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The Canine Ice Rink

For us humans, we rely on having safe surfaces to walk on. Consider if the flooring within our homes was ice and our feet were the shape and design of ice skates? Every time we got up, ran or turned a corner, our legs would slide away from us, we would fall, or we could unintentionally do the ‘splits’. Have you considered that this could be how dogs feel when they are walking in their homes, on shiny floors?

There is a very good reason why so many of us with dogs opt for floor covering such as a laminate, machined wood; or marble in hotter countries; these surfaces are either easier to clean the muddy paws, or in tropical regions, keep the house cooler. The cruel irony of this, is that out of good intention these types of floors can produce the most slippery and dangerous surfaces for our dogs to live and walk on.

A dog's foot and pad, is anatomically designed to maintain grip and traction on natural surfaces; through utilising the roughness of the paw’s surface, together with the unified protraction and retraction of all their claws, (including the front dew claws) using these anatomical features to maintain incredible grip and purchase on natural terrain.

Carpets can, to a great degree allow these natural anatomical paw mechanisms to function, maintaining grip and balance; but shiny floors provide the complete opposite surface to what their paws are designed; for them, it must be like walking on the aforementioned ice rink and with their claws acting as skates!

Like so many activities, it is not necessarily the one-off accident that will cause ongoing problems; it is the repetitive nature that creates these insidious damaging changes in the body, accumulating over time; starting with puppyhood and then exponentially and continually damaging a dogs integral stabilising mechanisms, that will eventually expose their joints to overloading and wear.

In my experience as a Galen Myotherapist, what can make a huge difference to a dogs mobility is putting rugs down over non carpeted floors, so a dog can walk easily (even if it is in effect a track for them to follow). As well as ‘walkways’, ensure a non- slippery surface where they eat and drink.

There are now quite a few pieces of equipment one can buy to help your dog with this situation. I am sure that many are very effective, but in my opinion rugs, or a non slip surface work really well, as they do not interfere with a dogs natural gait pattern and behaviours.

Preventing your dog from slipping on flooring, in Galen’s opinion, will make a massive positive difference to a dog’s longevity and healthspan. The worrying thing is that often we do not see it happening, it can happen so quickly that our eyes do not necessarily record that our dogs legs are splaying!

Let me demonstrate with the power of pictures. These are two, rather poor quality screen grabs from a youtube video of a puppy walking over a slippery floor. It is blurred because he was moving so quickly it was difficult to see his legs splaying.

Whilst he is crossing the floor, both his fore and hind limbs are being splayed or abducted as he slides on the slippery surface (abduction = taken away from the body). Within a 4 minute video, this puppy’s legs splayed more than 14 times.

A young dog ‘abducting’ his leg involuntarily, the type of action that can easily impact injury through all the soft tissue and muscles as well as developing joints.

The diagram below shows the underneath of a dog's body. The muscles that are situated underneath the body are representative of 50% of the stabilising mechanisms that maintain the dogs balance and musculoskeletal integrity, for all four of the limbs; if these muscles are damaged the dogs limbs and stability will be compromised.

These ventral (underneath) muscles are not often considered as important as some of the other large muscle groups, quite simply, I believe, because they are out of view. But these are the muscles that are primarily being damaged through abduction or slipping injuries.

If these ventral, or underneath muscles are damaged, the dogs joints will not, and cannot be held securely; this will create a vulnerability to damage and secondary changes. A dog's body is like a suspension bridge and without the total support coming from the complete structure, both over the top and underneath the body, their whole frame will be compromised, including their forelimbs, elbows, hindlimbs, hips, stifles and hocks, potentially leading to painful secondary conditions.

A bridge relies on equal support from the top and bottom structures to maintain its strength and integrity.

The red line demonstrates how the bridge would look without the underneath supporting structure.


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