Walking our family dogs with my Dad is one of the things I look forward to the most when I go home.
But as our family dogs are getting older their joints are becoming stiffer and their mobility isn’t as good as it used to be. It is so hard to watch our pets go from bouncy puppies to older dogs in such a short space of time.
So, when my Dad asked for my advice on natural ways he could help our dogs I was happy to pass on what I knew from my years in veterinary practice. So, from my family to yours I hope the following information may help you and your pets
Keep ‘em moving!
It seems instinctive when we see our dogs limping that they should rest. And indeed if it is a sudden onset of limping this may be exactly what is needed.
Perhaps you have a younger dog that has overdone it at the park or on an energetic run; in that case rest for 3-4 days may be key. It may be enough to allow their bodies to recover from a minor injury. In all cases of sudden limping, it is always recommended to have your dog checked by a veterinarian.
In older dogs showing signs of stiffness and reduced mobility though, it is good to keep them active. The reason for this is that as dogs become stiff, they avoid using those joints and the muscle in those areas can weaken. Dogs that don’t move can become stiffer as time goes on and so the cycle begins.
The type of activity is super important though, so here are a few tips:
- Exercise should be gentle and regular. You know your dog best so you are the best judge of the amount of exercise he can handle. Two 20 minutes walks around the block is likely to be better than one 40 minute walk.
- Walks should be on the lead in order to avoid sudden, jerky movements.
- Avoid throwing balls and frisbees as this will result in jumping which may aggravate stiff joints.
- Swimming, or hydrotherapy is a great exercise for all dogs but especially those with reduced mobility.
- Speak to your vet about what exercise they think your older dog can handle.
Hydrotherapy – lets go swimming!
Hydrotherapy can work wonders for all dogs but especially those with mobility challenges. It is also a fantastic way to help an overweight dog to lose weight.
So, what is hydrotherapy? Can I just swim my dog in a lake?
Hydrotherapy is more involved than just swimming; dedicated hydrotherapy facilities tailor exercise sessions specifically for your dog’s needs and abilities.
In many cases your dog may only be in the water for 5-10 minutes, gradually increasing exercise intervals over time. Some pools work with treadmills under the water and others may involve jets, which create resistance for your dog to work against.
Benefits of hydrotherapy include:
- Increases general exercise
- Can help older dogs with stiff joints
- May help dogs who are limping
- Can improve stamina in show and agility dogs
- Assist weight loss
- And not to mention that most dogs love hydrotherapy so it’s another fun thing to do with your pet!
Shed the pounds
It is so common for dogs to be overweight these days. Sometimes we don’t even notice that a dog is overweight as we become used to looking at certain breeds as looking a bit rounded; Labradors are a classic example. Dogs who have reduced mobility will find it even more difficult if they are carrying extra weight. Having your dog at an ideal weight will not only benefit his joints but also his heart and other body systems.
It is recommended to speak with your veterinarian who will not only weigh your dog but will also be assess your dog’s body score. Your vet will then be able to advise you on the best diet and exercise routine in order to shed the excessive pounds.
An overweight dog that has mobility issues can find exercise difficult so hydrotherapy becomes even more useful as it will not put any pressure on the joints. Learn more about the Alarming Consequences of Pet Obesity.
Making life a little easier
Take a walk in your dog’s paws and take a look around your house and see if there are small adjustments you can make to make your pet’s life a little easier. A few examples are:
- Soft bedding – a soft bed can make all the difference to a dog with stiff joints. There are even memory foam dog beds, which are a real treat!
- Slip-free flooring – hardwood floors and tiles can be slippery and difficult for dogs with mobility issues. Consider putting down area rugs to help your dog move a little easier.
- Steps or ramps – if your dog gets in and out of the car frequently a ramp may help to make it a lot easier for your dog. If you have stairs in your house there are also ramps and cubes specifically designed to make this task easier for your dog. For more information on soft cubes for stairs, ramps and more check out Puppy Stairs.
Treat him to a massage
Just like for people there are professional massage therapists who can massage your dog and help to ease stiff joints. You can also learn how to massage your dog yourself on a more regular basis to provide additional relief. Massage may help to increase flexibility, circulation and overall wellbeing.
Give him a brush
Older dogs may find it more difficult to groom themselves than they once did. Grooming on a regular basis can help to remove mats and dead hair especially from more difficult to reach places. And why not give him a massage at the same time!
Traditional Chinese medicine is thousands of years old and one of the main treatment methods used is acupuncture. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very small needles into specific acupuncture points. These points contain nerve bundles and blood vessels and are said to course over the body’s surface creating energy channels. One of the aims of acupuncture is to correct any energy imbalances with the aim of allowing the body to heal itself.
Acupuncture can enhance blood circulation, nervous system stimulation, and the release of pain-relieving hormones. In regards to stiff joints and reduced mobility, acupuncture can stimulate the release of the pet’s own pain relieving substances and relax muscles which may result in a local and generalized pain relieving effect.
So, will it hurt? Will my pet sit there quietly for the acupuncture session?
This is a common question and more often than not pets accept acupuncture readily and actually seem quite relaxed during the sessions. The needles are very small so most pets don’t even notice them going in.
I took my cat Oliver to a traditional Chinese medicine veterinarian for acupuncture on many occasions as he was having trouble getting up the stairs. He loved the sessions. The needles were in for about 15 minutes in total and he purred the whole time; in fact I had to stop him rolling over for tummy rubs so as not to knock out the needles!
Most importantly acupuncture doesn’t have any side effects and will not interfere with any prescription medications or supplements. If you are interested in acupuncture for your pet it would be best to speak to your veterinarian for a referral to a qualified veterinary acupuncturist.
Go to the Vet
In all cases if you feel that your once-energetic friend is slowing down or having trouble with the stairs it is best to get him checked by your vet to ensure that there is nothing more serious going on. Your vet will be able to examine your dog and offer the best advice for your individual dog.