Your pet’s golden years: how to keep your pet mobile as long as possible

Hello and welcome to the first blog of Pawsitive Times!

We are glad you discovered us and are taking a moment to read our blog. Pawsitive Times is a blog about complementary healthcare for your pet. Our aim is to provide reliable, scientifically based, and proven information about complementary health care options. These options together with regular veterinary care, can improve your pet’s quality of life by keeping him or her mobile and comfortable for as long as possible. One clear message about our blog is that it is not about “alternative” therapies. We here at Pawsitive Times strive to work simultaneously with the veterinary community to provide a complete and safe treatment plan for your pet. In future blogs we will go into more detail regarding specific complimentary treatments, how they can be used to aid your pet in specific conditions, and much more. We hope you find this information interesting and will follow us in future postings!


Your pet’s golden years: how to keep your pet mobile as long as possible

Thanks to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, pets are living longer now than they ever have before.  One consequence of this is that pets, along with their owners and veterinarians, are faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. As a result, geriatric care for pets is becoming a primary focus in the veterinary world.  Geriatric dogs have specific medical and rehabilitation needs, linked to the increased prevalence of chronic conditions and the progressive loss of mobility.

When is my dog considered old? Multiple factors impact this.  Small dogs are generally considered geriatric around 11 years versus 7 years for giant breeds. Obesity, certain medical conditions, whether a dog is a mixed breed or a pure breed, and living conditions can also impact aging. Geriatric pets can develop many of the same problems seen in older people: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cognitive dysfunction to name a few. It is therefore very important that you talk to your veterinarian about age-related health issues and have your dog checked frequently.  Geriatric pets should be checked more often than just at yearly vaccine time.  More frequent veterinary exams can lead to detecting certain conditions early on, which can allow for early intervention in terms of management.

Signs of aging?  A common indication of an aging dog can be changes in behaviour.  These changes can include increased anxiety when left alone, increased reactions to sounds, changes in normal sleeping patterns, increased irritability, inappropriate urination, changes in appetite, and decreased mental alertness.   You as the owner have such a vital role in recognising any changes in your dog as you know them better than anyone.

Another sign of an aging dog can be a decrease in mobility, most likely due to osteoarthritis.

What is osteoarthritis? Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is the most common chronic-pain condition recognized in dogs. It is a progressive disorder that affects the joints and is caused by wear and tear of the components of the joint. It can affect dogs of any age or breed (certain breeds do seem more susceptible such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Rottweilers) but as age increases, and certainly with geriatric dogs, the probability of osteoarthritis causing noticeable clinical signs increases.

However it is important to know that osteoarthritis is not purely an old dog’s disease and can occur in young dogs as well, usually as a result of developmental issues.

Signs of your dog having osteoarthritis can be: lameness, stiffness, difficulty standing or rising, sleeping more, difficulty going up or down stairs, being hesitant to run, difficulty in jumping up, decreased activity or interest to play. The affected joints may appear thicker or swollen and can also be warm to the touch.  Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint and occurs particularly often in the hip, stifle, tarsus, carpus, shoulder and elbow as well as certain areas of the spine.

A dog with arthritis is in pain and a natural reaction as an owner is to want to help to reduce the actions that cause this pain. This often results in the dog being exercised less since the owner sees an increase in the clinical signs associated with osteoarthritis with activity. However, it is critical that dogs with this condition keep as active as possible as movement is necessary to lubricate the joints.  Less use of the joints can actually cause more stiffness and soreness which results in less movement which then results in more pain— a vicious circle!!  While activity for an arthritic dog does indeed need to be modified it is important to maintain a consistent level of activity on a daily basis.  For instance, several smaller walks through the day are much better than one longer walk.

It is also very important to maintain your pet at a healthy weight as obesity will contribute to the development, progression, and joint inflammation of osteoarthritis because of the excess force placed on joints.  It is so important to speak to your vet regarding your older dog’s nutrition needs. Your vet can also guide you in using daily joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin.

Physiotherapy and acupuncture for your pet? As osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, it cannot be cured or reversed. However, this does not mean that your dog has to become house-hound or just has to learn to live with the pain!

Your first point of contact is of course your vet.  Your vet will conduct an examination to determine if your dog has arthritis and will be able to prescribe pain medication. In addition, complimentary treatments such as acupuncture and physiotherapy are extremely beneficial in the management of this disease.

Physiotherapy helps in reducing pain by controlling inflammation, improving strength, building muscle, promoting the normal joint function, improving balance and flexibility and preventing muscle spasms. Physiotherapy will help break the potential cycle of inactivity that happens all too often with geriatric patients suffering from osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles in particular points throughout the body. It works on a neuro-physiological level by interrupting the chronic (long term) pain pathways established between the brain and the source of pain.  Acupuncture reduces inflammation, promotes relaxation, and releases endorphins and therefore breaks up the pain cycle and provides relief.  Another option within the realm of acupuncture is electro-acupuncture.  It works by attaching electrodes to the inserted needles and sending frequency impulses down the needles and into the tissues, providing a deeper and more intense treatment, which works very well in extremely painful animals.  Acupuncture can be used in combination with many different pain medications and can be integrated into many physiotherapy and rehabilitation programmes.

Animal Physiotherapy works in much the same way as widely recognized physiotherapy in human medicine and aims to relieve your dog’s pain, increase their strength and mobility and improve their independence. A physical therapist will be able to work with you and your dog, tailoring a rehabilitation program to your dogs needs, and also explaining home exercises. Physiotherapy is an established therapy in the treatment of pets with osteoarthritis. Common treatments used are heat and cold therapy, laser, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, massage, stretching and therapeutic exercises.

Hydrotherapy has been recognized to be very efficient in the treatment to manage arthritis. The use of an underwater treadmill is one of the best activities for arthritic dogs, as it is developed to help reduce the amount of weight that the dog supports during activity. The underwater treadmill is specifically designed for dogs. The treadmill is a controlled environment that allows dogs to be introduced to the water slowly.  The water temperature can be set up to a comfortable 36 degrees. The warm water relaxes the joints and muscles, while the pressure of water assists in reducing swelling. The buoyancy of the warm water reduces impact on joints, allowing for safe exercise. Then as the treadmill is moving, the resistance of water stretches and works muscles more effectively than exercise on land. The end result is safe, efficient, reduced weight bearing exercise. Most dogs, even the water shy ones, will get used to the underwater treadmill and come to enjoy their session, often to the surprise of their owners.

Your pet’s environment? Whenever possible older dogs should be moved from a cold, damp environment (outdoors), to a warm, dry environment (indoors). A soft and thickly padded bed should be provided. If you have slippery floors, provide your dog with a non-slip trail through the house.  Frequent nail trims and keeping the hair between the paw pads short can aid in traction. Paw waxes, nail grips, or sprays promoting traction are available to help prevent slipping.  Portable ramps are available to help your dog get in and out of the car or up onto and down off of furniture. Dogs with arthritis that need assistance to stand or walk can benefit from devices such as slings, harnesses or carts.

Pictures courtesy of Lisbeth Ganer Photography