints, whereas a strain is damage to the muscles and their tendons attaching them to bone. Both cause soft tissue damage but with time and rest the damage will heal naturally. 

Initially, there will be some pain and the affected area may swell. Your pet will be lame and if this lasts more than 24 hours then a visit to the vet is recommended.  The degree of damage can vary enormously and after examination, sedation and X-rays are sometimes warranted. This helps to rule out fractures and joint instability as swelling and muscles spasm can make these difficult to determine in the conscious animal.

The use of anti-inflammatory medication from your vet will reduces the pain and swelling but you can also help by applying ice packs and reducing exercise to lead walking only for a few days. Cats will naturally sleep more and be less active, though a young cat may need house arrest for the duration.

Sometimes, these instinctive reactions put animals in the path of danger before they are even aware of it.  A dog or cat can see something across the road – be it a rabbit or a bird - and the chase instinct kicks in, blinding them to the dangers of oncoming traffic.  So it is important to keep dogs on leads when out and about and many owners keep cats indoors or in cat runs when they live next to a busy road. 

Accidents can and do happen, usually in the tiniest fraction of a second, but here’s hoping for a healthy New Year for you and your pets.