Here at Bach Canine Rehab, we often recommend some home adjustments or changes of management for our owners and canine patients. Some of these changes are specific to the patient and their circumstances however many of these suggestions are beneficial to the majority of our canine friends so we thought we would let you know about a few easy home adjustments that could help your dog to stay comfortable and mobile!
As veterinary physiotherapists, we look at the way dogs move, their posture and how they load their limbs. A correct loading pattern for most healthy dogs is to distribute 60% of their body weight over their forelimbs and 40% of their weight over their hindlimbs. Sometimes this balance of weight distribution gets disrupted either by injury or sometimes by repetition of particular activities that encourage overloading of particular structures. For example, feeding your dog from the floor requires your dog to increase the load on the forelimbs. If your dog has any stiffness or soreness in their neck or forelimb joints this may not be comfortable. Equally, if your dog has any stiffness or discomfort in the hindlimbs they may well already be overloading the forelimbs to compensate so a stressed structure is put under more strain. By raising food and water bowls off the floor so that your dog can keep their head and back level, you will encourage more even limb loading, reducing stress on the forelimbs and encouraging correct use of the muscles in the hindlimbs.
Another situation where we often see a change in limb loading is when dogs pull on the lead. When a dog is pulling, they tend to lower their heads and increase the load on the forelimbs to pull themselves along, towing you along behind them! This can make walk times particularly uncomfortable both for you and your dog. We will often suggest trying a technique called balance lead walking using a two-point control harness. This is a training technique, not an instant fix however it works by applying forces on key points of control on the dog’s body to give the signal to slow down or stop. This means that you need much less force on the lead to give an effective signal so you and your dog can stop having a tug of war every time you go out! It also means that you can give your dog the signal to slow down without pulling them off balance, again encouraging more even limb loading. More information on balance lead walking can be found on our Collars vs Harnesses blog on our website and Facebook page, and at www.mekuti.co.uk. There are a few different 2-point control harness brands available but one of our favourites is called the Perfect Fit harness (www.dog-games-shop.co.uk).
Features of our homes can sometimes be challenging or pose an increased risk of injury to our dogs. For example, lots of dogs slip on hard floors, especially tiles or wood. This is a particular challenge for older dogs or dogs that are weak or recovering from an injury or surgery. However, it can also contribute to causing an injury in young dogs if they race around the house, slipping and sliding as they go! We often recommend using runner mats to provide a bit of a non-slip track around the house. Areas that we would prioritise with non-slip solutions are where you have changes of surface and especially if that is combined with change of level i.e. coming down carpeted stairs or jumping off a sofa on to a hard floor. Another area we would recommend thinking about is where your dog eats and drinks to ensure they can stand comfortably and confidently at this time.
Going up and down the stairs can also be a risky business. If you are going to allow your dog free access to the stairs it is worth taking the time to train them to go slowly and avoid encouraging them to race up or down. If the sound of someone coming home through the front door is always going to set your pooch off tearing down the stairs and skidding across the hallway into the front door it’s probably best that they don’t get to go up the stairs in the first place. Doing stairs well requires a strong core and good range of motion in the joints. If your dog is a bit stiff, doing the stairs may well make them more uncomfortable. If your dog is a bit weak, they are more likely to struggle and potentially fall and hurt themselves. If your dog has to do the stairs because of the set up of your home, you can support them on the way up with your hands under their seat bones, found either side of their tail. On the way down, you could use a harness to help slow them down and keep the descent controlled. If they are small enough you may well just choose to carry them, but remember to brace your own core so you don’t end up with an injury! If you have areas with a small number of stairs, such as getting in/out of the garden or up to doorways, you could consider a ramp with a non-slip surface.
So now your home is sorted, what about exercise? Going out for a walk together is one of the great joys of having a dog. However, in order to make sure this activity stays a joy, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The length of your walk should be in line with what your dog is capable of. This can sometimes be a tricky thing to work out, particularly as many dogs will over-exercise quite happily at the time. Keep an eye out for a change of pace – does your dog slow down significantly towards the end of a walk? Do they stop and sit or lie down? Make a mental note of how long you have been out if you notice either of these changes and try keeping your next walk within that time frame. If the slowing down or resting doesn’t happen anymore with these shorter walks this probably means that they actually had a lower exercise tolerance than you thought. Keeping the walks within their tolerance will reduce the risk of muscle fatigue and, in turn, reduce the risk of injury. We also have a blog on running with your dog, and how to do so safely – see our website or Facebook page!
Many people think that limiting your walks means limiting the time you can be out and about with your dog – but this is not the case! Being out meeting people and other dogs is very stimulating for your canine friend, so on a nice day, take a picnic and a blanket to the park, or sit in a café together. Scent and stimulation games (such as hiding treats for your dog to find, or a Snufflemat) are great for engaging your dog’s brain and therefore tiring them out mentally without overloading their muscles and joints, so if you are restricted on how much walking you can do, try to think up other games and puzzles you and your dog can play together.
These are the main areas we find we discuss with our clients, to help improve your dog’s quality of life and also ensure you can still enjoy your time together. If you would like to talk through anything with us, or discuss how we could help your dog further, do get in touch!
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!
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: 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:
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.