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10 steps to keeping your senior dog happy and mobile

10 steps to keeping your senior dog happy and mobile

How to keep your senior dog off harmful anti-inflammatory drugs

Living with dogs comes with much joy, but also the responsibility of keeping them healthy, happy and comfortable for years to come. By following some tried and true methods, you can make a huge difference in your senior best friend's quality of life. 

While we have to accept aging, we don’t need to watch our dogs live a life of discomfort and pain, or suffer from drug side effects.

At what age is a dog considered a senior?



I’m often asked this question, and before I give you an answer, I’d like to share the story of my friend Betty Jean.

I met Betty Jean at our local community recreation center. She is always busy, working out, socializing with others, with a big smile on her face. I sometimes run into her on the street when she is out walking. Her gait is energized and balanced.

Betty Jean is a marathon runner. The last marathon she ran was in the scorching heat of tropical Honolulu last fall. Betty Jean is 86 years young. She's living proof that age is relative and the same applies to senior dogs.

The most frequent question I get from dog lovers is about how to keep a senior dog mobile. That’s why I decided to share this 10 step plan to extend the years of your senior dog’s good mobility and happiness.

Aging is natural. However, this doesn’t mean stiffness and pain must be part of your senior dog’s life. Just like Betty Jean, your dog may be the fit and spry 86-year-old marathon runner, who has the gait and spark of a middle-aged pooch!

Just read on to learn how.

What is the difference between stiffness and arthritis?

Before you learn how to keep your dog mobile, it is important to know the difference between stiffness and arthritis.

The main reason many dog lovers and veterinarians don't clearly distinguish between an arthritic and a stiff dog is that, on the outside, they look the same. 

Arthritis is more chronic and much more difficult to treat. Stiffness is much milder but more common in dogs. When people are told that their dog is arthritic, they often feel that the only solution is anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers.

Arthritis is the Latin term for joint inflammation and is often caused by wrong diet, toxicity, trauma, excessive strain and nutritional deficiencies. An arthritic dog's joints may be narrower, with a loss of cartilage, signs of inflammation, swelling and calcification called osteophytes.

Stiffness and tightness are caused by muscle shortening that can also be related to the wrong diet, toxicity, deficiencies, too much intense exercise, injuries or lack of stretching. Stiff dogs often have perfectly normal joints, even though on the outside they look no different from dogs with arthritis. They are slow, weak and have difficulty getting up and moving.

10 steps to improve your dog’s mobility without drugs and chemicals

1. Diet change 

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you fueled your gasoline powered car with diesel? The answer is it would stop running. Like your car, dogs also need the right fuel. The canine digestive system is designed to digest a raw, species-appropriate diet. Even if the kibble label lists the best organic ingredients, it can’t be as nourishing as fresh or cooked wholesome food - meat, raw bones and vegetables.

2. Regular detox

If your dog is already on a species-appropriate raw or cooked diet, the next step is to detox. To get a clearer idea of your dog’s condition, I suggest using a hair analysis test for minerals and heavy metals, then cleanse your dog’s liver by using a herbal product such as LiverTune for six weeks and repeat every six months for four weeks. I suggest you start the first cleanse when your dog is 12 months old.

3. Give essential supplements

Good muscle and joint function are largely dependent on strength and smooth function. Similar to machines that can’t work without the right parts, muscles and joints can’t function properly without nutrients – the essential building blocks. Without magnesium, manganese, calcium, selenium, iron and other elements, muscles and joints are much more prone to injuries and tightness. They also need vitamins, omega oils and a good probiotic to recover from the ongoing workload.

Unfortunately, based on the results of thousands of HairQ tests, even the most organic foods are depleted of nutrients because of the disruption of the natural cycle of nutrients from the field to animals and then back to the field.

Also, not all supplements are equal and most people don't realize a vast majority of vitamins on the market are made of crude oil and coal. Go for whole-food based vitamins and organic supplements whenever possible and only choose brands that are made with top- quality, human-grade ingredients that are tested and meet the highest quality of standards.  


4. Joint and muscle-specific supplements

Most people pay special attention to joint building supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin, and while I agree they are important, they will not make as much difference as a proper diet and essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, probiotics and omega oils.

There’s a certain hierarchy of nutrients in nature and without the essentials, the body can’t be healthy no matter how many glucosamine, chondroitin and other more advanced mobility supplements you give. In other words, mobility supplements are complementary to the essentials.

The best supplements are those that are whole food sourced. However, I strongly suggest using sustainable natural sources and, on principle, I strongly disagree with using shark cartilage supplements.

We have now launched the worlds first fermented, whole food based mobility, arthritis and joint support for dogs!  If you'd like to learn more about JointButter click here

5. The power of turmeric

In recent years, dog lovers and holistic veterinarians have been turning to turmeric – a superfood root that is the yellow spice that makes Indian curry yellow. Turmeric is clinically tested as an anti-inflammatory substance and its active ingredients act on the same receptors as conventional NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). I’ve been using turmeric-based supplements for several years now, and while I haven’t seen any side effects, I use them in moderation and only as needed. I currently use a product called Zyflamend.

6. Promote energy flow

The canine body is an energy system that’s made of organs, which are made of cells that are made of molecules. Ultimately, the body is composed of small energy particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons. If you go even deeper, these particles are composed of light, which is photon vibration.

Free, harmonious flow of energy in the body results in good health, a youthful appearance and improved mobility. Stagnation of energy results in accelerated aging, stiffness and immobility.

I recommend your dog receives regular adjustments/treatments by a chiropractor or physical therapist and is massaged weekly or bi-weekly as needed.

Find practitioners in your area and give it about one to two months before evaluating the results of their work. Be picky, ask your friends for referrals and protect your dog from people who like to boast about their skills, but don’t seem to deliver results.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better, but if there’s any worsening, it should be short-lived, followed by a clear and gradual improvement. If your dog continues to worsen, it's possible that the technique used is not the correct one for your dog.

7. Establish the right level of exercise

I find there are two kinds of dog guardians. The ones who over-exercise because they worry their dog will get weak and those who under-exercise because they worry about injuring their senior dog.

Some activities, such as high intensity sprinting, jumping or ball and frisbee chasing, can lead to strain and injuries. Ideally, you should walk or jog with your dog twice a day and vary your activity. Do some endurance, some cardio and occasionally push your dog slightly beyond his or her comfort zone to maintain stamina.

If you have the benefit of working with a canine rehabilitation expert, I propose you book a consultation and develop a plan to keep your dog’s body strong and balanced.

8. Hydrotherapy and swimming

While swimming or underwater treadmill exercise can be very beneficial in maintaining mobility, dogs who swim too much can develop lumbar-sacral and shoulder tightness. Tight shoulders often lead to mid-thoracic spine congestion, which is energetically related to the function of the lungs and heart. 

Dog swimmers often scratch their 'armpits' because of the tightness of the triceps muscles used in swimming. This may surprise you, but these dogs are probably not itchy. They use their foot to try to relieve the muscle tightness. If you observe this in your dog, he may be overdoing his water exercise. 

On the other hand, swimming can be beneficial especially under the guidance of an experienced rehabilitation expert.

9. Manage these common symptoms 

The difficulty getting up and hind end trembling are two of the most common symptoms of muscle weakness and back pain. Many dogs are stiff and tight in their lumbar area because pretty much every dog slips, slides and injures their back at some point in their life. The lumbar spine also supplies nerve, blood and energy flow to the hind legs. Many dogs who have difficulty getting up also appear to have inflammation and injuries in the caudal (rear) portion of the thoracic spine. 

Most of the injuries mentioned above remain mostly undetected and the consequences are hind end weakness, leg trembling, intervertebral disease, spondylosis (a form of spinal arthritis) and ataxia (hind end incoordination). Applying all the above steps will reduce the chances of seeing such symptoms.

10. Avoid pharmaceutical drugs whenever possible

Every time I talk to dog guardians who are more conventionally minded, I’m puzzled by their perception of drugs. Many people still believe in a 'take this pill for this problem' approach to medicine, ignoring the possibility of side effects, which frequently happens!

Most holistic practitioners work hard to minimize the use of pharmaceutical drugs and there’s a lot of reasons why. Drugs are, in principle, foreign chemical substances that alter the body’s functions. While they suppress the disease symptoms, they also cause a 'drug-disease' – also known as side effects.

For example, NSAIDs for joint pain, muscle injuries and muscle stiffness are known to cause kidney failure, liver disease and stomach ulceration. It’s true NSAIDs appear to give dogs relief, but the improvement comes with a hefty price. NSAIDs block a healthy healing response of joint and muscles, which leads to more severe and faster joint and muscle deterioration and immobility. I would never give my dog NSAIDs. There are many natural remedies that can help reduce pain and inflammation.

A few more words

As you can see, the topic of senior dog care is endless. It can be overwhelming to care for a senior dog, especially when important decisions must be made. However, the core of their care is relatively simple: feed your dog natural food, include high-quality supplements to correct nutrient depletion in food, exercise your dog with care and have your dog regularly assessed by a chiropractor or physiotherapist and a massage therapist.

As your dog ages, make sure he or she continues to socialize and connect with other dogs and people. While senior dogs may not be able to romp in the park like puppies, most of them love watching the action sitting on a knoll in a park or in front of a coffee shop. They love to be social and they suffer from being alone. Inactivity leads to depression and weakness and this applies to dogs as much as humans.

Living with dogs comes with much joy, but for most of us, it’s emotional to see our beloved dogs age. While we have to accept aging as a normal process, we don’t need to settle for watching our dogs living a life of discomfort and pain, or suffering from the side effects of drugs. The above methods are well proven and can make a huge difference in the life of your best friend.

P.S. - Thank you for sharing this article with those you care about! 

Another article of interest: How to keep your older dog natural, flexible, happy and fit

If you are worried that your senior dog may be in pain, don't miss the interview with Dr. Edward Bassingthwaite in the link below.  

© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM

About the author

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

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