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Health & Wellness

How to spot muscular hypertonicity in dogs

And when you should get your vet involved.

You might spot muscle hypertonicity in your pup if they have too much muscle tone to the point where they’re stiff or having trouble moving. Think of your dog cramping up, or even seeming to freeze, especially after playtime. 

A dog may have muscle hypertonicity if their resting muscle has too much tone or is unable to relax, making the muscle firm and inflexible. Just like in humans, this type of cramping can cause discomfort and even lead to muscle strain or injury. Although it’s not a common condition in general, muscular hypertonicity is most commonly found in terriers and spaniels. 

What is muscular hypertonicity in dogs?

You may see signs of muscular hypertonicity after your dog exercises or gets excited. The pup may suddenly become stiff or collapse. Some may even rub their face along the floor right before an episode, and pet parents might see muscle rippling in their pup’s affected limbs. Dogs don’t lose consciousness and usually recover within a few minutes, but may be stiff for quite a while afterward, so be sure to help keep them comfortable. 

Pet parents should be aware of muscular hypertonicity signs and symptoms. If you’re concerned about your dog for any reason, or if you notice them experiencing ongoing, recurring or severe pain, it’s best to contact a veterinarian immediately.  

“Of particular concern is when lumbar muscles are affected; this can occur in conjunction with intervertebral disc disease and presents as back pain, hunched posture or partial to complete paralysis of one or more limbs,” Dr. Erin Katribe, the medical director at Best Friends Animal Society, says. “Less serious presentations in the limbs may look like a stiff or rigid gait, loss of flexibility, involuntary muscle twitching or lameness from pain.” 

Your vet may do specific muscle and nerve testing to rule out other causes of your pet’s strain. Fortunately, this is usually not a life threatening condition. But, in rare instances, prolonged muscle contractions can lead to hyperthermia (overheating), which can be life threatening. 

“Any overt paralysis or dragging of the limbs should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately, as the time it takes for them to receive care may dramatically impact prognosis in some dogs,” Dr. Katribe says.

RELATED: Dog neck and back pain: symptoms and treatments 

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Can muscular hypertonicity be cured?

Muscular hypertonicity in dogs isn’t common, but if you suspect your pup is suffering from this condition, contact your vet. This is a lifelong condition, but some dogs have only infrequent episodes that don’t require medicine while in other dogs, medical intervention is required. Your vet may request that you record an episode, and they will likely run a few different tests to diagnose muscular hypertonicity in your pup. Depending on your dog’s breed, there are other similar conditions your vet may try to rule out first.

“This specific syndrome can be managed with medication, though it’s often not necessary as the episodes are self-limiting and short in most dogs,” Dr. Katribe says.

There are a couple of medications that have shown to decrease and/or minimize signs of muscular hypertonicity that can be given daily for the life of the dog. Your veterinarian will help you decide if medical intervention is right for your pup. 

“For severe cases (typically associated with intervertebral disk disease), muscle relaxants can be prescribed,” Dr. Katribe says. “For more mild cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or pain medications may reduce discomfort and inflammation. Adjunct therapies like massage or acupuncture may also help.” 

As always, you are your pet’s best advocate. If you think something is wrong, don’t hesitate to contact your trusted veterinarian for advice. In the eyes of pet parents, many conditions may appear similar — only a vet can help identify what’s going on with your pet’s health and how to help.. 

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo. 

Photo by Carissa Weiser on Unsplash

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