If you have looked at your dog and thought they have aged on you and have a feeling of being a bit helpless to the inevitable, then read on! You're not alone. Almost every day we get calls from owners who are keen to find out if there is something more they can do to help their dog. They often start with ' I know my dog is getting older, but...' and every time I have a conversation with someone I'm so glad they stopped to find out what the but might be. Although ageing is inevitable, how we age can be arbritory! Ever met a chocolate lab at 11 year old and thought wow, or met a dog and been shocked that they were actually 6 years old but moved like they were 12?
This is sadly something that happens all the time BUT, and there is a BUT... there are lots of things that you can do to help your dog achieve maximum quality of life which they will love you for.
The ageing process is a dynamic process and the sooner you step in usually you will find the better the outcome. We have dogs that you won't find 'a good leg' between them, but with the right combination of treatments they are living a very full and happy life, AND are on the minimum amount of pain killers. Any flare ups can be managed swiftly with minimal amount of extra pain killers and reducing their activity. We find our owners with dogs that are getting older get so good at managing the problems that their dog rarely misses a day out!
Here Are Some Tips for the Older Dog:
Get them checked out by your veterinarian or chartered physiotherapist. An assessment can be invaluable as it will give you a clear picture of where they are at. Whats stiff, whats tight (that doesn't need to be), whats weak (and there will be muscle weakness). They will be able to answer invaluable questions like how much should you REALLY be walking them, how much play should they be allowed have and how much morning stiffness is okay.
Next (and usually following on from number one), find out what you can do at home. This bit I love because there are SO many easy things you can do to help your dog on a day to day basis that won't break the bank and they will reap the rewards. It is so important at this point to match your dog with its needs e.g. I've had many people try introduce a ramp for their dog in their later years but forget to spend the time strengthening their dog to be able to actually manage the ramp!! Many have even changed their car at this stage to accommodate helping their dog jump in and out of the car.
Get clued up. (and your vet or physio will help here). What IS actually happening to your dog at their stage. So many times it can be used an excuse (even for humans!!)...its just an age thing, what can you expect....etc....If you remember from my arthritis blog, so many secondary reactions happen because of ageing....and a lot of those can be worked on to MAXIMISE what you have got.
Learn hands on (if appropriate)...This one I love. How many times will owners tell me how their dog just LOVES when they give them a neck rub. Its even more rewarding when they come back to us after a few weeks of learning hands on for their dogs when they report back that their dog is actually asking them for hands on..where they are tight!! This not only furthers your relationship with your dog, but we can only imagine its how the hollywood stars must feel when they have access to having their tight muscles eased whenever they need!
Get the medication right. Most of us Do NOT want to give medication without good reason. However, you are often dealing with a Chronic Pain which means that they are suffering from a certain level of pain EVERY
DAY. So giving medication as and when you think they need can sometimes mean you end up giving more in the long run, AND they don't get the full benefit of it. Chronic pain physiology IS a different kettle of fish compared to bashing your knee off the corner of the table and it goes away....albeit eventually! If you are suffering from pain on a day to day basis, or you know someone who is, Im sure you will be able to empathise with this. Matching the timing of the medication along with when you might bring them for a walk or do some hands on can be helpful to strategically do also. Using the brain on the pain is how I think about it and THE best people to get assessed with this and take advice from are vets. We even have specialist vets who deal with chronic pain on a day to day who are a mine of information.
Finding out how to manage activity is a big one to avoid the usual rollercoaster that many people with chronic pain can attest to. Last week I had an owner who came in and said their dog mustn't be in pain as he had had such a great time on the beach...After we chatted about the following hours and days, it became clear there can be a price for everything. There are so many simple things to help strengthen your dog to help them BE more comfortable, MOVE better, and ultimately enjoy life. I won't even get into the mind games you can play with them in this article (stay tuned for those tips).
So... before you go out and change the flooring from hard wood to carpet, you change your car for a low to the ground model with a big boot, or install a lift to get into your house (all of which are really helpful:)... chat to a professional to find out more to do as much as you can to reduce how much your dog relies on medication, has to have their activity and life curtailed, and may even be sore to be touched.
If you would like to find out more or arrange to chat to a member of our veterinary care team then Email firstname.lastname@example.org or Call (+44) 01463 240597