As a canine massage therapist I see many dogs with injuries and lameness caused by repetitive strain, which can easily be avoided or kept to a minimum with some lifestyle changes.
The main causes seem to crop up time and time again so here are the most common factors and ways to avoid injury to your dog.
- Ball and Frisbee throwing: Constant chasing after a ball or combined with leaping in the air to catch a frisbee is probably one of the main causes of injuries, lameness and strain that I see. The action of a burst of energy followed by a sudden stop, a skid then a rapid turn will put huge strain on the dogs shoulders, forelegs, neck, pelvis and spine. Like us dogs will favour one side of their body so will always prefer to turn in the same direction causing over use of muscles and joints. This repetitive action is very unnatural for a dog and if left to chase and hunt in the wild they would never continuously sprint with a sudden halt afterwards.
Also ball throwing for some dogs can mean they are on a constant adrenaline high so causing emotional as well as physical stress. This sort of exercise can cause micro trauma often not shown by the dog at the time of chasing as the sheer thrill they get can often mask any discomfort. But with time the dog will compensate for the discomfort elsewhere in their body and become lame. Instead, encourage hunting for a hidden ball or a treat in some undergrowth and reward with either giving the dog the ball to carry or a single retrieve of a ball placed ahead. Keep it to an absolute minimum and find other ways to interact with your dog . Always warm your dogs muscles up with at least 5 minutes on the lead before letting them off to run at speed.
2. Jumping out of cars, off furniture and stairs:
All these activities put a lot of strain on your dogs shoulders and forelegs. The added problem with jumping out of the boot of cars is that your dogs muscles will be cold and it is often from a great height onto a hard surface, usually followed by immediately running off to start a walk. Teaching your dog to use a ramp will save so much strain on their body see https://www.hedgerowhounds.co.uk /news/teaching-your-dog-to-use-a-car-ramp for more advice
Stair gates are really useful for preventing dogs running up and down stairs and providing a comfortable and supportive bed for them near to you to encourage them not to lay on the furniture. Small dogs can be lifted off the sofa or a ramp used for larger dogs.
3. Slippery Flooring : Dogs falling and slipping on laminate or tiled floors can cause so many injuries and really make an older dog lose their confidence. Use non slip mats and rugs in the areas that the dog uses and also around their bedding and in particular food and water bowls. Dogs with arthritis or mobility problems are better eating and drinking from raised bowls and make sure they are on a non slip mat. They find lowering their head difficult so often splay their legs in order to reach, this can cause really nasty falls and make them nervous at feed times.
4. Inappropriate Exercise : Problems can occur when dogs exceed their fitness levels or are taken beyond their capability due to age or mobility.
Some dogs have to make do with a quick stroll round the block in the week but are taken out for hours at the weekend and become exhausted making them more susceptible to injury such as cruciate ligament strain or tears.
Puppies and young dogs should be exercised very carefully as their bones, joints and growth plates are prone to injury causing lifelong issues.
Senior dogs should not be forced to walk but allowed to go at a pace that they are comfortable with and which improves their mobility. It is so upsetting to see old dogs being made to walk beyond their comfort zone and it causes pain, crushes their spirit and is detrimental to their long term welfare.
Dogs that pull hard on the lead and lean right over to one side almost scrabbling along are heading for joint and muscular damage. Use a harness and teach your dog to walk calmly at heel, get the help of a reputable trainer. It will be money well spent and save a fourtne in vets fees long term.
Adapting your dogs routine will ensure many years of injury free activity and ease of movement in their senior years. There are some good supplements available to help support joint pain and inflammation but unless long term lifestyle changes are made their effectiveness is minimal, used in conjunction with the changes they can be really beneficial.