Dog agility is a sport with more than 100,000 competition runs in Finland every year. According to a study encompassing 850 competing dogs carried out at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki, two-thirds of the injuries occurred in conjunction with agility training. Most often, the dogs suffered an injury towards the end of the training session.
“Becoming fatigued in training may have predisposed the dogs to injury. Most often, their injuries were related to obstacle performance. The most commonly involved obstacles were bar jump, dogalk, A-frame and tunnel. The tunnel was more often the cause of injury compared to previous international questionnaire surveys,” says Doctoral Researcher Leena Inkilä from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki.
A little under one-third of injuries related to obstacles were the result of collision with an obstacle.
Forelimbs susceptible to injuries
Based on the respondents’ estimates, in over half of the dogs the injury was to a forelimb, particularly to the shoulder, scapular region and brachium. Most of the injuries caused by agility were a range of soft tissue injuries, which is in line with prior research.
According to the study, lameness related to the injury occurred in two-third of the dogs, in addition to which roughly half of the dogs were observed to experience pain during palpation or the range of motion assessment of joints. Approximately 40% of the dogs received treatment from a veterinarian due to their injury.
“Typically, the dogs were able to return to regular physical activity in about two weeks after injury, and to their previous level in agility in roughly four weeks. Every tenth injured dog had to retire from agility due to injury,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Anna Boström from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki.
New risk factors for agility-related injuries
The study surveyed potential risk factors linked to injury during a single year of participating in agility.
Identified as the most significant risk factors were at least two previous agility-related injuries, a lumbosacral transitional vertebra (LTV), training more than twice a week and starting training that included obstacle sequences at an older age, with the risk roughly doubling for every year of age.
A moderate number of competition runs on a monthly basis and the performance technique on the A-frame emerged as protective factors.
Attending physiotherapy at regular intervals was more common among the injured dogs. The study also found indications that activity in other physically demanding sports, such as pulling sports, herding and hunting, may potentially offer protection against agility-related injuries.
“While the study succeeded in determining the link between various factors and injuries, it’s important to note that they do not indicate causality,” Inkilä points out.
Data on more than 850 competition-level agility dogs and their agility-related injuries in one year were collected through a survey conducted by the Petbone (web site in Finnish) and FaunaFysio research groups active at the University of Helsinki. Injuries related to the sport have previously been investigated primarily in North American agility dogs.
Leena Inkilä, Heli Hyytiäinen, Anna Hielm-Björkman, Jouni Junnila, Anna Bergh, and Anna Boström. Part II of Finnish Agility Dog Survey: Agility-Related Injuries and Risk Factors for Injury in Competition-Level Agility Dogs. Animals https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12030227
The project received funding from the Agria research fund and the Finnish Agility Association.