Soft Tissue Trauma (Sprains, Strains, and Pulled Muscles) in Cats and Dogs

Soft Tissue Trauma (Sprains, Strains, and Pulled Muscles) in Cats and Dogs

Animals affected

Cats and dogs.


The term soft tissue trauma describes a group of minor injuries to muscles or joints. Collectively, these types of injuries are the most common cause of limping in both dogs and cats. Soft tissue trauma resolves rapidly with rest.  Anti-inflammatory medications frequently are used to speed the healing process.   It is important to differentiate soft tissue trauma from more serious conditions that cause limping, such as torn ligaments, broken bones, and arthritis in dogs or cats.


Limping is a nearly universal symptom of soft tissue trauma.   Animals may refuse to bear weight on the affected limb, or they may use the limb but favor it.  As well, some animals may show symptoms including the following:

  • Vocalization, especially at the time of injury
  • Swelling of the site of trauma
  • Other signs of pain, including panting (in both cats and dogs), lack of appetite, or personality changes

Risk Factors

  • Young, active animals frequently suffer soft tissue trauma as a result of rambunctious play.
  • Overweight cats and dogs are at significantly increased risk for bone, muscle, and joint injuries, including soft tissue trauma.

It is possible for any pet to suffer minor trauma, even during mild activity. Soft tissue trauma iss the most likely cause of any limping that occurs suddenly and improves with several days’ rest.


Soft tissue trauma is painful.

Animals, like people, are prone to re-injuring sites of soft tissue trauma. This is less likely to happen if they are allowed to rest until fully healed.


Diagnosis usually is based on physical exam findings. Radiographs (X-rays) and rarely joint taps may be taken to rule out more serious problems.


The main treatment for soft tissue trauma is rest.  Most sprains, strains, and pulled muscles resolve within two weeks if strict activity restriction is enforced.   In general, activity should be restricted until limping has been absent for several days.  After recovery, exercise should be increased gradually.  Sudden activity increases can lead to re-injury.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Rimadyl®, Deramaxx®, Previcox®, and Metacam® may reduce pain and speed healing, especially in dogs.


If limping permanently resolves, no follow-up is necessary.



Animals with persistent or chronic limps that do not resolve with activity restriction always should see a veterinarian.

Although elderly animals can suffer soft tissue trauma, it is important to ensure that limping in older pets is not due to complications of arthritis or another disease.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.