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Your canine rehab expert can teach you much about how to care for your elderly pet.

In the canine rehabilitation world we see some of the same injuries and orthopedic issues all the time. For example, take hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a very controversial problem but something that any dog owner can take steps to prevent. The causes of hip dysplasia are complex and can often be genetic and breed specific. German Shepherds and Labradors for example are extremely prone to this disease. However you can be proactive in helping your young dog by making sure your dog stays thin from a young age, as obesity is a major contributor to hip dysplasia, and by conditioning your dog to stay very fit. Slim, highly conditioned dogs are much less likely to develop hip dysplasia and if they do develop it, the severity of the disease is usually much less than that of overweight, de-conditioned dogs. In rehab we swim dogs with this disease as it is a wonderful tool to help their range of motion and overall level of function.

Another very common injury is the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which as mentioned above, is one of the ligaments keeping the knee stable. Many, many breeds are pre-disposed to ACL ruptures, among them Golden Retrievers, Rottweiler’s, Labradors, Newfoundland’s, Bulldogs, Poodles, Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers. The most common cause of a ruptured ACL is what we call the “weekend warrior syndrome”. These are dogs that generally rest all week long while their owners are working, and then Saturday and Sunday go nuts at the dog park, go hiking in the canyons, race along the beach chasing seagulls, chase a Frisbee and chase squirrels. Oftentimes they are overweight and not in great shape athletically.

Rehabbing these dogs is a complex process as most end up having to undergo surgery to stabilize the knee joint. What can you do to prevent your dog from rupturing an ACL? Just like hip dysplasia, the most important things are keeping your dog at a proper weight, keeping them on a regular exercise schedule, and be especially careful with your elderly dogs that you don’t initiate an athletic activity that is too intense or too difficult for their level of conditioning. No twisting, jumping, chasing Frisbees or tennis balls, all exercise should be careful and controlled and as non-impact as possible.

The third most common disease we treat in canine rehabilitation is intervertebral disc disease or IVDD. IVDD in the neck is very common in Toy Poodles, Dachshunds and Beagles. This can be an extremely painful disease where something is causing compression or destruction or impingement on the nerve roots causing severe neck pain and often a loss of the ability to walk in either the fore or the hind limbs. We see the same thing in the lower spine in breeds such as Dachshunds, Corgis, Lhasa Apsos, Pekingese, and Basset hounds. The pain is usually localized in the lower spine along with the inability to use the hind legs. These diseases often respond well to both surgery and physical rehabilitation but it is important to know that the faster these dogs get into surgery, the better their response is.

Usually the owner will report that the dog just “jumped off the bed” and became paralyzed, or fell down a few stairs, or was rough-housing with another dog and within a few hours was unable to use his hind legs. It is critical to get these dogs in to the emergency vet as soon as you sense that they are having problems walking as every hour counts. The longer these dogs have their spinal cord being compressed, the more permanent damage is done and the harder it is to regain function afterwards.

The last thing you need to know is where to find a good canine rehabilitation expert in your area. Not all veterinarians are familiar with canine rehab and we can be a wonderful tool in your arsenal to protect your pet in his senior years. Your canine rehab expert can teach you much about how to care for your elderly pet and you’ll have a good quick resource to go to once you sense your elderly dog is painful or not feeling well. Sometimes all they need is a good long massage, followed by some laser therapy or acupuncture or an ice/heat/ice protocol to get them up and moving again just like they did years ago. And if a quick web search doesn’t yield a canine rehab therapist in your area, just email me (! I’ll be happy to search one out for you. We are located in just about every state in the union, as well as all over the world. As canine rehab is still a fairly growing industry we all know each other, and are happy to refer whenever needed.

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