Running with your dog

Now that we are finally enjoying some better weather it is lovely to see some people enjoying a run with their dogs. This can be a great way to exercise with your pet but there are some things to keep in mind to help avoid injuries and to keep your dog happy and healthy.

Firstly, it is important to mention that not all dogs are built for running! Some breeds of dogs are not put together to be able to go for a run without being at increased risk of injury. Of course little bursts of excitement are completely natural for all dogs however prolonged running activity is not for everyone. The types of dogs that are not well suited include long backed dogs with short legs such as Dachshunds, Shih tzus and Basset Hounds. Dogs with short muzzles that as a result find it harder to breathe, pant and cool themselves down (known as brachiocephalic breeds) are also not well suited to running. These include Pugs, French and English Bulldogs, Pekingese and Boston Terriers. Keep in mind that giant and heavy build breeds will take far more concussive impact through their joints when running so this type of exercise is not really appropriate for these guys either. Any dog that has orthopaedic complications (problems with their joints) or is over weight is better suited to gentle exercise regimes without the prolonged concussive impact of going for a run.

The age of your dog is also an important consideration. It is important that young dogs’ skeletons have developed and matured before they become your running buddy. This has usually taken place by 12-18 months of age. Similarly, older dogs may well find running overly intensive.

Once you are happy your dog is able to run with you, time to prepare for your run! Try to leave a gap of 1-2 hours before and after the run when feeding your dog. Also, just like us, dogs benefit from a warm up and cool down either side of the run. Keep your dog on the lead or walking with you for the first 10-15 minutes to allow their muscles to warm up and engage. Repeat this protocol after your run to help prevent muscles becoming stiff and sore. Finally, remember to bring water for your canine running buddy and poo bags of course!

Running on the road is highly concussive which has greater impact on joints so plan a route where you can run on grass or softer track. It is best to run with your dog off lead somewhere it is safe to do so, so that they are able to establish a comfortable easy running pace; and sniff and toilet when they need to. Remember this is their run too!

Also choose the time of day, route and length of run carefully – on hot days, it is worth taking it easy and maybe saving runs for cooler days, or early mornings and late evenings. If your pooch is new to running, start with shorter runs and build up slowly, allowing their strength and fitness to improve gradually.

Keeping these guidelines in mind will help you and your dog enjoy this activity together whilst reducing the risk of injury. Happy running for bipeds and quadrupeds alike!

Harnesses vs Collars

Here at Bach Canine Rehab, we regularly recommend that owners walk their dogs on a harness, rather than a collar. There are many reasons why we suggest this – so we thought – time for a blog!

Firstly, a collar round the neck, with a lead attached, will often end up with a dog pulling (we will explain why below….) and therefore putting pressure on his / her neck. There are many sensitive structures in the neck that do not like being squashed by a collar, including the trachea, crucial arteries, the oesophagus, the thyroid gland and lymph nodes, which could even end up being damaged if this situation happened frequently. In the adrenalin fueled moment of pulling after a squirrel, to greet another dog or to trying to get that bit of chicken bone left on the pavement, your dog will not feel the discomfort of the collar squashing these important structures, but will most likely feel it later. Collars also increase eye pressure, not comfortable for any dog but can be particularly dangerous for dogs with protruding eyes such as pugs or dogs with glaucoma.

Can you, hand on heart, say your dog never pulls on the lead? If no – then maybe a harness would be a good option?

On that subject – collars also can encourage, rather than prevent, pulling. When a dog leans into and pulls on a collar, they tend to make progress, whereas pulling on a harness tends to bring the front legs off the ground, and therefore feels less productive. Pulling into a collar is also very negative for dogs with shoulder or elbow issues, as it exacerbates the load on these joints. Because pulling into a collar disengages the hindlimbs (as all the work is done by the front legs), it is not helpful when trying to rehabilitate hindlimb injuries, as it discourages, rather than encourages, correct hindlimb engagement.

Harnesses with a front and back clip are ideal for using a “balance lead” technique, which can in itself limit or even stop pulling entirely – if you would like to know more about the balance lead technique, do ask us for more info and a demonstration!

On a safety note – collars, if they get caught on something, will strangle a dog. We know of a few dogs who have been badly hurt, and almost killed, because their collar got caught on something on a walk and choked them as they struggled to free themselves. Sounds dramatic, but it happens!

So, please consider whether a collar is the right item for your dog to wear, or whether he / she would actually be more comfortable in a well fitting harness. Remember, whatever you have on your dog, please ensure you have an ID tag with the right information included, and that your dog is microchipped, as is required by law.

We recommend the Perfect Fit Harness, from Dog Games, who are a great company to deal with and very happy to advise on sizing etc (they also come in a range of fab colours!) and also the Mekuti harness from mekuti.co.uk. Both of these harnesses include front clips, so are great for the balance lead technique.

Do speak to one of the Bach Canine Rehab team if you would like to know more about the benefits of harnesses!

Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia: a word few dog owners may be aware of. However, it describes a potentially fatal condition that could affect your dog, and even kill your dog. And if you allow your dog to swim, or play with the hose, it is a word you should definitely know the meaning of! It is the reason why we, at Bach Canine Rehab, are a bit weird about dogs having toys in the pool, especially tennis balls. It is the reason we may use a toy only as a lure, and not allow a dog to take the toy off the water line. It is the reason we may, if your dog demonstrates water catching or extreme drinking behaviour in the pool, opt to work in the underwater treadmill where these behaviours can be better controlled. So what is it?

Hyponatremia means low blood sodium levels, and can also be known in this format as water toxicity. It happens when the body takes on more water than it is able to process. This excess of water dilutes the extracellular fluid, causing electrolyte levels, particularly sodium, to drop. The cells then begin taking on more water, to maintain balance between outside and inside the cells, and so begin to swell. As sodium maintains blood pressure, nerve and muscle function, without it, the body’s systems begin to fail. Cells all over the body, including in the brain, begin to swell.

What symptoms does this cause? The dog can seem fine immediately after taking on a lot of water, but his/her condition will deteriorate quite rapidly, and they will show symptoms such as staggering / loss of co-ordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting and excessive salivation. If the dog has taken on a lot of water, these symptoms can progress to difficulty breathing, collapse, seizures, coma and death. If your dog displays any of the above symptoms after playing in water, contact your vet immediately.

So what relevance does this have, to us as dog owners, and as hydrotherapists? Dogs can very easily take on too much water if grabbing for toys off the waterline (whether in a pool, lake or pond), or if they like playing with the hosepipe in the garden.

How do we stop this happening? Well, this is why we get weird about toys in the water! And would also suggest that if you throw a ball for your dog to retrieve in a pond or lake on walks, you are very careful about how much, and how often. Tennis balls are particularly dangerous as they soak up a lot of water, which then sprays back down the dog’s mouth as they chew the ball. We would also advise not letting your dog play with the garden hose, especially if they enjoy biting at the spray.

Playing in water can be hugely beneficial and satisfying for your dog, particularly in hot spells – being aware of hyponatremia or water toxicity means you can enjoy the water with your dog, whilst being clued up on the risks!

Don’t just take our word for it: other blogs on hyponatremia:

http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2013/10/28/water-intoxification.aspx

http://fabulouspets.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/water-toxicity-or-hyponatremia-in-dogs.html

http://iheartdogs.com/you-must-read-this-before-letting-your-dog-play-in-the-water/

http://dogsaholic.com/care/water-intoxication-in-dogs.html

Tips for looking after your dog with arthritis

Finding out your best friend has arthritis and is getting older and slower can be upsetting, but there are ways and means you can support your dog, and help them be the best they can be!

Speak to your vet regarding suitable pain relief and any supplements that might help – there are lots of options out there so there is no need for your dog to be in pain or discomfort.

For old, arthritic joints, movement can be very helpful, so don’t stop the walks unless advised to do so by your vet. However, a long walk followed by the rest of the day on the sofa is guaranteed to lead to stiffness! So short, regular walks are the best way to avoid this. Walking little and often keeps joints moving and lubricated and avoids them stiffening up, which can be painful. If the weather is nice, sit outside a café, or in a park with your dog, so that they can be outside socialising without clocking up the miles!

Providing a suitable bed for your dog at home will help them to rest comfortably. An important thing to bear in mind when choosing a bed to support an arthritic dog is to find a balance between softness and support. If the bed is too firm, they may not find it comfortable however if it is too soft they may struggle to be able to get themselves up and out! Memory foam mattress style beds provide support without creating pressure points and are available in a range of styles and thicknesses. (Lots of options are available on the Internet or in your local pet store). Flat mattress style beds also allow your dog to rest lying flat without having to curl up or keep joints flexed, which may not be comfortable.

Unfortunately, playing with balls is very high impact exercise, so even if tennis balls are your dog’s favourite thing, avoiding this type of play will definitely help alleviate any flare ups of discomfort. Jumping in and out of the car, on and off the sofa, or running up and downstairs can produce high concussive forces on the joints, so try to avoid or provide support during these activities. For small dogs, lift them in these situations as much as possible – for larger dogs, consider a suitable harness, or even a car ramp, so that you can help support them without incurring your own injuries!

Keeping your elderly dog nice and trim will also mean less weight on sore joints, and will make life much easier and more comfortable for them. If you are struggling with weight loss, ask your vet as many vet practices run weight loss clinics.

More helpful advice can be found at https://www.caninearthritis.co.uk.