This time of year most of us are looking forward to seasonal holidays, and spending time visiting friends and family. This may include seeing a dog you haven’t seen for a while and just like the childhood exclamation of “haven’t you grown”, there may be changes you notice which aren’t always immediately apparent to a guardian who sees them on a daily basis.
Likewise, you may notice some changes in your own dog, which due to the fast pace of life, we have not acknowledged or clearly noticed.
Changes in a dog’s appearance, demeanour, behaviour or mobility can be so subtle, that when living with them, they can go unnoticed. When we haven't seen a dog for a while or indeed ‘looked’ at our own, these changes can suddenly become apparent and possibly alarming.
Like us dogs suffer the rigours of life, they may have the odd injury or repetitive strain and a bit of wear and tear. This is all normal when you lead an active and fulfilled life. However, the difference is, dogs are not clear at telling us when these ‘life events’ are beginning to make an impact on their comfort. Luckily though, their appearance and activities can give us clear indications of these changes, all we need to do is ‘read’ them.
Viewing a dog with ‘new eyes’ can be really revealing. Whether you are visiting a dog or you live with them, there are some observations that may indicate that the dog is feeling physically restricted through their body. They may be feeling stiff and uncomfortable which will impact their whole life and is perhaps stopping them from doing things they enjoy or would normally do.
For example, they may not be as playful as they used to be, or they are not interacting with other dogs or people how they used to. Perhaps they are just trotting beside you on a walk, rather than wanting to go off and explore. They may be groaning when they get up from lying down or when they lie down; or they have stopped jumping up onto a bed, sofa or chair, or maybe they are reluctant to sit for a treat.
Other things you may notice, is they may have put on weight, they may look like they have changed shape and their shoulders look much larger and bulkier than their hind limbs. It could be that you have noticed that their collar has become tighter. Perhaps they wag their tail lower than they used to, or nails on their forelimbs may be a different length from their hind limbs, due to them being unbalanced.
It is easy for these differences to be dismissed by the phrase ‘they are 8, they are just getting older’, but for most breeds, 8 years old should mean they are still in their peak of condition. Muscle stiffness could give the impression that a dog looks older than their years, and yet there is so much which can be done to help them regain their vitality.
A change in height of a dog’s head carriage can help us understand if they are compensating from pain or discomfort in another area of their body. A common compensation is a dog that is off loading their hind quarters and then overloading their fore quarters, sometimes giving the impression of them being overweight, or just a different body shape. A good way of assessing change is if you have a younger picture of the dog, and you can see any apparent changes.
Another indicator is to look at the dog’s coat, has it changed? Does it have areas that look a little less healthy or duller than others, or does the dog have a significant ‘ruff’ over their shoulders (in some breeds this is easier to detect than others). These coat disturbances can indicate myofascial (muscle and fascia) tension within the dog’s body as well as directly affecting their skin. This is due to a couple of potential factors, one being that any physical tension running through the body can tighten the skin, and this will effectively pull the hair or coat into different directions. For instance, it can stick up, or form an appearance of non-uniformity through the coat as a whole.
The tension through the body can also have an impact on the superficial blood flow through the skin to the hair bulb, and this can compromise the shedding process, giving the coat a dead or unhealthy look to it. This can often be within one area of the dog’s body, with the other areas looking shiny and healthy.
If you feel that you may have seen some changes within your own or a family dog, we have prepared five questions for you to answer. If you answer ‘yes’ to two or more questions, this will give an indication of whether your dog is feeling the effects of muscular discomfort.
When your dog is standing in a relaxed pose, are their legs not aligned?
Do they lick/chew or itch any part of their body, including paws, with no apparent cause?
Do they look stiff or lack mobility when they are out and about or just after they get up from resting?
Have they stopped or are less likely to do things, such as playing with toys or interacting with other dogs or people?
Has their body shape changed (thicker neck, heavier shoulders, or less muscle over their hind quarters)?
If you think that your dog is uncomfortable, here are some things you can do immediately to help them:
Reduce walks to 15 mins two or three times a day, rather than a single hour long walk.
Actively encourage them to do more sniffing on street walks, or around your neighbourhood, this is great for them physically and mentally.
!!Very important!! provide non-slip rugs and mats for your dog to be able to have a safe and stable pathway through the house.
Consider raising their food and water bowl
(This does not replace veterinary advice, and if you are worried about your dog please seek professional help).
If you’re looking for more advice or have concerns about your dog’s health, please get in touch with us. We would love to chat with you about how we can help your dog.