football dogs

Six Football Injuries That Dogs Can Get

dog superbowl

With Super Bowl fever in the air, one of the worst things that can happen to a football player who is headed for the big game is to be sidelined due to injury. Football is one of the most popular sports played by athletes of all ages, and it leads all other sports in the number of injuries sustained.

Humans are not alone in their propensity to injury, whether competing in a stadium or a light game of touch football. Dogs, too, suffer injuries the same as or very similar to those of professional football players.

Play by play, then, here are six football style injuries that dogs can get. Oh, and dogs need not be intense athletes to get hurt. Dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds can and do get hurt.

Trauma to the Legs

One of the most common injuries in football is tearing of the ACL, also known as the anterior cruciate ligament or to the cartilage of the knee. Football players twist and turn a lot, so when an athlete rapidly changes direction, twists without moving their feet (think of quarterbacks), or slows down abruptly, the delicate ligament sustains damage.

We know all too well about ACL injuries, as our dog has ruptured/torn both ACLs in both legs, requiring successful surgical repair of both.

Sometimes a loud popping sound can be heard when injury occurs, but often times it’s the pronounced limp that catches the eye of concerned dog parents.

LEARN MORE: ACL Injuries Are More Common In Some Dogs Than Others

ACL tear

Strains and Sprains

They sound alike, but their meanings are different.

The tendons that link muscles and bones are injured with a strain. Dogs who overcompensate stretching, or when a dog slips, falls, or jumps are all circumstances that can cause a strain. Like football players, strains happen in the hip and thigh area.

Sprains, on the other hand, harm ligaments that connect bones. A good way to remember that ligaments connect bones is to think of the word “BLOB” – Bone – ligament – bone. (BLB). We’d be a BLOB without ligaments. (thank you, Biology 201 in college).

Sprains are common in dogs who do a lot of jumping: Whether of hurdles or even off the bed or couch. A misstep off a curb can cause sprains: In people and in dogs. Dogs often sprain their wrists and knees.

dog ACL brace
Dexter at a vet visit appointment for his ACL injury.

Heat Injuries

Though much of the country is under a winter advisory with snow accumulating and falling temperatures, heat injuries are all too common in athletes and dogs alike. When temperatures and humidity are at their highest, heat stroke can occur. Though perspiration cools the body, excessive sweating depletes the body of salt and water.

Dogs are unable to vocalize muscle cramps as people can, so pet parents should watch for symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and keep pets cool and not exercising at the peak of a hot day. Staying hydrated and cool are important factors in staying healthy in warmer weather.


Lacerations and Abrasions

A cut is a laceration while a scrape is an abrasion. Lacerations on the field are caused by helmets, rough contact, or even the field. With dogs, lacerations can occur from broken glass, a jagged edge, or even a rug in the house that causes a busted toenail.

Abrasions are caused from sliding, being pulled, or even slipping on concrete, sand, or rocks. On the field, football players are prone to abrasions from being tackled, hence their equipment and padding. Dogs aren’t so fortunate to have padding, so dog parents need to proceed with caution to prevent injuries of this nature.


Dogs walk around without shoes, socks, or any protective padding, and paws can only withstand so much wear and tear before accidents happen. Punctures occur on the surface of the paw. Though puncture wounds are less common in human football scenarios, they do happen.

Neck or Back Pain

Back pain and back injuries are common in football players due to overuse and impact injury. Slipped discs, muscle trauma, pinched nerves, and IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) are all injuries dogs can sustain to the back.

Since dogs are unable to tell us “where it hurts,” it is important to look for obvious signs and symptoms of back pain including, but not limited to:

  • Panting and trembling
  • Inability to get comfortable
  • Hunched up position
  • Postural changes
  • Inability or unable to turn or raise the head
  • Yelps or cries out when back is touched
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

Dogs should be seen immediately for back issues and extreme care should be taken in moving the animal so as not to cause more trauma to the wounded area.

football dogs

Shoulder Injury

According to the folks at DVM 360, shoulder injuries are quite common in agility dogs. In fact, of the 33 percent of dogs who are injured yearly in agility sports, 58 percent are injured during competition.

For dogs who are not athletic, stress injuries can occur and the shoulder can be damaged. Running, jumping, strenuous activity, or even movement for dogs who are generally inactive can all cause a shoulder injury.

Dogs who are overweight and then engage in a sudden movement can also cause a number of injuries to occur.

Dogs with a shoulder injury tend not to want to put pressure on their front legs, so a limp may ensue. Other signs of shoulder injuries in dogs include lameness, swelling, head bobbing, and paw lifting when attempting to walk.

The best ways to prevent these (and many) injuries in dogs is by:

  • Keeping a dog’s weight in check: Overweight dogs suffer in the long run.
  • Exercise a dog within reason.
  • Pay attention to rough play, particularly between dogs and at the dog park.
  • Never tug or pull on your dog’s collar, particularly when walking on a leash: This can cause neck and back damage.
  • Consider massaging and touching your dog and if he shows any signs of sensitivity, have a veterinarian check him out.
  • Checking with your dog’s vet before any new exercise regimen and getting him checked if any health issues arise.

Has your dog ever sustained any of the above injuries? How did you handle it?



  1. Those could be very scary injuries. I know cause I had 2 back surgeries
    Lily (& Edward)
    Love the outfits!

  2. Thanks for this great information, very enlightening & helpful. My Husky is super energetic and athletic. She’s always jumping up & down on something. I think she may have strained herself recently, she seemed a little “off”, but she was fine a few days later. I’ll try the massaging as you mentioned to make sure she doesn’t have any pain or sensitivity.

  3. Our K9 GSD would jam his shoulder by running full speed and slamming to a stop at the fence line. This was 25+ years ago. We took him to the vet several times for it. I would put a heating pad on his and give him massages.

  4. Thanks for sharing these helpful information. I always make sure that it’s not too hot outside if my dog Max is playing. This is to prevent him from heat stroke. I don’t want anything to happen to my dog.

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