Posted on February 16, 2014
Injuries Affecting Agility Dogs
Did you watch or read about the first-ever agility competition at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show earlier this month? A Border Collie named Kelso bested 225 other dogs by completing the course with the greatest precision and speed. I’ve been told more than once that the sport of agility is addictive. This, in part, may account for the fact that agility is rapidly becoming the world’s most popular canine performance sport.
Not without risk
No question, agility is a whole lot of fun and provides great exercise for everyone involved. There is, however, significant risk for injury associated with the sport (talking about the dogs here, although I’ve seen many a handler take a tumble). The typical agility course challenges the dog with 15 to 20 physical tasks that requiring climbing, descending, jumping, balancing, weaving, running, quick turns, and abrupt stops and starts. And the goal is to get it all done at warp speed. It’s no wonder that agility-related injuries occur with significant frequency.
Results of a survey reported in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association quantified the frequency and types of agility-associated injuries. A second report within the same journal identified risk factors for injury.
Injury survey results
The surveys were completed by 1,669 handlers of 3,801 agility dogs around the world. The data was collected in 2009. (Yes, there is typically quite a long lag time between acquisition of data and publication within the veterinary literature.) Handlers were asked to provide information, to the best of their knowledge, about the cause and nature of their dogs’ injuries. Documentation by a veterinarian was not required.
Here are some of the studies’ findings:
- One third (31.8%) of the dogs experienced agility-related injuries.
- 27.6% of the injured dogs sustained more than one agility-related injury.
- Soft tissue strains, sprains, and contusions (bruising) were the most commonly reported injuries.
- Of the 1,523 injuries analyzed, the shoulder, back, neck, and toes were the most commonly affected sites
- Of the injuries 50.5% were mild (required less than one month for recovery) and 44.6% were severe (required two months or longer for recovery). The remaining 4.9% were unclassified.
- Injuries were commonly attributed to faulty navigation/interaction with bar jumps, A-frames, and dog walk obstacles.
- There was no significant difference between the numbers of injuries that occurred during practice versus competitions.
- Dogs had greater risk of injury if they had a history of prior injury.
- Dogs receiving alternative therapies (acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, or dietary supplements) had greater risk of injury.
- Border Collies had greater risk of injury, even after statistical consideration of the popularity of this breed within the sport.
- Dogs with less than four years of agility experience had greater risk of injury.
- Dogs handled by individuals with less than 5 years of agility experience had greater risk of injury.
While retrospective surveys such as these are far from perfect, the data generated here provides some good food for thought. Many of the results make perfect sense. For example, it is logical that a more experienced handler is less likely to push his or her athlete too fast or too far. However, some of the results are not intuitive for me. Why would dogs receiving alternative therapies be more predisposed to injury? I have to wonder if these dogs were receiving these therapies because of prior injuries. The Border Collie risk factor is an interesting one. I suspect this susceptibility to injury has more to do with the breed’s insanely intense work ethic than it does any inherent musculoskeletal weakness.
I would love to see some prospective studies to further assess factors that may prevent or predispose to injuries. Perhaps those of you who have invested years in the sport have some ideas about this. If so, your thoughts are welcome here.
Has your dog sustained an agility-related injury? If so, I hope you will share the details with us.
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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