𝗜𝗳 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝗮 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗶𝗼𝗿 𝗱𝗼𝗴...𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗽𝗼𝘀𝘁 𝗶𝘀 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘆𝗼𝘂! .
Tara Monahan from Canine Fitness Innovations shares with us about Senior dogs and how small changes can improve their lives.
Over the past few months, I've had an above-average number of senior dog owners contact me in the hope that I can work with their dog who has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Many of them are desperate to do anything they possibly can to improve their senior dog's quality of life. Their commitment to their dogs reaffirms my belief in the inherent goodness of humans, but I feel so bad because many of them are at a loss in terms of the next steps...so hopefully, this helps.
A dog who can move comfortably is able to participate in family life, access various areas of the house and back yard, defecate independently, walk, and play.
But what can be done
to establish and maintain mobility?
𝟏. how do you know if your dog has arthritis - 𝐄𝐚𝐫𝐥𝐲 𝐈𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧
I'm a huge advocate of recognizing and addressing mobility issues early, but too often early signs of discomfort are dismissed simply because dogs communicate and provide feedback differently than humans do. Typical signs of pain I ask my clients to watch for include:
a) 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐬 𝐢𝐧 𝐠𝐚𝐢𝐭. You may notice that your dog has slowed down, or is limping or bunny hopping.
b) 𝐃𝐢𝐟𝐟𝐢𝐜𝐮𝐥𝐭𝐲 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐬. For example, they may be slow to get up from laying down, or hesitant to sit.
c) 𝐀𝐯𝐨𝐢𝐝𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞. This is one of the biggest ways that dogs communicate with us, but it's often dismissed as stubbornness. You may find your dog avoiding specific parts of your house, such as the stairs or slippery floors. You may find that they start to avoid jumping on furniture or into the car, or hide when it's time to go for a walk. They may choose not to participate in activities like playing fetch or going for walks. They may avoid the family in general, and hide in quiet rooms.
d) 𝐁𝐞𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐬. You may notice your dog sleeping more, and possibly either ignoring or growling at family members (canine and human). Your dog may lick their joints obsessively, or start trembling or shaking unexpectedly. They may vocalize unexpectedly, for example, when changing position.
e) 𝐒𝐭𝐫𝐮𝐜𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐥 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐬. You may notice changes in your dog's stance or a change in muscle mass. Unfortunately, when we see a dog every day, it can be really difficult to notice these changes. It can be helpful to look at pictures from the past to compare or ask a friend/dog trainer/groomer etc. if they have noticed any changes.
f) 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐬 𝐢𝐧 𝐮𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐫 𝐝𝐞𝐟𝐞𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬. You may notice your dog struggling to defecate or urinate, especially with squatting or leg lifting. Your dog may start having accidents in the house or need to go to the washroom more frequently.
g) 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐛𝐞𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐚𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐝𝐨𝐠𝐬 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐬𝐞𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐝. This is really important to watch, especially if the behavior change results in aggressive behavior toward the senior dog.
h) 𝐈𝐬 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐠𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞’𝐬 𝐚𝐧 𝐢𝐬𝐬𝐮𝐞? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it's a starting point. If your gut is telling you there's an issue - listen and make the vet appointment.
Recognize and react early.
𝟐. how to help a dog with arthritis - 𝐕𝐞𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐑𝐞𝐬𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐜𝐞𝐬
Your veterinarian can be a fantastic source of information when it comes to “next steps.” I strongly suggest walking in with a list of talking points in hand and doing your research in advance. This will ensure all your concerns are addressed, but will also ensure you are being respectful of the vet’s time.
Subjects to discuss with your Vet include:
What can you give a dog for arthritis?
a) 𝐍𝐮𝐭𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧. There are foods specifically designed to improve mobility, such as Hills J/D. Some vets’ offices also have qualified nutritionists on site who can provide appropriate advice.
b) 𝐒𝐮𝐩𝐩𝐥𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬: There are a lot of supplements on the market that cost a lot of money, but have absolutely no proven impact on osteoarthritis. Two interesting supplements that I’m currently following the science on (studies posted below, but more are available through Google Scholar) are Green Lipped Mussel (available in supplements like YuMOVE), which improve the mobility of osteoarthric dogs, and Fortetropin (available in supplements like Myos Canine Muscle Formula), which can reduce muscle atrophy. Your vet is more likely to be up to date on the current science than I am, and will likely have other suggestions which would be appropriate for your dog.
What medicine can I give my dog for arthritis?
c) 𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧: Before attending the appointment with your vet, I suggest doing some research on available medication for canine osteoarthritis. There are quite a few options available, and if one doesn’t work for your dog, talk to your vet about trying an alternative approach. Knowledge is power, and if you can walk into your vet’s office with a basic understanding of potential medications, their likely benefits, and potential side effects, it’s easier to have a fruitful discussion regarding next steps.
d) 𝐀𝐝𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐜𝐞𝐬: Depending on your location and the amenities available to you, you may also want to discuss resources such as laser therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, a referral to a CCRP/CCRT, or any other resource available to you. Again, I suggest doing your research in advance on Google Scholar to find reliable information about the efficacy of various treatment options so that your conversation with your vet is as productive as possible.
𝟑. 𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐂𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐯𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐬 for older dogs
Complementary care integrates with conventional medicine, but it’s important to note that it does not replace conventional medicine. Examples of complementary care services that may be helpful for a dog with osteoarthritis include massage, conditioning, chiropractic care, and hydrotherapy.
As a complementary care provider focused on conditioning and massage, I can tell you that massage can reduce stiffness and compensatory stress while improving range of motion, which positively impacts mobility. Conditioning can improve proprioception, balance, and flexibility, and reduce muscle atrophy, thereby improving functional wellness. The really nice thing about an effective conditioning plan is that it can build muscle more effectively and comfortably than a traditional walk - the dogs truly enjoy it. When pursuing complementary care modalities, it’s important to ensure that the people who are working with your dog have the appropriate qualifications and experience. Depending on your location and other circumstances, a veterinary referral may be necessary.
what can you do to help a dog with arthritis?
4. 𝐃𝐨𝐜𝐮𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 - and not just with words - consider photos and videos as well. Watch for changes in your dog’s mobility - what makes it worse? What makes it better? This documentation will provide a path forward and can be a very helpful resource when talking to your vet. It may take multiple vet appointments to find a combination of medication/food/supplements/complementary care/treatment that works for your dog - and that’s okay. You and your vet are collaborators, and the more information you can provide to your vet, the better they can adjust their approach to meet your dog’s needs.
𝟓. 𝐇𝐨𝐮𝐬𝐞𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐌𝐨𝐝𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 for Senior Dogs
Your senior dog likely spends the vast majority of their time in the house or yard, and there is SO MUCH that can be done to make their lives more comfortable.
"how to help a dog with arthritis at home?"
a) If you have laminate flooring, hardwood, tiles, vinyl, or any other type of slippery flooring, consider laying down rugs or yoga mats. Even if you think your senior dog is fine on the slippery surfaces, try laying down some rugs - you may be shocked at how much your dog gravitates to the textured surface.
b) Consider trying elevated food and water bowls. As each of my dogs has aged, I’ve found that they appreciate an elevated food bowl. When a dog’s head is lowered, the weight shifts to its front assembly (which already bears approximately 60% of its weight). If any of the joints in the front assembly are sore, lowering the head to eat can increase that discomfort.
c) Changes in elevation can be particularly challenging for a dog with osteoarthritis. Whether it’s the steps to go from the deck to the lawn, the stairs to go from the rec room to the kitchen, or the leap required to move from the floor to the couch, bed or vehicle, these changes in elevation can provide painful challenges to dogs with osteoarthritis. Consider the mental impact this can have on a dog as well, if the dog can’t accompany family members as they move to different areas of the household, or struggle to sit beside you on the couch as you watch TV. If you have a small dog, you can often carry them (just make sure they don’t fall or jump off furniture), but for larger dogs more innovation is required. Some of my clients have built long ramps with a gradual slope, others have changed their stairs to decrease the rise and increase the run. Others have changed where they let their dog out, bringing them out through a door that leads directly to the ground. I’ve had clients think outside the box, and simply change how they use their living space, using the living room on the main floor as a rec room so their dog doesn’t feel left out when the family is watching a movie or playing a video game. Other clients have changed their bedroom to the main floor for the same reason. Many clients have incorporated pieces of furniture that allow for easier transitions between the floor and beds or couches, such as ottomans with varied heights. I don’t generally recommend the commercially designed pet stairs for any dogs except for the smallest, due to the steep slope and limited depth of the runner. However, there are talented builders on Etsy and in towns everywhere who have the ability to build furniture that will work well for your pets.
d) A comfortable bed is also important for a dog with osteoarthritis. Many prefer bolstered, supportive beds that are easy to get onto and off of, but ultimately listen to your dog. If they like a firm, bolstered beds - great. If they like softer, flatbeds, also great! You can find more information in our blog Top 5 beds for Senior dogs.
𝟔. 𝐏𝐡𝐲𝐬𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐥 𝐌𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞
It’s important to maintain your dog’s nails and coat in their senior years. Long nails can further impact their stance and gait, and matted hair can pull on skin that may already be extremely sensitive. Regular dental care will ensure they can continue to eat comfortably, which is important for proper nutrition. Maintaining an appropriate weight is also important - as weight decreases, the pressure placed on joints also decreases, You can find multiple studies on the impact of weight loss on osteoarthritis in humans on Google Scholar.
𝟕. 𝐌𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐚𝐥 𝐇𝐞𝐚𝐥𝐭𝐡
One of my clients’ biggest concerns, when I talk to them about their senior dogs, is their mental health. They often feel guilty because their dogs can’t accompany them to certain areas of the house, or go on car rides, or enjoy long walks. Household adaptations resolve some of those concerns, but what else can be done?
I encourage my clients to incorporate sensory walks instead of always going on purposeful/destination walks. If they have the ability to put their dog in the car and drive to the destination, I encourage that approach instead of walking to the destination since it will preserve energy. Otherwise, I ask them to choose a park or trail close to home. On these sensory walks, the sole goal is to enjoy your time with your dog.
Use a long line if possible, and allow your dog to walk at the speed they want, sniff what they to sniff, and rest when they want to rest.
A piece of equipment that can be helpful for transporting dogs to various locations is a pet trailer. These trailers can be attached to a bike or pushed while walking or jogging. It’s a great way of allowing your dog to spend time with you, see the outside world, and get them to a destination where you will both enjoy walking.
Look for classes in your area that cater to senior dogs. Locally, Pawsitively Social offers a class specifically designed for seniors called “Senior Moments”. If you can’t find a class offered for seniors, contact the class organizer and ask if they have classes that would be ideal for your dog - options may include trick, nose work, or conditioning classes. This will allow you to continue to bond with your pet and stimulate them mentally while working within their capabilities.
If you live in a household with multiple dogs, it can be easy to forget the seniors. Please don’t. Set aside time for them, even if that time consists of you petting them and telling them how much you love them, or laying beside them in the back yard.
"These seniors have given us their time,
patience, and adoration for years and years
- now it’s time to pay it back."
Here are a few resources that clients have found to be incredibly helpful:
a) Canine Arthritis Management: https://www.facebook.com/CAMarthritis
b) Holly’s Army: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2161091580843717
c) Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/
**I’m including this here because there is so much information available - all you have to do is research.
𝗥𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗺𝗯𝗲𝗿: 𝗬𝗼𝘂 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗱𝗼𝗴'𝘀 𝗯𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗮𝗱𝘃𝗼𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗲, 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝗮𝗻 𝗶𝗺𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗮𝗻𝘁 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘃𝗮𝗹𝘂𝗲𝗱 𝗰𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗮𝗯𝗼𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗼𝗿 𝗶𝗻 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗱𝗼𝗴'𝘀 𝗰𝗮𝗿𝗲, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗸𝗻𝗼𝘄𝗹𝗲𝗱𝗴𝗲 𝗶𝘀 𝗽𝗼𝘄𝗲𝗿.
A few interesting links to get you started on your research:
**This is just a starting point - there are many more excellent resources available.