8-year old neutered male Basset Hound Pluto, who first came to us in September 2018, has taught us so much in terms of just how connected pain, posture and behaviour are that we had to share our experience.
Pluto came with a warning of aggressive behaviour towards people and animals, and that he would snap with little warning. He was a rescue case, having been with his owners for 18 months, and a history of 7 homes and fosters, spread across the world, including South Africa!

His medical history was long, with lameness on all 4 legs, and osteoarthritis pretty much everywhere – thickened, swollen joints, crepitus, meniscus damage in his stifles, disc degeneration in his spine – the list went on. Over a period of 12 months, Pluto’s owners had been working with their vets, trying many iterations of different pain medication to find a workable combination. Attempts to reduce his pain medication had always resulted in a deterioration in his behaviour, and an increase in his aggression.

When we first met Pluto, he had a left hindlimb lameness, a sway-back (official term – lordosis) denoting poor core musculature and was very low over his forelimbs – even for a Basset! His front paws were swollen and misshapen with arthritis, with his elbows abducted away from his body, and notable carpal valgus (turned out front paws). His owners warned us that he was occasionally muzzled by the vets and can react very quickly.

We started a slow programme of therapy with Pluto and advised his owners to reduce his use of stairs, but when it was necessary, to take some of his weight to reduce impact on his forelimbs and spine. As we were unable to get our hands on him without potentially upsetting him and causing a reaction, we treated him with pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. We also knew that having a person he did not know in the treadmill with him (we get in with all our patients), was not going to work for Pluto, so his owner Stephen got in with him instead, and we instructed from the outside. We built proprioceptive track courses, to improve his proprioception, activate joint range of motion and improve gait patterning.

Over time, Pluto became more and more relaxed at our clinic. As he relaxed, and we were able to do more comprehensive treatments, including class 3b laser therapy and some alignment techniques applied from outside of the treadmill, we noticed improvements in Pluto’s posture. He became more upright on his front legs with better elbow and carpal alignment, his spinal posture improved, and his left hindlimb lameness reduced. Along with this, we also noted a difference in Pluto’s behaviour. He became more playful in clinic, pleased to see us and much less “stare-y”. However, the biggest improvement was in his home life. His owners report that he is a very different dog. They have even been able to take him to the pub for lunch – something they could never do with him before as he was so reactive.

A change in routine and reduction in therapy over Christmas saw Pluto’s mobility decline slightly, his posture reverted to the more lordotic, low over his forelimbs and carpal valgus positioning we had seen initially, and, unsurprisingly, his mood deteriorated, and he became grumpier and growly again. Luckily, this only lasted a short while, and he quickly got back on track. His owners have reiterated to us that the physiotherapy and impact-reduction have had an astounding effect on his behaviour, communication and quality of life.

Pluto has reinforced to us that pain, posture and behaviour cannot be separated. Dogs – and in fact most animals – are not naturally “grumpy”. A dog that suddenly starts growling if a certain part of them is touched, or becomes defensive around other dogs, may well have a pain issue worth investigating with your vet. Movement patterns are also significant and must be taken into account. Dogs don’t limp, or move in a compromised way, for no reason. A change in gait will generally be pain related. If your dog starts to seem grumpier, enjoy their activities less, and seems to be slowing down – don’t just accept “they are getting old”. Speak to your vet.

Pluto has also taught us what can be achieved with patience, love, understanding and a proper home care programme. Pluto was once almost on death row due to his behaviour – and to see him now is heart-warming and is why we do the job we do. We love seeing you Pluto!