Practical advice to keep your dog mobile, flexible and happy
Not that long ago, one of my readers called me irresponsible because I suggested older dogs should exercise regularly. I was surprised by such a reaction. After a brief inquiry, I learned the reader’s veterinary surgeon discouraged her from exercising her senior dog. He simply believed that older dogs should not exercise because their joints wear down faster and become less mobile. Hearing this, I knew that I had to write an article about exercise, injuries and mobility for older dogs. The truth is our dogs don’t have to be immobile and decrepit by the time they turn into seniors. Many of my current patients are now seniors and I see them doing better than I ever imagined. In his senior years, my dog Skai continued to enjoy everything he did when he was younger. The purpose of this article is to help your dog do the same.
ALIGN DOG'S ARTHRITIS TREATMENT WITH NATURE
For many years now, I have chosen one core principle in healing. No matter what the problem is, I try to learn from nature. For example, if you look at nature’s way of keeping water clean, it’s quite ingenious. Water runs over rocks and boulders to become cleaner through oxygenation, it runs through the ground to be filtered, it gets purified and processed with the help of beneficial bacteria and when it gets to the ocean, surf and sand ensure more purification. The whole cycle ends (and begins) with evaporation and rain. The by-product of this amazing process is more cleansing of anything that water touches. This is what I call inspiration for healing!
CLEANSE + DETOX
What may seem clean is dirtier than dirty… When my niece was 20-years-old she studied in Vancouver and lived with us for a few months and taught me one very good lesson. Most people are unaware that chemical cosmetics, perfumes and cleaning products are making us sick and tired.
I suggest you ditch all chemicals in your house and read labels carefully. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that if a bottle has CAUTION or a skull and crossbones on it, it’s better not to have it around. In a deep sense, the more you use these chemical cleaners, the dirtier the so-called cleaned surface is when it comes to noxious, toxic chemicals.
HERE IS YOUR CHECKLIST FOR DETOXING YOUR DOG
FOOD. In order to get the job done, you may possibly need to drop a few preconceived ideas about dog food and accept that there is no processed kibble or canned food that can replace a wholesome raw or cooked diet with vegetables and raw bones. If you feel you can’t afford raw or cooked natural food, I suggest you sit down, look at your budget, assess your priorities and make a plan. It may mean getting a better paying job or dropping the daily Starbucks habit. Be kind to yourself in this process, but beware of just coming up with excuses.
- THE LIVER is to the body what surf and sand is to the oceans. It cleanses and purifies your pooch’s body. I suggest you do a liver cleanse once every six months for dogs older than two years of age.
- THE DIGESTIVE TRACT needs to be in top notch shape for your dog to be healthy. Feeding processed food can be compared to pouring sewage and chemicals in a stream or a river.
- AVOID chemicals and synthetic preservatives, processed food, grains of any kind because no dog would graze on wheat or corn in nature. No wild adult mammals consume milk under natural circumstances and it irritates the bowels.
- OPTIMIZE your dog’s bowel and immune system functions by using non-dairy probiotics.
Cleansing is only the first step to ensuring good mobility and healthy joints. Everyone knows that a car can’t run without fuel, a computer doesn’t power up without electricity and a flower will not blossom without the right nutrients. However, many people seem to forget this when it comes to nutrition. They don’t see the direct connection between disease and deficiencies of essential minerals and amino acids, while at the same time, vitamins and omega oils are supplemented more frequently. One of the most common misconceptions is that supplements can be produced synthetically or provided in the form of ground up rock. The truth is that real food can’t be manufactured from coal or crude oil, like most synthetic vitamins are. In my eyes, a chemical supplement substitute is a rather unsuccessful imitation of nature’s mastery.
The next step in keeping your dog healthy and mobile is to recognize injuries and treat them without using pharmaceutical drugs.
Falls, slips and slides often lead to undetected injuries which can turn into chronic muscle spasms and weaknesses that affect various muscle groups, internal organs and glands that receive energy from the injured spinal segment.
If your dog is lame, it’s easy to recognize an injury. But it’s easy to mistake a back trauma that reflects in the leg for a simpler leg injury. Also, many dogs don’t show any visible signs of injuries at all until they get older, when untreated traumas surface after being dormant for years. To detect more subtle injuries early, I suggest you run your hands along the spine a few times a week and press with your thumbs to detect any pain, heat, inflammation or sensitivity. You can also compare the two sides for any differences. I highly suggest you practice this on a few dogs to see and feel the difference and if you detect any problems, see a chiropractor, physiotherapist, massage therapist or osteopath. Unfortunately, unless your vet has a special interest in this field, it’s unlikely she or he has taken any courses in this area. It’s only starting to emerge in the most progressive veterinary colleges and, strangely, many vets still do not recognize the importance of working with these practitioners and instead use drugs to mask the injuries. Unfortunately, this approach leads to gradual deterioration and faster aging. If nothing else, I hope you remember this - dogs are built mainly for trotting and walking, with the exception of brief intense sprints chasing prey animals. In contrast, modern dogs frequently suffer injuries from inappropriate exercise such as extended periods of ball retrieving, jumping up, chasing frisbees or too much swimming. Have you ever seen a coyote chase 60 squirrels in 30 minutes?
COLLAR INJURIES ARE RAMPANT
Prong and shock collars cause many serious problems but choke and regular collars are also unsuitable devices for the majority of dogs. If you don’t believe me, put your dog’s collar on your neck, attach a leash and pull! If a retractable leash is used, it adds an extra jerk when a dog reaches the end of the line. The paradox is that many people appear to be stubbornly resistant when it comes to collars. They often take suggestions as criticism of their personal choice, forgetting that this is about the wellbeing of their dog. It only takes one jerk to inflict damage that can last a lifetime. People who read my articles on this topic often send me emails that describe the damage their dogs suffered from collars: front foot licking due to abnormal sensation caused by neck trauma, laryngeal paralysis, thyroid dysfunction and in some cases even cancer. It’s not as easy to see these connections when you observe one or even a few dogs. However, they have become very clear to me after seeing thousands of patients.
ARTHRITIS VS MUSCLE AND BACK INJURY
I have seen countless senior dogs diagnosed with arthritis while in reality, they were stiff and tight due to injured and inflamed muscles. When an average dog guardian sees their dog slowing down, they almost automatically assume their dog has arthritis (joint inflammation). Such dogs get walked less, instead of being treated. This is a slippery slope, especially when a dietary deficiency and toxins are present. They will become stiff old dogs.
I have seen countless senior dogs diagnosed with arthritis while, in reality, they were stiff and tight due to injured and inflamed muscles.
If you are not sure how to recognize pain in your dog, this interview with Dr. Edward Bassingthwaite is a must watch!
TREATMENT SPECIFIC TO JOINT AND MUSCLE INJURIES
Now you know the best way of preventing and treating injuries is to feed your dog naturally and essential supplements and treat injuries with the help of an experienced practitioner. There are a few things to skip and add. IDEALLY, DO NOT USE any drugs such as Metacam, Rimadyl and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They slow down the healing process and ultimately lead to more serious injuries after a brief episode of improvement. Never use drugs such as corticosteroids as they have a very negative effect on the body. REPLACE THESE DRUGS with turmeric and mussel-based, anti-inflammatory supplements such Zyflamend.
Perhaps you wonder what ego has to do with healing. I see the human ego as one of the most common reasons why treatments fail. Ego sometimes makes people prefer to be right instead of healthy. Ego endangers patients and animal guardians and causes problems in the medical profession where arrogance and fear of not knowing sometimes stagnates progress and the advancement of knowledge. To me a good practitioner has to be willing to say: “I don’t know” and then relentlessly search for the answers.
THE SAFEST EXPERIMENT YOU CAN EVER DO
When I told people that Skai was born in 2001 and they saw him play and run on trails, they had a hard time believing me. The picture of an old dog didn't match Skai’s appearance and I see the same in the majority of my patients. This was Skai's routine at 13 years old;
- Two 45 to 60 minute walks a day
- 20 minutes of cardio running once a week (slow roller blading or a slow bike ride)
- A city street walk once a week to rest
- Regular chiro, physio and osteopathy treatments
- Regular combing, stretching and massage
- No prescription meds
- No processed food
- No bread or grain
- No milk products (they can cause stiffness and joint inflammation)
- Homeopathy as needed
- Natural supplements
- Learning new tricks such as stretching, weaving, looking for toys
- Quiet times
Did you notice the last one? Consistency. Yes, consistency is especially important when we feel lazy, unwell, stressed or too busy to stay on course. I know that if you find the right rhythm and follow the above guidelines, your dog is very likely to live extra years of happy and healthy life. I sometimes find it interesting to see that there are so many people who will pay anything to get extra years with their dogs, but they expect someone else to keep their dog healthy. Your task is to avoid being one of them. A good vet can be a guide, but a guide is no good if the traveler refuses to travel. I wish you a safe and happy journey.
Here is a summary of the supplements for prevention of arthritis:
To make your selection for your dog easier, here is what my dog Skai received:
- GreenMin, SoulFood, FeelGood Omega and GutSense, as the essentials. They are all listed in the senior dog essentials.
- I also gave Skai a Zyflamend capsule and GlycoFlex II for mobility support.
- I did a liver cleanse with him once every six months. Six weeks initially and then every six months for four weeks.
Looking for more info? Check out this complete guide on mobility, arthritis, and injuries in dogs.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM