Monday, March 7, 2016

The Golden Years

You just brought home your brand new puppy. He's so full of energy, constantly keeping you on your toes, that you get worn out just thinking about it. But as the days get longer, and the years pass by, his energy will start to fade, and you must be prepared to care for his aches and pains. No one enjoys thinking about "The Golden Years", however they are just as important as the "Terrible Twos". 

Nathalie Janssen, a certified Animal Physiotherapist and Canine Sports Massage Therapist, and Dr. Theresa Miceli, a qualified veterinarian who specializes in veterinary Acupuncture, are partners at Fitdog and shared their professional expertise on "How to keep your pet mobile as long as possible".
What are the facts?
Thanks to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, pets are living longer now that 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 developing and gaining in importance as more expertise on this subject is being gained. 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 such as size of the animal: small dogs are generally considered geriatric around 11 years, versus 7 years for giant breeds. Obesity, mixed versus pure bred breeds and living conditions can also impact aging.

Geriatric pets can develop many of the same problems seen in older people: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthrosis and senility 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.

What are the signs of aging? 
Before any medical signs become apparent, behavioral changes can serve as important indicators that something is changing in your older pet. As your pet's owner, you serve a critical role in detecting early signs of disease as you know better than no other what your pet’s normal behavior is. As a pet parent you might see changes in your dog such as reduced mobility, changes in sleeping patterns, increased reaction to sounds, increased barking, increased irritability or anxiety, incontinence, changed appetite, and decreased mental alertness and interaction with humans.

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 breed (certain breeds do seem more susceptible such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Rottweilers) and age, but as age increases, and certainly with geriatric dogs, the probability of this causing clinical signs, increases. However it is important to know that osteoarthritis is not purely an old dog’s disease and can incur in young dogs as well. Signs of your dog having osteoarthritis can be: favoring a limb, showing lameness or stiffness, difficulty standing or rising, sleeping more, being hesitant to run, jump or climb stairs, weight gain, decreased activity or interest to play, behavioral changes such as irritability, and being less alert. The affected joints can appear thicker or swollen. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint but the most common to suffer are the hip, knee, ankle, toes, shoulder and elbow as well as certain areas of the spine.

As a dog with arthrosis is in pain, a natural reaction as an owner is to help to reduce the actions that causes this pain. This often results in pets being exercised less since movement causes pain. However, it is critical that dogs with this condition keep moving as movement is necessary to lubricate the joints and keep them healthy. All too often, dogs will otherwise fall back in a vicious circle of pain, resulting in less movement which in the end results in more pain. It is important to maintain a consistent level of activity on a daily basis, several smaller walks followed by rest periods, are better than one long walk or only weekend walks.

It is also very important to maintain your pet to a healthy weight as obesity in pets may contribute to inflammation and the development and progression of osteoarthritis because of the excess forces placed on joints. This may lead to inactivity and hence further development of obesity. Speak to your vet regarding nutrition, your dog’s weight and potential supplements such as chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine.

Can physiotherapy and acupuncture help?  
As osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, it cannot be cured or reversed. However, this does not mean that your pet has to become housebound or just has to learn to live with this pain! There are therapies available that reduce the speed of the deterioration and will keep your pet mobile and manage their pain for as long as possible. Your first point of access is of course your vet, who will be able to determine if indeed your dog has arthrosis and will be able to indicate if medication or another treatment is necessary. In addition to this, physical therapy techniques and acupuncture can be used to manage this disease. Physiotherapy assists to reduce pain, control inflammation, improve strength, balance and flexibility, prevent muscle spasms and help restore the normal joint function. 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 by interrupting the chronic (long term) pain pathways established between the brain and the source of pain. Electro-acupuncture works by attaching electrodes to the needles and sending frequency impulses down 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 physio/rehabilitation programs.

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 arthrosis. 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 at 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.

What is the best environment for my pet?  
Whenever possible older dogs should be moved from a cold, damp environment (outdoors), to a warm, dry environment (indoors). A soft, padded bed should be provided and a warm-water pillow under the blankets provides heat that may reduce morning stiffness. If you have slippery floors, good footing such as mats, can avoid slipping and falling. Frequent nail trims and keeping the hair between the paw pads short can aid traction. Paw waxes or sprays promoting traction are available to help prevent slipping. Try to keep your dog on the floor to avoid him from jumping up or down of furniture. Portable ramps are available to assist dogs, if needed, to get into and out of cars. Dogs with arthrosis that need assistance to rise or walk, can benefit from devises such as slings, harnesses or carts.


  1. Just like people - same problems, same medicines, same kind of therapies and hopefully, the same kind of good results!

  2. This article taught me a few things about my dog!

  3. This article taught me a few things about my dog!