A Distinguished Older Gentleman | Tales of a Senior Dog Part 3
By Claire Bannister MSc Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare
I mentioned in the first Senior Tales blog that Rufus has some problems with his back https://www.barkalounge.co.uk/post/a-distinguished-older-gentleman-tales-of-a-senior-dog. I had noticed in the last year or so that his back towards his tail was a little arched, not from him holding it that way, it just seemed as though the muscles were tight and bunched. I had also noticed that he had lost a little bit of spring in his jump.
Some of you will know that last year I suffered with a slipped disc that caused unbearable sciatica, rendering me immobile for months. Part of this was that I couldn’t bend my leg and when I was able to stand up and move, my right leg was always bent and I had to hobble around. During this time Rufus, who had not previously shown any signs of back or joint problems, adopted the same posture! He would walk around with his right back leg lifted and was seemingly feeling the same pain that I did. At the time this was really distressing as I was incapacitated and couldn’t help him in any way. His dad took him to the vet who couldn’t find anything wrong but gave him some pain killers and after a couple of weeks it cleared up never to appear since. Very odd, was he mimicking or somehow feeling what I was? We’ll never know but there didn’t seem to be a reason for it and dogs are extremely empathetic.
The point of this though is, could there have been a problem then that has semi resolved itself, as injuries naturally do, but has continued to be a niggle or a point of worry? Fortunately, Rufus was lucky enough to be a case study for Aunty Lizzie who is studying for her Level 5 Canine Massage Diploma. Dog massage is a growing area and is great for rehabbing injuries, maintaining health and for relaxation which can also lead to improvements in many behaviour problems. We can’t wait for Aunty Lizzie to complete her studies and start offering massage at Barka Lounge.
Lizzie identified sensitivity in the same area I had noticed the muscular arch and found no particular injury but a definite sensitivity in the area. In discussing this we decided that it’s possible Rufus has had some injury last year and is now protecting the area unnecessarily or has been compensating for the pain by moving in a way that has caused this secondary problem. Interestingly, during my own recovery I was told that once the brain has experienced extreme, long term pain, it can actually alter the messages sent from the brain and it will respond with a feeling of pain where there is none physically. Because of this I have had to retrain my own brain to stop recognising any touch to my leg as a threat by slowly using gentle, pleasant sensations to allow my brain to stop cramping the muscles up immediately. This has worked but it took a long time. By applying the same principle, gently rubbing Rufus’s back for short periods, should let him be touched there without fear of pain. The massage has helped to reduce the sensitivity in the area and the arch does look less pronounced so that’s a positive result.
Along with massage therapy, I looked into natural treatments for joints, mainly because I feel Ru is naturally slowing down in his old age and I want to make sure that this is due to his own energy requirements, rather than an inability to be active. It is completely normal for dogs to have less energy as they age and we should all respect a dog’s need to rest. A dog will often tell you when they are tired by taking breaks, having a sit down, panting or just lagging behind. Joint health is important in all dogs, especially in puppies and senior dogs. The two main things we can all do is to keep their weight down (dogs should be thinner than you think) and provide varied exercise to keep the supporting muscles and structures strong. As with all things in the body, the foundation of health is the food we, and dogs, eat.
Joints are a widely studied subject and supplements have been around for a long time to provide the vitamins and minerals needed for their care and maintenance. You may be familiar with glucosamine and chondroitin, you may even take it yourself, both of which are also beneficial for dogs. Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring compounds, found mainly in bones and shellfish shells that act as building blocks for growth and renewal, particularly in cartilage, the material that provides a smooth, shock absorbing surface between joints. As this wears away the joints rub on one another causing discomfort. Supplements can prevent deterioration of cartilage and help maintain joint function. As the best and most common source of glucosamine and chondroitin is shellfish shells, in this case, it made sense to look for a supplement rather than trying to add foods to his diet.
To the internet! Wow, type in glucosamine and chondroitin for dogs and Amazon alone brings up over 3000 options. Where to start? Yumove is a leading brand in joint care and I have heard good reports so I decided to start there. Their website has a monthly subscription plan that gives you a discount and automatically sends you the tablets out as you need them. How convenient for a doggy mamma with a fish brain! As glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring, I would expect any product to be totally free of any artificial ingredients and Yumove has its own supply of muscles so they can guarantee the quality of the muscles and the water they grow in, we don’t want to use a supplement using shellfish from polluted waters so this is a positive.
I have decided to give Yumove a try and have ordered the plus option. I will look forward to them arriving and giving you an update.