Toe Problems and Injuries in Agility Dogs
A team of researchers from Washington State University, North Carolina State University, and Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital are conducting a study designed to 1) gather data about common toe problems in agility dogs and identify potential risk factors for injuries, and 2) analyze the return to athletic performance in agility dogs who had one or more toes amputated for any reason.
Toe injuries are very common in agility dogs but there is minimal information available to help understand why these injuries occur or how they may impact performance. In many cases, a veterinarian may recommend amputation of part or all of the toe. When faced with the decision as to whether or not a toe should be amputated, owners of agility dogs often want to know what effect that surgery might have on subsequent performance. There is almost no scientifically valid information on which a veterinarian can answer that question. The goal of this research project is to provide agility enthusiasts with information about toe problems in the sport, and veterinarians and dog owners with information to assist with decision-making in amputation situations.
Does my dog qualify for this project? We are looking for dogs that meet the following criteria:
- Any breed including mixed breeds
- Any age, size, or sex
- Currently or previously competing in any agility venue, at any level
- Any history of one or more toe problems (e.g., disease, tumor) or injuries, regardless of treatment performed or whether that dog returned to agility after recovery
- (Optional) As a result of the disease or injury, one or more toes were amputated
If I participate in this project, what will I have to do?
If you agility dog has had a toe problem that did not result in amputation, you will be asked to complete a brief web-based survey that will take approximately 3-5 minutes. You will be asked questions about your dog’s toe problems and about your agility training and competition experiences. If your dog had one or more toes amputated, you will be asked to do the following:
- Complete a 10-15 minute survey providing detailed information about your dog’s medical and agility history
- Provide contact information for the veterinarian who treated your dog’s toe injury and give us written authorization to contact that veterinarian and request copies of relevant medical records (e.g., imaging, surgical reports)
- Provide your dog’s agility registration numbers so that we can obtain detailed performance records from our agility organization partners
- Remain available for follow-up questions about your dog’s case via email or phone if necessary
All participation in this study is voluntary and you may disenroll at any time and for any reason. We will not examine your dog directly. There should be no expense on your part. All information will be confidential; no dog, owner, or veterinarian names will be disclosed in any public communication, presentation, or publication related to this project without express written consent.
What specific questions do you hope to answer with this project?
We believe that this data will provide information to answer the following types of questions:
- What are the most common types of toe injuries and problems in agility dogs?
- What proportion of toe injuries in these dogs occur while training or competing in agility?
- Are specific breeds or sizes of dogs more likely to suffer toe injuries than others?
- Are specific types of contact obstacle performances more likely to be associated with on-course toe injuries?
- Are specific running surfaces, course types, or obstacle specifications more likely to be associated with on-course toe injuries?
- Does the age of the dog influence the type of injury that is most likely to occur?
- Are specific feet or toes more likely than others to be injured in agility dogs?
- How likely is it that a dog will return to competitive athletic function as an agility dog if they have one or more toes amputated?
- If a dog returns to athletic performance after a toe amputation, will that dog compete at the same level (i.e. no decrease in average YPS on courses) as pre-injury?
- Does prognosis after amputation differ depending on the foot or toe affected or the type of surgery that was performed?
- What types of complications might occur after toe amputation surgery?
- On average, how long after toe amputation surgery might a dog return to competition?
Who is conducting this research?
We are a team consisting of a veterinary student and three veterinarians with specialty training in internal medicine, surgery, and research methods. Funding has been provided by the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Ms. Katherine Martucci is a second year veterinary student at Washington State University; she competes in agility with her Border Collie, Shih-Tzu, and Golden Retriever.
Dr. Debra Sellon is a Professor of Equine Medicine at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine and is board-certified in Large Animal Internal Medicine (http://vcs.vetmed.wsu.edu/people/faculty/profile/debra-sellon); she competes in agility with Border Collies and a Papillon.
Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little is a Professor of Small Animal Orthopedic Surgery at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine (www.cvm.ncsu.edu/docs/personnel/marcellin_denis.html); he is board-certified in the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Surgeons and the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Dr. Michelle Powers is a small animal surgeon who practices at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital and is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (www.ivghospitals.com/staff-member/michelle-powers-dvm-dacvs/); she has a special interest and advanced training in canine orthopedics and rehabilitation and is an active agility competitor in the Northeast.
Dr. Kim Cullen has recently joined our team as a collaborator in this effort and in future projects to investigate other common injuries of agility dogs. Dr. Cullen is the Scientific Director of Canines in Motion.