It’s the same experience for your pet as it is for your arthritic grandparent. As time goes by these changes may become more evident and your pet finds doing the day to day activities difficult or unachievable. The most common changes in behaviour told by owners are their canine companion finds going up and down stairs tricky, they hesitate before jumping onto the sofa or in and out the car. Dogs also sometimes become slower on their walks and sniff a lot more. But do we have to accept these processes as inevitable? No, there are so many things that can be done to prevent the deterioration of weakening back legs and stiffening joints to improve your dog’s quality of life and give them their happiness back.
Before starting down the road to recovery it is important to identify why your dog has changed their behaviour by a trip to your local vet. They can diagnose if there is any pain, arthritis or problems with the spine that may have resulted in muscle loss weakness or any underlying condition. With any previous issue medically managed you can begin your treatment plan.
Modify Your Dog’s Exercise
Exercise needs to be low impact and low intensity. Activities such as sprinting, breaking and turning hard should be avoided to prevent further strain on the joints that will likely be inflamed and lacking muscle to support them. This may mean stopping the ball throwing and rough playing with other dogs and replace them with slower games like finding toys, learning new tricks, and carrying objects. Hydrotherapy and physiotherapy exercises are excellent forms of activity for elderly dogs because it is low impact on their joints, their muscles and cardiovascular systems are worked out and your dog is gaining the endorphin release from exercise boosting their mental wellbeing.
When going for a walk slow down and choose routes that don’t have uneven ground, loose surfaces like shingle or are wet and muddy. Going too fast or on rough terrain will cause your dog to over work and cause pain and inflammation. Your dog will gain as much satisfaction as a 30 minute slow walk covering half the distance as a 30 minute fast walk if (s)he is allowed to sniff, have a change in environment and still exercise if they do not come back in pain.
Adapt Your Home Environment
Making it easier for your dog to get around the house will improve their mobility and give them some independence back. There is an excellent resource on the Canine Arthritis Management website to help make home adaptions for your geriatric pet. Download the ‘home assessment checklist’ here.
Manage Your Dog's Weight
With exercise restrictions comes a risk of weight gain and is to be avoided at all costs. Any extra weight is added strain to compromised joints and muscles so dog’s need to be kept in optimum body conditions. Royal Canin has a useful body condition scoring chart and lots of advice of how to control your dog’s weight. There are many brands of food that offer a senior range which has the added benefits of having joint supplements in them and are lower in calories than their regular counterpart.
Joint supplements can be very beneficial in aiding your dog’s mobility but there is a wealth of products on the market and it can be an overwhelming range to choose from. The two main active ingredients are glucosamine and chondroitin. They work by helping to improve the quality of the cartilage and lubricate the joint; some research also suggests that they reduce pain, inflammation and improve movement. There are many more components that are added like green lipped muscle extract which isn’t fully understood but it is thought that the omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties. However, not all joint supplements are made equal. When choosing a product for your stiff four-legged friend it is vital to do your research unless you want waste your money. Ask for recommendation from your vet or physiotherapist who should be well informed on the topic. The other thing is to see if products have been scientifically backed or have had a clinical trial for instance Yumove made by Lintbells and Cosequin have both produced studies to prove the efficacy of their products.
So now that your arthritic dog has had their exercise modified, they are at an optimal weight, they can move around the house a lot more easily and they are medically managed or are on a joint supplement is there more you can do? Yes. Complimentary therapies such as physiotherapy and hydrotherapy are excellent treatments for joint pain and mobility.
At KB Vet Physio and AquaCanis we provide specialised animal physiotherapy and canine hydrotherapy treatments with a deep understanding of behaviour. We strive to not only treat the weak joints but to give overall relief to the load bearing limbs, muscle and fascia that have been overcompensating. Both centres are purpose built and offer a relaxed and soothing place for your dog to get better. Whether the sense of wellbeing comes from the therapeutic massage or the warmth of the water we can aid pain relief and ease aching muscles. The hydrostatic pressure of the water and the laser therapy of the physio can reduce swelling together we can achieve better mobility and improve quality of life. Over time cardiovascular fitness increases, mobility improves, pain and inflammation are reduced, and you have a happy healthy dog again.
By Katherine Brown, MSc Vet Physio, MNAVP