Technically, dogs don't sprain their Achilles tendons, but strain them. Sprains refer to ligaments, while strains refer to tendons. However, both refer to overstretching or tearing. If your dog loves to run fast, he's more likely to suffer a strained Achilles tendon. Couch potato pooches aren't at much risk.
Also known as the common calcaneal tendon, the Achilles isn't just one tendon. It consists of the superficial digital flexor tendon, the gastrocnemius tendon and the tendon of the biceps femoris, gracilis, and semitendinosus muscles. Tendons connect to bones, while ligaments connect joints together. Your dog's Achilles' tendon allows him to flex his ankle, or hock in canine-speak, and his knee, known as the stifle.
If your dog suddenly wrenches or twists his legs, he can strain his Achilles tendon as a result. He may have pain and avoid putting weight on the affected leg. The tendon area soon develops swelling. When he does move, he could look like he's tip-toeing, in response to carrying his hocks low.
Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you suspect a strained Achilles tendon. She'll take an X-ray or ultrasound of the affected leg to make a diagnosis. If he's strained his Achilles tendon, your normally active dog requires confinement so he won't further hurt himself. You might have to keep him in a crate when no one's home, just letting him out for potty breaks. Your vet might advise using cold packs on your dog's tendon several times a day for between 15 and 30 minutes, or run cold water over the leg for the same time periods. After the first couple of days, you may need to start using warm, not hot, compresses on the leg several times daily, for a few days. Your vet might also prescribe anti-inflammatories for pain reduction. One caveat: if your dog doesn't feel pain in his leg, he might try to use it, which you don't want him doing. Complete healing can take three weeks or more.
Often, dogs suffer more than just a strain of their Achilles tendon. Ruptures, especially at the hock, are quite common. According to Web MD, the Achilles tendon is the one most often severed in dog fights or motor vehicle accidents. It also frequently occurs in sporting dogs. If your dog ruptures his Achilles tendon, surgical repair is necessary. Recuperation takes a long time. Your dog wears a cast, splint or brace for a certain period of time, but if he's not moving around to some degree after a month, it can affect his joints. Physical therapy helps get him back in shape.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.