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Mobility Issues / Living with Arthritis in the Retired Working Dog

In this blog I discuss some things to consider for your retired dogs as their mobility starts to become less than perfect.  Many of your dogs will have some degree of arthritis but they may also have other mobility issues for which these suggestions may be helpful.  

Exercise 

  • Walking:  Please consider shorter bouts of exercise instead of occasional longer runs/exercise. Three shorter (10-20 min) walks each day would be better than one hour long walk for example.   This allows them to stretch their legs more often and not tire out.  As they age, limit the off-leash time as this might cause them more pain when they decide to chase a squirrel!   If they do go off leash, remember to let them warm up at a “slow” walk/trot before letting them off leash. 
  • Swimming: Swimming is a great low impact form of exercise.  However, running into the water from a beach is actually quite difficult.  Wading in water that is ankle/knee deep is very difficult, however this is great for strength training but should be done cautiously. Swimming with a life jacket on reduces the impact on the joints and doesn’t tire out an older dog as quickly. 
  • Ball chasing: As much as your dog may absolutely love chasing a ball, the amount of strain it puts on all of their joints is extreme and is a good way for them to hurt themselves. If you must play ball, consider scaling back the distance and force of your throw. 

Diet

  • Weight control: If your dog is overweight we recommend cutting back on treats and food.  It is recommend cutting out about 10-15% of their current calorie intake to help with weight reduction.  Keep your dog as slim as possible as this will help reduce the stress on his joints.  Studies have indicated that in obese dogs with arthritis that undergo a weight loss program have improved symptoms (less lame) and are better able to perform daily activities. 
  • Mobility Diets:  There are specifically formulated veterinary diets with additional supplements that assist with joint health.  The veterinary diets have more of these additives than you will find in a pet store brand.  These diets have been scientifically proven to assist in management of arthritis. 

Supplements 

There are many options but some of the more common supplements that have shown to help are as follows. You can confirm with your veterinarian these are appropriate for your dog and what their dose should be. 

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin- These are often used by humans and are meant to help with rebuilding cartilage. The evidence on this is currently mixed but there doesn’t seem to be any side effects.  
  • Green Lipped Mussel (from New Zealand)– This has been shown to reduce chronic pain and increase mobility associated with arthritis.  
  • Omega 3 fatty acids /Fish Oils– These are shown to decrease inflammation of many types including inflammation in the joints. 
  • CBD- There are some studies out of the USA that are looking at the use of CBD (not THC) to help control pain associated with arthritis. There are no licensed Health Canada products for dogs in Canada at this point. 

Medications

Most of the medication options are meant to help with inflammation and control pain.  Ask your veterinarian for more information. Just like we take the occasional medication like Advil for an ache or pain, giving medication to your dog works the same way. It always amazes me at how reluctant owners are to provide pain relief medication to their dog. I often hear owners saying they don’t want to give their dog pain relief as they think it will “make them feel too good” and they will hurt themselves more, or “they don’t show me they are in pain”.  All of your retired dogs have worked hard and likely have some significant wear and tear on their joints, and really it would be unreasonable and unfair to assume they don’t have any pain. 

  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)- these drugs help control inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.  There are several options to choose from including Metacam and Deramax.  
  • Gabapentin- This is another form of pain relief that is more useful towards neurological type pain 
  • Buprenorphine/tramadol/morphine- These are all opioid type pain relief. 
  • Joint Injections- These can help reduce pain at the site of the problem 
  • Cartrophen- This helps maintain joint health as well and is given as an injection once weekly for 4 weeks then once every 4-6 weeks thereafter.  

Other therapies

  • Physiotherapy-   Having a consult with a veterinary rehab specialist or a human physiotherapist that is trained in canine rehabilitation will allow you to learn how to  help strengthen and stretch your retired dogs to allow them a more functional and pain free retirement 
  • Acupuncture and massage- This can help dogs just like it helps humans.  Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. 

Lifestyle

  • Bedding:  Please ensure your dog has access to low beds (where he doesn’t have to jump up and down such as a human bed). The beds should be quite padded as well to help prevent any pressure sores. Kuranda is one brand of dog bed that is elevated off the floor that is great for sore joints. 
  • Flooring: Where possible have your dog on flooring that has good grip such as carpet as this will help them rise and move around without slipping.  Slippery floors are essentially like an ice rink for an elderly retired working dog.    Use yoga mats or carpets to make a runway of sorts for them to navigate the slippery floors.  Unfortunately, we often see owners present elderly dogs to the vet clinic for euthanasia after they’ve come home from work, and found their dog exhausted from trying to rise on a slipper floor and their legs keep sliding out and they can’t stand.  
  • Nails: Please keep your dog’s nails trimmed short as long nails impede their ability to grip flooring and are more likely to slip and fall.  
  • Ramps:  Consider buying a ramp for your retired dog to use to get into/out of vehicles as well as to help them navigate stairs.  Elderly dogs will suffer falls when attempting stairs especially if an owner isn’t present. 
  • Mental Stimulation:  Continue to stimulate your dog’s even if they can’t go for intense or long exercise anymore. Do small searches. Do small tracks. Give them frozen Kongs filled with goodies. Get them new toys.   Go for a drive with them and let them walk for a few minutes, so they aren’t always walking the same block at home.  Keep them stimulated! 

Mobility Aids

  • Harnesses:  Consider investing in a good harness that has a front and back strap. This allows the owner/handler to assist the dog and often stabilize them just enough for the dog to feel confident in walking forward. This is great to allow a dog to continue to go for walks. Often, owners think dogs don’t want to go for walks, but in reality, they need to have the mental stimulation and the daily exercise, but are often painful or fearful to rise and walk.  Help Em Up is one brand to look into. 
  • Carts:  In advanced cases of impaired mobility/paralysis, a cart can be used to assist a dog that has good mobility in his front legs still.   Retired working dogs may take extra time to adjust to this type of aid, but introducing it to them slowly will help.