Call 07 3633 0964


Diet for soft tissue rehabilitation

Rehabilitation nutrition for dogs recovering from muscle injury

13 Sep, 2017

When dogs are recovering from soft tissue injuries their diet may need to be adjusted to accommodate their special needs during the rehabilitation phase. There are two important considerations for dogs in terms of nutrition during this phase – preventing loss of muscle mass and preventing weight gain.

Regardless of whether the dog is recovering from surgery or a musculoskeletal trauma, they will not be exercising as much as normal, so their diet needs to reflect their decreased energy requirements.

Their diet may also need to be adjusted to address increases in the rates of muscle protein turnover, again due to inactivity.

Energy expenditure

During the rehabilitation phase, consideration needs to be given to the amount of energy the dog is consuming and expending. A dog lying on its side uses 30 – 46% less energy than when it is sitting or standing, so the amount of energy it is eating needs to be reduced accordingly to prevent weight gain.

Further, even when dogs resume light lead walking or are performing remedial exercise such as underwater treadmill walking or swimming, their energy requirements are less than when they are exercising at optimal levels.

During the rehabilitation phase, the dog’s diet may be adjusted to reduce their energy intake. Fat contains twice the energy as protein and carbohydrates so by reducing the fat content in the diet, the dog’s energy intake will be reduced.
Simple ways to reduce fat in your dog’s diet during the rehabilitation phase are:

  • Remove skin and fat from meat and select lean meaty bones.
  • Eliminate table scraps and meat off cuts.
  • Take note of the amount of training or incidental treats your dog is eating. You could perhaps switch to carrot or apple pieces or lean meat treats.
  • Reduce dairy (like yoghurt or milk) and eggs.

For dogs who fret when they feel hungry consider including high fibre ingredients such as vegetables to their rehabilitation diet. Fibre increases the feeling of fullness while contributing little energy. For information on how to include vegetables in your dog’s diet please see

Muscle protein turnover

Injured dogs that are not exercising regularly have higher rates of skeletal muscle protein breakdown. Exercise and adequate nutrition positively affect the balance between skeletal muscle protein breakdown and synthesis. While an injured dog may not be able to exercise their muscles enough to induce muscle protein synthesis, adequate nutritional intake is crucial for maintaining muscle mass.

Human and animal studies have concluded that consuming the amino acid leucine is one of the most potent amino acids for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Feeding dogs food rich in amino acids after exercise has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and downregulate processes that breakdown muscle protein. Such a diet will reduce loss of body mass during the rehabilitation phase.

Good quality sources of protein are typically animal and fish based protein such as chicken, beef, fish, and eggs. (Note: eggs are high in fat which makes them energy rich.) Also see

For dogs recovering from soft tissue injuries and trauma, consider their changed nutritional requirements as part of their overall rehabilitation programme to prevent weight gain and promote synthesis of muscle protein to help your dog regain muscle strength and function.

Full Stride provides canine massage and exercise therapy supported by nutritional advice. For more information please contact me or leave me a comment here or on my Facebook page.

Until next time, enjoy your dogs.


Kato, H., Suzuki, H., Inoue, Y., Suzuki, K., & Kobayashi, H. 2016. “Leucine-Enriched Essential Amino Acids Augment Mixed Protein Synthesis, But Not Collagen Protein Synthesis, in Rat Skeletal Muscle after Downhill Running.” Nutrients, 8(7), 399.

Laflamme, D.P. 2006 “Understanding and managing obesity in dogs and cats” Vet Clinic Small Animal 36:1283-1295

Pasiakos, S. M. and Carbone, J. W. 2014, Assessment of skeletal muscle proteolysis and the regulatory response to nutrition and exercise. IUBMB Life, 66: 478–484.

Shmalberg, J. 2015 “Canine Performance and Rehabilitative Nutrition: Part 2 Canine Rehabilitative Nutrition” Today’s Veterinary Practice, January / February 2015: 87 – 90

Suryawan, A and Davis, T.A. 2014 “Regulation of protein degradation pathways by amino acids and insulin in skeletal muscle of neonatal pigs” Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology 2014 5:8

Wilkinson, D. J., Hossain, T., Hill, D. S., Phillips, B. E., Crossland, H., Williams, J., Loughna, P., Churchward-Venne, T. A., Breen, L., Phillips, S. M., Etheridge, T., Rathmacher, J. A., Smith, K., Szewczyk, N. J. and Atherton, P. J. 2013, “Effects of leucine and its metabolite β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate on human skeletal muscle protein metabolism.” The Journal of Physiology, 591: 2911–2923.