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Fitness, just like it does for people, matters for dogs too. A study published in BMC Veterinary Research led by Washington State University veterinarian Debra Sellon found that balance exercises, wobble boards, and anything that improves the core strength of the dog seemed to lower the odds of a ligament tear. Other activities like dock diving, barn hunt, and scent work are also linked to a lower likelihood of ligament rupture.
Regular activities such as walking and running did not raise the risk of injury but didn’t lower it either. Dogs that are lacking core strength from physical exercise may be more vulnerable to canine knee injuries.
Sellon and Dennis Marcelin-Little, a veterinary orthopedic specialist with the University of California, used statistical risk assessment to look for trends in 1,262 agility dogs—260 that tore the ligament and 1,002 that did not.
Flyball, a growing canine sport, can be a great way to burn off energy, but it poses the riskiest activity. Nearly 12% of dogs reported playing flyball ruptured the ligament.
The survey verified some long-standing and well-accepted risk factors as well. Female dogs spayed before turning one were nearly twice as likely to rupture the ligament as dogs spayed after turning one. This, according to Sellon, reflects the relevance of hormones in the development of strong ligaments in young animals.
Trends in particular breeds were also identified. The survey shows that Australian shepherds and Labrador retrievers were more than twice as likely to rupture the ligament. Rottweilers and Australian cattle dogs were more than four times as likely to tear the ligament. It was speculated that it might have something to do with the shape of the dog.
According to Marcellin-Little, there is still a lot of research to be done, but the survey gives veterinarians a place to start.