My Dog is Just Old…Old Pet Tricks

My Dog is Just Old…

Quite frequently I hear this comment from clients and even from people active in the practice of animal health and science.  I provide a mobile rehabilitation and conditioning service to encourage better recovery after surgery or otherwise improve quality of life through functional rehabilitation. Roughly 80% of my client base is elderly dogs, usually with orthopedic and/or neuro issues.  Following are some short comments on beneficial treatments for aging pets:….Any fitness/rehabilitation/conditioning/bodywork program should be collaborated with your pets regular veterinarian, i.e., they should be in the loop. This may be accomplished by having your veterinarian refer you to me or by my contacting the vet after you have contacted me should you desire to work hands-on with me as a rehabilitation and conditioning specialist.  Dachshunds flying off couches is not the same as plyometrics training, and many owners may not know the risks or benefits to either activity!  So make sure to include your primary care veterinarian in your plans to have additional therapies practiced on your pets….. In addition to #1, pain control, and #2, functional (possibly assisted) exercise protocol: Massage is a common therapy that almost anyone can use beneficially to encourage circulation and subsequently possibly encourage healing.  Many owners may take a stab at performing massage, but instruction from me is always best to start.  Different massage techniques accomplish different results, and hands-on massage is not even recommended in some cases! Otherwise, I have found great benefit in using the little AAA battery-operated massagers produced by the Homedics company.  My favorite ones cost $5.99, have four balled feet, and the spread of the feet is usually just right to straddle the spine of different animals.  These little massagers have a great vibration frequency and anecdotal evidence proves that their use is extremely beneficial. I ran across them in a store about 5 yrs. ago, and based on reading years of research regarding vibrations and circulation, etc…I decided to give it a try. At the least, this massager will increase circulation and the animal will hopefully enjoy it. Cat owners are using it too! I recommend beginning by slowly using the massager from neck to tail without it turned on, travelling the spine one direction, again, slowly.  After a couple of passes, turn on the massager and do the same movement as when it was off.  I like to divide the body into 5 minute sections, beginning with the department giving the most discomfort, i.e. mid-spine to tail base, then neck to mid-spine, right thigh, right shoulder, left thigh, left shoulder.  If your pet has hip problems, start with the thighs then do the spine then the shoulders, etc…The idea is that doing this form of massage on the whole dog could take 30 min. in one sitting, but if you only have time for 10 minutes’ worth, then do the most important parts first.  It is all complimentary and helpful; an animal with hip problems is taking more stress on his front end, and one with elbow problems is straining the neck, spine, and other parts of the body in compensation, so hopefully you get the idea.  Passive range of motion (PROM) should usually be performed and instructed to owners by an experienced practitioner.  Some owners I have counseled have come away from surgery discharge having been told to perform massage or PROM, yet the owner actually does not know what this means or how to perform it so that the animal is not injured.  A referral to a rehab practitioner to judge protocol and beneficial movements would be great for owners in these cases.  Joint mobilization should only be performed by an experienced practitioner.  PROM is not usually necessary if the pet is moving on their own, and other physical activities will be a better use of owners time.  If your dog is moving and flexing & extending his knee after surgery, very likely his joints are staying mobile and you need not bug him by making him endure your “bicycling” his knee.  Other drills and exercises will bring about improved use and recovery of the knee, and you subsequently have less opportunity to hurt him (or you) if you are not trying to manipulate him. Animals do not have the same hesitancy to use their offended joints as humans do, and the PROM is largely unnecessary unless the animal has nerve damage and cannot move the limbs, THEN PROM is indicated. Controlled, specific swimming in warm water can be beneficial for the improvement of muscle tone, fitness and strength, especially if an animal is too sore in their joints to walk well for just basic fitness.  Swimming for conditioning or therapy should be done in a controlled manner with the use of a dog life jacket and in short, steady bouts while better fitness is achieved.  Just because a 15-year-old dog “likes to swim” does not mean he/she should go at it for 15 minutes straight the first or even the fifth time.  I carry a full set of life jackets in my mobile practice should an owner possess facilities for swimming at home.  In some environments, a regular harness may be used instead of a life jacket. Small dogs with short legs, like Dachshunds, may be swum in many home tubs.  ….I find that outside the home environment, elderly animals (and many of other ages as well) are usually not happy to be in a swim tank in a foreign environment.  I worked with a water tank/treadmill during the first years of my practice and determined that I would not miss it one bit in mobile practice.  Elderly animals are often slightly confused and seem to want to do things in the comfort of their accustomed environment.  In addition to incalculable fear levels when trying to use a facility-based water tank for therapy, this fear often induces nervous diarrhea in the water and the fear is potential cause for new injury.  Travel to and from a facility can produce unnecessary stresses on both owner and animal.  Therefore, I have come up with a variety of exercises and slings to assist elderly animals while they learn to return to better function on land….. Epsom salt baths have been very beneficial for my elderly patients whose owners have tried them.  Your pet may have health conditions making these baths prohibitive, so check with me or your veterinarian.  Make sure to rinse off all the residue after the bath, otherwise when your pet licks off the residue, diarrhea will likely ensue…(magnesium). Many machine modalities may be used in the practice of rehabilitation.  I consider low-level laser therapy to be the most complementary and productive machine modality I utilize in my practice.  Laser therapy has immense benefits which I will not attempt to cover here.  A wonderful website to peruse is, and much information regarding laser therapy may be found there. Ultrasound therapy on arthritic or sore joints and muscles has been proven to be beneficial.  I also utilize this therapy in my practice and have had very positive owner feedback with regard to improved function in their animals.  Much research information, including evidence-based research, is available on the web regarding these modalities…..People often ask me about using heating pads on their dogs; the use of heat depends on the nature of the injury or disease process.  A combination of ice/heat/ice is often more therapeutic or the use of moist heat or brown rice in a sock heated in the microwave are usually preferential heat application options, but moist is good for some things while dry heat is for others.  When in doubt, use ice.  Instructions for the use of ice and heat may be found on my websites. Chiropractic interventions are the choice of some and in my opinion should be combined with other therapies, especially massage, and should be administered by vets who have studied chiropractic
or by chiropractors who have studied animal chiropractic—especially with regard to spinal issues—and are working in conjunction with the vet. Acupuncture intervention has been proved to be beneficial as well and especially for pain control.  There are several vets in the Austin area who practice acupuncture. Diet:  There are commonly-recommended neutraceuticals for elderly and injured dogs as well as for young dogs that have genetic or early-onset of disease process in their joints.  Younger sporting dogs should benefit from these as well.  Animals, like people, are not always being fed an optimal diet, so the receipt of quality nutrition from feeding varies, and the supplementation of neutraceuticals is often warranted.  It is my preference, based on 30+ years’ experience, well-performed and founded research, and successful nutritional healing protocol, to encourage my patients toward a grain-free diet.  The research is out there, and I will not attempt to summarize is here.  Among commonly-used and readily-available supplements in this catagory are Glucosamine Hydrochloride with Chondroitin Sulfate (synergistic benefit), MSM (additional synergistic benefit), SAMe (joint, liver, tissue, brain, pain), and Omega 3 fatty acids, preferably in the form of fish oil.  Oil-based supplements included in animal food are chemically altered during the production process to the point of diminishing their efficacy and/or they soon become rancid when the bag is opened.  Omega 3 fatty acid chains are very fragile and research shows use of the capsule form is best. Additional options are digestive enzymes, probiotics, vitamin C, B vitamins & L-Glutamine, to name a few. Bed: Bedding DOES make a difference. If your old dog/cat is still trying to jump onto your bed, I recommend you either stop them and provide an eggcrate bed nearby or get them started using stairs or a ramp up to the bed (and into the car, too…). Infrared bedding is nice (expensive), and solid research proves benefits. I have a Great Dane, and she has the chaise end of a couch, a Papasan Chair cushion, and two egg crate foam beds (in different rooms). Elevate Food and Water: this reduces strain on elbows and neck. I put my Great Dane’s kibble in a Rubbermaid container that stands about 18″ high. Many varieties of elevated stands are available from stores and many homemade ideas about on the net. Definitely makes a beneficial difference. There are definitely more ideas to be shared, and you are welcome to make note of some in the comments section. Pain control and exercise are key to keep your pet moving and healthy. I have a 10.5 year old Great Dane, Grace, as of this writing (Aug. 4, 2011), and she has had many severe orthopedic and some neurological issues, as well as several systemic internal issues. She appears as though she is 3 years old to most people. She does okay…:)






2 Replies to “My Dog is Just Old…Old Pet Tricks”

  1. Hi,
    Just reading through your website because of my love of my white-faced old patients, looking into increasing my physical therapy options.
    I noticed while talking about nutrition, you recommend grain free diets. Most of the veterinary profession is strongly against grain free diets in dogs because of the sudden increase in cases of dilated cardiomyopathy. Not sure whether you are aware of this connection. By removing grains, food manufacturers are using legumes instead for a carbohydrate source. Our suspicion is that legumes might be the culprit, leading to DCM.
    If feeding grain free, owners need to make sure the food does not contain peas, soy, cassava flour, etc. Nearly all grain free diets contain legumes,
    I certainly would not recommend a food that is suspected of causing dilated cardiomyopathy.

    1. Hi, Kassandra, and thanks for reading my site and for your comment.
      I have been swamped for the 15 years of my practice and with no support staff, so I don’t often have opportunity to update a post or make one even more informative.
      I am very aware of the links being studied regarding CDM. I’ve been a specialist in human exercise physiology, as well as a nutritionist, for 40 years, +-, and so I did study at length to see where this reaction was coming from when it first hit the veterinary scene a couple of years ago.
      Results of studies remain inconclusive, as you probably know.
      I suspect that the issue is linked to something completely different, or a combo of things, and that legumes aren’t the actual causative factor, but we’ll see.
      As it is, I have changed my grain-free food recommendations many times, depending on what the carb source used has been and where the foods are manufactured and from whence come the ingredients.
      In one picture, we could just say “everyone does just fine on the average diet”, however I have also become, over the decades, a specialist in nutrition vs chronic dz, nutrition and ultra endurance sports, and nutrition and surgical recovery, to name some big subsets that command my attention. Average diet is never going to work as well as a biologically-appropriate and systemically-collaborative diet in those cases. I’m also a member of each of those subsets, several times over, hence the necessity for branching out over time.
      I much prefer a grain-free pet food that is sourced and made in the USA as well as one that uses minimal carbohydrates overall, as they are overused, overeaten, and biologically mostly unnecessary to add in volume to our or our dog’s or cat’s diets. Those types of foods are hard to find.
      By the same token, the overuse of grains and legumes in our and our pets diets is health-system-challenging, as we, and they, are not constructed to easily digest most versions of either (grains/legumes), and especially not processed (as most kibble is) versions, very well…and not without immune reactions each time. Whether that reaction is great or minimal, eventually most systems become overwhelmed.
      We merely all get away with consuming food that way until it backfires.
      My current favorite is organic Honest Kitchen brand, and that may change. I have also highly recommended Nulo brand, and while most of their formulas contain legumes or potatoes, they are not even listed on the FDA list of foods that were reported for the studies, at least, not reported between Jan, 2014 and April, 2019. These dates are the foundation dates, as it were, of data collection for the studies. Both of those foods are AAFCO compliant.
      I find lots of reasons to reject the most popular grain-free foods, and as a catch term, grain-free has almost lost its meaning, you know? People have generally no idea why the gastric system in themselves or their dogs or cats isn’t set up/hasn’t evolved to work well with grains, whole or processed, without an immune system reaction.
      Anyhooo…in the big picture, most dogs eating legumes are not developing CDM, and I, too, would like to know the actual correlation/causation issue. I am friends with several boarded veterinary cardiologists, and I have carried on this discussion with them. They admit to not having definitive answers, either, and none has the extended basis in nutrition that I do, so our conversations don’t continue for very long. In my observation thus far the reaction has been overwhelmingly knee-jerk regarding legumes vs CDM. Another interesting point is that this “finding” or spike in cases has only recently been documented and/or reported, while dogs have been eating legumes for much longer. The recent spike in cases indicates that there is a different pathology occurring, but what?
      I’m swamped right now, and this is all I have time to respond, however I will look for any additional comments you may have in the future. For anyone reading this comment and who might have more questions, here is a link to a FDA page that will get you started.
      In the meantime, you may have found all of this but I’ll recommend anyway that you use the search box on my site and search the terms “elderly” and “old”. I used to have my older pet stuff under “eldercare”, but over the years I’ve had some bigger trouble with site migrations and that designation just disappeared…

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