Home adaptions for your growing puppy and arthritic dog
When I carry out an initial assessment, I always ask about the home environment. Are their any slippery floors? Does your dog use the stairs and if so, how do they manage them? What bed do they sleep on?
Making small modifications to your dogs home environment can prevent injury and give your dog time to heal, develop and ease repetitive pain and discomfort.
Why do we need to be careful with our Puppies!
We all know that we need to puppy proof our home before the bundle of joy and mischief arrives. We all should know the risk of over exercising our growing puppies and the damage it can do to their joints. Something we don't always consider is the many hazards around the home which can also hinder healthy development and potentially cause injury and life long conditions.
Puppies bones are not the same as our adult dogs. The first thing that we need to consider is their growth plates. These are soft areas at the end of long bones which contain rapidly dividing cells, lengthening the bones over time. They begin to close with the influence of hormonal changes and completely close at approximately 18 months old, depending on breed, external influences to hormones and anatomy.
Until the growth plates close, they are vulnerable to injury. In an adult dog, if a joint experiences stress, the soft tissue surrounding the joints tend to take the pressure, resulting in a sprain whilst the strong bone holds firm. In a puppy however, the soft tissues tend to be stronger then the growth plates, resulting in a growth plate injury which may not heal properly and hinder development. This could make the puppy vulnerable to further injuries as an adult dog.
As well as "soft" growth plates, puppies bones are considered generally "softer" than in adult dogs. Like in humans, they don't reach their maximum bone density until fully matured. This puts them at greater risk of fractures, particularly spiral fractures, known as "toddler fracture" in humans.
So with this is mind, what are the potential hazards around the home which could put your dog at risk of injury?
Stairs - Research has shown that Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Leonbergers and Irish Wolfhounds had an increased risk of developing hip dysplasia if allowed to do stairs before 3 months old. Although this research only involved certain breeds, with the high incidence of hip dysplasia seen, we can strongly assume that stair use puts strain on puppies joints not matter what breed. Avoid stairs entirely or until at least 18 months old.
Slippery floors - Puppies and dogs need grip! Like us, floors with a slip surface, puts our puppies at risk of over stretching which can cause soft tissue damage. This could potentially weaken the structures surrounding joints and bones putting more pressure on vulnerable growth plates. Lay down matts, rugs or non slip flooring to provide a suitable surface for your developing puppy.
Rough play - Puppies love play time and it is important for their social development that they are allowed to do so. However, it is important that they play safely. Don't allow your vulnerable puppy to play with a much larger boisterous dog. The risk of the adult dog falling on them or being too rough can cause injury to your puppy. Likewise, when chasing a toy, a puppy is likely to misjudge distance and only stop when they are literally on top of the toy. This can cause high impact loading and twisting which puts them at risk of fractures and growth plate injury. Keep playtime controlled by rolling a toy and using a gentle tug toy.
Jumping on and off of furniture or in and out of the car - Jumping down off furniture and out of cars is a major cause of spiral fractures in puppies. Try to keep them off furniture until they are 2 years old when we know they have improved bone density and the growth plates have closed. Before this, you can use ramps or help them by picking them up.
So, before your adorable puppy arrives, make sure you have considered the above and discuss the points with the rest of the family so you are all on board with what your puppy should and shouldn't be doing. Set ground rules about the stairs and furniture and try and keep to them. I know its difficult when they are looking up at your with those puppy eyes but they will thank you later when they have strong and healthy joints!
And now for our arthritic dogs!
On the other end of the scale of our puppies with have our elderly dogs with osteoarthritis. Saying this, a lot of the precautions we take with our puppies can be replicated for our arthritic patients to help improve mobility and quality of life.
Osteoarthritis effects 4 out of 5 older dogs and is the most common cause of chronic pain. It is a degeneration of the structures within a joint. This causes pain and reduced limb movement which leads to weakness and compensation. Unfortunately, arthritis cannot currently be cured. However, early identification of the disease, pain management and appropriate lifestyle changes can help minimise its progression.
Arthritis is painful, so if you see your dog struggling to carry out what use to be a simple task or activity, then we can try and think of ways to make it easier for them. This way, they can continue doing what they love without risking the progression of the degenerating disease or causing a flare up. In some cases, this may be stopping them from doing the activity entirely and introducing a safer alternative such as scentwork instead of ball throwing.
Here are a few ideas of changes we can make around the house to support our elderly dogs:
Avoid stairs - Stairs can cause repetitive trauma and put your dog at risk of falling, tripping and injuring themselves. Avoiding all access to stairs is ideal and best practice, however I appreciate that this cannot always be achieved. You can use stairs gaits to block off access. If your dog has to use the stairs, make sure they have plenty of support and are tackling them in a controlled fashion. On ascent, you can walk behind them, supporting there hind limbs as they go. On the descent, make sure they are not rushing by walking in front of them. This will also stop them falling too far if they misjudge a step. Don't forget the steps in the garden. Again, if they cannot be avoided make sure you are supporting them as much as possible. Or alternatively, you can try a ramp.
Change their bed - Elderly dogs with chronic pain need their rest. Often arthritic patients find it difficult to get comfortable and can be seen choosing the hard floors instead of their beds. This may be due to the type of bed you have for them. They could be finding it difficult to get in and out of the bed or it may be too deep for them so they feel they are getting stuck. It could also be that the bed isn't providing them with enough support. Obviously sleeping on the hard cold floor is not suitable for arthritic joints, so try and look for an orthopaedic bed which is large enough, has low sides and deep enough for them to be comfortable. A good nights sleep will aid healing and improve quality of life.
Hide slippery floors with a non slip surface - Repeatable slips will inevitably progress the signs of arthritis. It places additional stresses to the weakened structures surrounding the joint and will also effect your dogs confidence over time. Often, we see and hear of dogs struggling to get up when laying down on a slippery floor. This takes immense effort and increases pain and places strain on an arthritic joint. Placing rugs, runners, yoga matts or other non slip alternatives down can provide your dog with a supportive surface.
Ramps - Ramps can be used anywhere where your dog uses steps or has to jump. This could be the car, in the garden or even onto furniture. By introducing ramps you are allowing them to have their freedom but minimising impact and repetitive trauma on joints and surrounding structures. To begin with, make sure your dog is confident using the ramp. If they have never used one before, it is a good idea to introduce them first by encouraging them to walk over it whilst it is flat. As they get use to it, gradually increase the height at one end. Make sure the ramp is sturdy, wide enough for your dog and has a non slip surface.
Change playtime - Like our puppies, our elderly dogs also love to play and stimulate their minds. Ball throwing and rough play can involve increased impact through the joints and lots of twisting which can cause progression of arthritis as well as put them at risk of injury. Scentwork is a great way to help stimulate their brain, encourage gentle mobility and is very rewarding for them. Try hiding treats or toys around the garden or house for them to find. There are also a range of maze games for dogs to try too. This again encourages gentle mobility and stimulates their mind. Just be careful as to how many treats you are giving them as extra weight also puts additional pressure on joints which we want to avoid.
So overall, simple changes can ensure your puppy is developing correctly and can minimise the development of arthritis in our elderly dogs.
In addition to lifestyle changes, physiotherapy can help manage chronic pain, improve mobility and treat compensatory areas.
I hope you enjoyed this weeks blog. Next week we will be looking into joint supplements.
Thank you :)