Keeping your dog fit and healthy into old age is the priority of most loving owners. However, did you know that the pain and loss of mobility that many dogs experience, sometimes quite early in life can be avoided or held off until later in life.
I have many older dogs that are brought to me for treatment because they are suffering from pain, stiffness and arthritis. This is great for the dogs, treatment can help ease the symptoms that many of us feel as we age, but did you know that having your dog treated on a regular maintenance schedule twice a year can help prevent these signs until later in life, if they occur at all.
Arthritis cannot be reversed either by physical therapy or veterinary treatment, the best we can hope for is that careful treatment including muscle strengthening, weight management, physical therapy and pain control we can ensure our dogs have a good quality of life as they age, but why do some dogs become plagued with joint injuries, while others seem to age remarkably well.
The Pain Spiral.
It is important to understand how injury can affect the body in the long term.
When an animal injures themselves, no matter how minor, the following chain of events will occur. Say your dog took a tumble while catching a ball or crashed into another dog while playing, accidents such as these can cause minor muscle strains or bruises that your dog will recover from quickly. However, it is hardwired in our dogs to subtly change the way they move when they have pain in their bodies.
For instance, once the bruising and muscle strain have occurred, the dog will walk by putting less weight on the injured area or leg, even if the pain is minor and doesn’t cause overt lameness. This helps to rest the area and allow it to heal.
Now for the important bit, the dog will continue to move with this altered gait, even when the pain has gone, with less weight being carried on the now healed leg, and more on another leg. The mechanism that helped the body to heal, can now cause further injury if this compensatory pattern isn’t addressed.
At first, the dog is fine moving like this, but over time the muscles that are being overworked will begin to get tight and tired, the muscles that the dog has been guarding will begin to atrophy.
The dog now has to try and guard the sore, overworked muscles, but the brain has shut down communication through the nervous system to the area that was originally injured, so the dog will compensate by moving weight to a different leg, putting the pressure it is trying to relive in two other legs onto one leg. Often it is at this point that the dog may begin to appear intermittently lame, reluctant to play as it used to or become slower on walks, he may glance at the painful area, be more prone being bad tempered or show other changes in behaviour or temperament.
You can see how this cycle over time can cause increased pressure on joints in limbs that are compensating, this is often the cause of early arthritis in dogs.
Preventing This Cycle.
It is important to prevent this downward spiral of pain and lameness before irreversible changes occur within the joints or ligaments. Regular treatment with a properly qualified practitioner such as a McTimoney practitioner can help remove these minor strains and effectively “reset” the body into it’s most efficient way of moving.
For this to happen the dog should receive regular treatment throughout its life, this will help to prevent the onset of damaging compensation cycles and help prevent mobility issues as the dog ages. Regular treatment doesn’t mean monthly, usually twice yearly is enough to keep the musculoskeletal system working in good order. The other advantage to regular check ups with a professional is that any underlying or more serious issues are likely to be picked up sooner and referred back to the vet in order to get treatment, which would give a better prognosis for recovery. This is especially true of very active dogs, or those that compete, who may pick up minor injuries, but mask them due to the excitement of competing and training.
Getting your dog treated on a maintenance schedule will help prevent minor injuries from becoming more serious and help prevent mobility issues later in life.