How “Not” to Lift Your Dog

It’s funny how, as a rehabilitation therapist, I’ve taken a few things for granted, and when you really talk to people about the nuts and bolts of living with dogs, how many “simple” things we may or may not do on a daily basis can REALLY affect a Dog’s mobility.

Today, I’ll talk about that rambunctious little dog or puppy (could even be a medium to large breed puppy) who runs up to you (all friendly like), and thrusts their front legs up onto your legs.  Apart from training issues (this behavior is generally not tolerated when it is a large dog), the action itself has lead to many people to picking the dog up by the front arms (underneath the armpits).

On two separate occasions so far (two different cases), I have suspected this action has created shoulder stability issues.  One incident involved a brisk life or death lift, that extracted the dog from the clamping jaws of another by lifting directly under the armpits (phew!, but oops, now I have a shoulder problem), and the other incident was due to repeated lifting of a small dog from friendly (unknowing) neighbors (by the front legs/armpits).

In both cases I suspected partial tearing of the glenohumeral ligament that supports the joint from the inside aspect (see diagram below).


Other “rotator cuff” musculotendinous junctions (just a fancy way of saying other supporting muscle and their tendon structures) may be involved either secondarily (or less likely, primarily).  The first case was confirmed with MRI and diagnosed as a Medial Shoulder Instability (MSI), and the other case was presumed MSI based on functional and clinical signs (and detailed rehabilitation/functional examination).  The functional examination I speak of is one performed by either a veterinary rehabilitation therapist (CCRT/CCRP DVM or PT) or veterinary surgeon.  Some GP DVMs are getting more proficient at diagnosing these (partly due to the fact is becoming more commonly diagnosed, and some of these vets already have experience with it).

If you have a little dog or younger medium to large breed dog and suspect an issue or lameness due to this repeated behavior, you can check with your vet (if they are unsure of how to assess, they can contact a local rehab therapist or a veterinary surgeon to help them localize the issue).  The problem may not be in the shoulder in all/any cases of front limb lameness and other issues need to be ruled out too (potentially).

As follow up to this article, I will do a post on “how to pick up your dog (normal healthy)”, and a post on “how to pick up a dog with mobility issues.”

This article is the intellectual property of it’s author.  Please do not reprint or otherwise distribute this article without written or verbal permission.  Copyright 2014 Equilibrium VRC Ltd.  Dr. Shannon Budiselic.