Warmth works wonders

Spot with wheat bag

This is Spot, an ex-racing greyhound who is a regular client for massage and laser therapy.  Today as part of his session I used a wheat bag (warmed in the microwave) to help warm the muscles in his hind legs; by initially warming the muscles, I was able to massage Spot more deeply in these congested areas  without causing discomfort.

Why do we use a hot pack/warm compress/hot water bottle/wheat bag?

Warmth stimulates blood vessels to dilate to help blood flow to an area which is why it is quite helpful for people and animals who have arthritis.

Warmth also helps muscles to relax and, on a chilly morning like today, warmth is generally comforting (which is why in the above photo the bag is resting on Spot’s side.  I had finished using the wheat bag on his hind legs but left it on his rib cage because he was enjoying the weight and warmth of the bag).

Warmth should never be used in the acute phase of an injury, when there is swelling, redness or pain because warmth will exacerbate the inflammation.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

New Research Unpicks Root Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs should be seen as a symptom of underlying frustrations rather than a diagnosis, and understanding these root causes could be key to effective treatment, new research by animal behaviour specialists suggests.

Separation anxiety photo

Many pet owners experience problem behaviour in their dogs when leaving them at home. These behaviours can include destruction of household items, urinating or defecating indoors, or excessive barking and are often labelled as ‘separation anxiety’ as the dog gets anxious at the prospect of being left alone.

Treatment plans tend to focus on helping the dog overcome the ‘pain of separation’, but the current work indicates dealing with various forms of frustration is a much more important element of the problem.

Animal behaviour researchers have now identified four key forms of separation anxiety, and suggest that animal behaviourists should consider these underlying reasons as the issue that needs treating, and not view ‘separation anxiety’ as a diagnosis.

The team, led by scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK, identified four main forms of distress for dogs when separated from their owners. These include a focus on getting away from something in the house, wanting to get to something outside, reacting to external noises or events, and a form of boredom.

More than 2,700 dogs representing over 100 breeds were included in the study.

Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: ´Until now, there has been a tendency to think of this as a single condition, ie ´My dog has got separation anxiety¡ and then to focus on the dependence on the owner and how to make them more independent. However, this new work indicates that having separation anxiety is more like saying ´My dog’s got an upset tummy which could have many causes and take many forms, and so both assessment and treatment need to be much more focussed.

´If your dog makes themselves ill by chewing something it shouldn’t, you would need to treat it very differently to if it has picked up an infection. One problem might need surgery and the other antibiotics.

´Labelling the problem of the dog who is being destructive, urinating or defecating indoors or vocalising when left alone as separation anxiety is not very helpful. It is the start of the diagnostic process, not the end. Our new research suggests that frustration in its various forms is very much at the heart of the problem and we need to understand this variety if we hope to offer better treatments for dogs.

The new study, published in the academic journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, highlights how different emotional states combine to produce problem behaviours in dogs. Although it is first triggered by the owner’s departure, the unwanted behaviour arises because of a combination of risk factors that may include elements of the dog’s temperament, the type of relationship it has with the owner and how the two of them interact.

The research team will soon be building on the latest study to examine in greater detail the influence the dog-owner relationship has on problem behaviours triggered by separation. It is hoped the research will open up new, more specific treatment programmes for owners.

Source:  University of Lincoln

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 6 – modifying exercise

The 4th rung of our ladder is about modifying exercise. This particular aspect is easy to explain, but many owners find it a challenge to put into practice because they build a routine of dog walking or perhaps ball chasing as their dog’s sole form of exercise.

And as I discussed in Part One of this series, our dog’s age often creeps up on us because they are aging faster than we are.

Arthritis management diagram with 4 rungs

An older dog needs age-appropriate exercise based on their physical ability.  A dog that walked for 10 kms when it was aged four may not be able to cope at aged eight, nine, ten, or more (every dog is different).

But, our dogs love us and so many will continue walking to the point of collapse which is what happened here in 2016 to a 12-year old Huntaway.   In this case, the dog was taken on a steep hill track with, no doubt, the best of intentions. She walked until she could walk no farther, collapsing and spending the night in the freezing cold until she could be rescued.

The duration of a walk is just as important as its intensity.  A walk in soft sand at the beach or hill walks are much more intense that an amble around your neighborhood on flat ground.

I often ask clients to monitor the amount of exercise their dog is getting by recording both the amount of time they spend out and also distance walked.   (A Fitbit or other fitness tracking device can be used for this).  Because I practice in-home, I usually get a good understanding of the local area where the dog is often taken for its walks.

Just because your dog wants to chase the ball, or run, or walk for hours, doesn’t mean he/she should.  It’s our responsibility to moderate their exercise – even if that means that we can no longer run with the dog that has run with us for years.

Replacing high impact exercise with brain games – foraging for kibble in the yard, as an example – presents an aging dog with the chance to weight shift and walk at a pace that suits them and on familiar ground.  If they get tired, they can rest easily.

Sometimes, it’s as easy as alternating a day with a longer walk, and then maybe only short toilet walks – or no walk – the following day.

In Izzy’s case, we are dealing primarily with corns in her right front paw that are aggravating arthritis in her carpus (wrist).  There have been days when she tells me (by refusing to go out the front door), that she doesn’t want to walk.   We often get in our morning walk with no issues.  But her afternoon walk can be variable.  There are days where we have no issues.  On some days, though, she will start out with a happy gait and no lameness and then she’ll start to slow up, sometimes I’ll notice a small trip or scraping of the nails or she will be walking with her head held low – a sign she is tiring.

That’s when we use her pram so she can continue with sights and smells, but with no walking.  The ultimate in modified exercise!

Izzy greyhound in pram stroller

The biggest hurdle I often face is owners who just don’t seem willing or able to modify their daily routines to accommodate their dog’s changing needs.  It’s part of our lifetime responsibility.  Be flexible.  Be resilient.  Be kind.

If your feet were hurting, you’d want to slow down – wouldn’t you?

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Goodbye, Dumpling

DumplingIt is with almost unbearable sadness that I must share with you that we lost our beautiful soul Dumpling today.  She took a bad turn the past few days which turned out to be the result of a large mass in her abdomen.  At age 17+ we simply could not put her through any more testing and surgery.

When my wife first saw her picture on the Best Friends website, she fell in love immediately.  It was our hope that we could give a 10-year-old dog that was missing most of her teeth, had eye problems and was going through a second heart worm regimen, a couple of years enjoying the life every dog deserves.  It is our dream that she thrived for more than seven years because she was so happy here.

We know that the heartache will subside and are comforted in the knowledge that the joy and love she gave us will live with us forever.  So please give all those close to you an extra hug today, be they human, canine, feline or all manner of G-d’s creations.  Do it for you, do it for them, and today do it for Dumpling.

Kathleen thank you for always keeping her in your thoughts.  Give Izzy a hug from us.

Stuart 



In May 2012 during my first working visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, I fell in love with Dumpling, a dog that had her fair share of health problems and hard times.  Because I lived in New Zealand, I was unable to adopt her.  I knew from the adoption website that Dumpling had been adopted and when I returned to the sanctuary the following year, I asked if the adoption staff would pass on my details to her new family so I could find out about her.

Thankfully, Stuart was happy to write to me with Dumpling updates; typically I would have an annual update each Christmas with a photo.  The family vet estimated her to be 10 when adopted.  During the course of her life with Stuart, she had to have an eye removed from a recurring infection but still loved to go for walks and take long naps during the day.

Yesterday, I got the email I knew was likely to come – Dumpling has passed.  But she proved something that is very important – rescue dogs are not their history – they are what they become in a loving home.  Dumpling recovered from heartworm and became a member of the family.  She was no longer the down-and-out dog found in a Texas landfill next to the bodies of her dead puppies.

I am very grateful that Stuart and his family were able to give her a long and happy life post-adoption and for their kindness in keeping me updated about her.

July 2013

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 5 – Supplements

The third rung of our ladder is Food & Supplements.  As promised, this post is dedicated exclusively to supplements (I discussed Food in part 4).  Brace yourself – this is another long post and I am not promising to cover the range of supplements available, either.  These are some that I have personal experience with and I will explain my rationale for using them so you understand my principles for supplement use.

Arthritis management diagram 3rd rung

Supplements are a huge industry in both human and animal care and they earn a lot of money for the manufacturers that sell them.  And for the most part, the industry is unregulated which means that, while we can buy them easily, there aren’t standards of manufacture and they can reach the shelves with little if any study as to their effectiveness.

That said, for many generations people had to rely on non-drug solutions to healthcare before there was such a thing as a pharmaceutical industry.  And the structure of clinical trials is a modern medicine concept.  I keep an open mind about natural remedies – and doing one’s homework is the best way to make good choices. (I have also found that the same people who claim that research paid for by manufacturers is dubious also endorse prescription dog foods that are also backed up by self-funded industry research – go figure!)

If you remember nothing else from this post, please remember these 4 key points:

  1. Supplements are not drugs.  You aren’t going to see an effect after a single dosage and most need time to build up in the system.  For this reason, they are solutions for the longer term and not a solution for a dog that is severely lame or in pain.
  2. Supplement for a reason.   This is explained  in more detail later.
  3. Implement one change at a time.  I see a lot of dog parents who are in crisis mode.  Their dog has had a fall, surgery or has experienced lameness and they throw everything but the kitchen sink at them at once.  How do you know what is working and what isn’t?
  4. Tell your vet what supplements you are using so they are on your dog’s medical records.  If your vet is going to prescribe medication, they should know everything your dog is eating and taking as supplements to be sure there are no adverse interactions.  If your vet doesn’t agree with you about using a supplement but on other grounds than ‘doing harm’, it’s still your choice as your dog’s guardian about whether or not to continue using them.
Let’s get the CBD thing out of the way first

CBD (cannabidiol) has only begun to be tested on animals.  But it is in lots of products and supplements – at last year’s Global Pet Expo and other trade shows – it was CBD that was all the rage.  A huge market with lots of money changing hands seemed to spring up overnight.

In New Zealand, “tetrahydrocannabinols, the chemicals in hemp which include THC, cannabidiol (CBD), and related compounds, and any preparation or plant containing them, are classed by the Ministry of Health as controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. Under the ACVM Act, controlled drugs and anything containing them must only be given to or fed to animals after registration under the ACVM Act. When products are registered, MPI applies strict controls and conditions of sale and use.”  (Source:  Ministry of Primary Industries)

My natural health colleagues in the USA have expressed concern about CBD products and how they may interact with other medications that pets may be taking (compounded by the fact that many pet parents are reluctant to disclose to their vet that they are using a CBD product).  And others are concerned not so much by the CBD ingredient itself but because of the quality of the carriers and flavourings used in the CBD products.

I know there are CBD products being given to dogs in NZ on the quiet – clients have asked me about products they’ve seen in local health shops and ‘green expos’ and a rumour that some pet parents are making it themselves.

I’m taking a wait-and-see approach to CBD.  And I’m following the research with interest!

So earlier I said that we should supplement for a reason.  I knew Izzy was an ex-racer who would have experienced a lot of stress on her joints during her professional career.  So I started her almost immediately after adoption (around age 6) on glucosamine and chondroitin.  These were to support her cartilage matrix and she continues on them to this day.  My choice to start supplementation was based on her history and my assumption (rightly) that she would likely develop arthritis.

Glucosamine and chondroitin through studies have shown a chondroprotective effect.  Chondroprotectives are “specific compounds or chemicals that delay progressive joint space narrowing characteristic of arthritis and improve the biomechanics of articular joints by protecting chondrocytes.” 

I started Daisy on glucosamine and chondroitin at the magic age of 7 (that imaginary line that, when crossed, helps us generally to define dogs as being senior).  She also remained on them until she passed 3 weeks after her 14th birthday.

When I said that supplements weren’t drugs, it also means that you need to maintain the dosage for them to remain effective.  And if you stop or run out, then you can expect to have to re-start a program of loading to build them back up in the body again.

Another example of supplementing for a reason is when a dog has arthritis – and many dogs develop this condition (between 60% and 80% of dogs to be exact – according to different studies).      Arthritis causes inflammation in the joints.  Controlling the inflammation helps to control the pain.

Izzy also takes deer velvet and has done since she turned 7.   (I started Daisy on deer velvet very late in her life, as the product was new to me then back in 2013/14). There’s a great literature review out of Australia that talks about the different properties of deer velvet, for example.  In the words of Dr W Jean Dodds of Hemopet/Nutriscan, deer velvet “helps alleviate arthritic symptoms by rebuilding cartilage, improving joint fluid, increasing tissue and cellular healing times, and improving circulation.”  So I started Izzy on this when she was that much older, it seemed a good adjunct to her glucosamine and chondroitin particularly for the circulation effects and the growth factors that would help with any micro-tears in soft tissues.

Green lipped mussel extract is somewhat unique to New Zealand and the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown in studies to have an anti-inflammatory effect.  When Daisy’s lumbosacral disease was first confirmed via x-ray in 2011, she started on a high quality green-lipped mussel concentrate.  Izzy, with arthritis in her wrists and toes, has been taking green-lipped mussel since 2018, when she dislocated her toe.  The NSAIDs disagreed with her and so I felt that with her advancing arthritis in the toes, she needed consistent anti-inflammatory support.

I also use turmeric in Izzy’s food – she’s 11 now and I’ve been consistently using turmeric for about three months because it’s got anti-inflammatory effects and she seems to tolerate it on her stomach whereas we know from the times she has needed NSAIDs after surgeries that her stomach doesn’t cope.  I’m using a combination of dried turmeric powder and fresh turmeric when I cook for her and I have noticed an improvement in her mobility in conjunction with our regime for managing her corns.  (Her hydrotherapist noticed her enhanced mobility, too.)

With each of the supplements I’ve mentioned above, they were instituted one at a time and for a reason.   If I choose to stop a supplement to try something else, I will stop the first supplement for about 3 weeks before starting the new one.  That’s because I want to make one change at a time.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned supplement brands in this post.  That’s because my local market in New Zealand has different products than those of my readers elsewhere.  And while I have preferred products, I also aim to understand the client’s budget and recommend the highest quality product that they can afford.

And as you’ve reached the bottom of this post, you may also realize that I spend a significant portion of my household budget on Izzy’s care.  Supplements are just one aspect of her care and for a 75 day supply of her green lipped mussel, for example, I spend close to NZ$100.

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Image

Doggy quote of the month for March

Jane Goodall quote

New Study Results Consistent With Dog Domestication During Ice Age

Palaeolithic-dog

Analysis of Paleolithic-era teeth from a 28,500-year-old fossil site in the Czech Republic provides supporting evidence for two groups of canids – one dog-like and the other wolf-like – with differing diets, which is consistent with the early domestication of dogs.

The study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, was co-directed by Peter Ungar, Distinguished Professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas.

The researchers performed dental microwear texture analysis on a sample of fossils from the Předmostí site, which contains both wolf-like and dog-like canids. Canids are simply mammals of the dog family. The researchers identified distinctive microwear patterns for each canid morphotype. Compared to the wolf-like canids, the teeth of the early dog canids – called “protodogs” by the researchers – had larger wear scars, indicating a diet that included hard, brittle foods. The teeth of the wolf-like canids had smaller scars, suggesting they consumed more flesh, likely from mammoth, as shown by previous research.

This greater durophagy – animal eating behavior suggesting the consumption of hard objects – among the dog-like canids means they likely consumed bones and other less desirable food scraps within human settlement areas, Ungar said. It provides supporting evidence that there were two types of canids at the site, each with a distinct diet, which is consistent with other evidence of early-stage domestication.

“Our primary goal was to test whether these two morphotypes expressed notable differences in behavior, based on wear patterns,” said Ungar. “Dental microwear is a behavioral signal that can appear generations before morphological changes are established in a population, and it shows great promise in using the archaeological record to distinguish protodogs from wolves.”

Dog domestication is the earliest example of animal husbandry and the only type of domestication that occurred well before the earliest definitive evidence of agriculture. However, there is robust scientific debate about the timing and circumstances of the initial domestication of dogs, with estimates varying between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, well into the Ice Age, when people had a hunter-gatherer way of life. There is also debate about why wolves were first domesticated to become dogs. From an anthropological perspective, the timing of the domestication process is important for understanding early cognition, behavior and the ecology of early Homo sapiens.

The study’s lead author is Kari Prassack, curator of paleontology at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, which is part of the National Park Service. Co-authors were Martina Lázničková-Galetová of the Moravian Museum in Czech Republic; Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences; and Josephine DuBois, Ungar’s former Honors College student and now student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry.

This research was supported by the Czech Science Foundation, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and the University of Arkansas Honors College. Fossil material for this study came from collections of the Moravian Museum in Czech Republic.

Source:  University of Arkansas Research Frontiers

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 4 – Food

We’re going higher up the ladder this week to the third rung:  Food & Supplements. 

In many resources, food and supplements are talked about together because food is eaten and most supplements are, too.  I’m going to write about Food now, however, and save Supplements for the next post to keep the length of the post manageable and easier to read.  There’s still a lot I want to cover.

Arthritis management diagram 3rd rung

So in my last post about weight management, I mentioned that sometimes I ask my clients to simply reduce the food they are feeding by up to 1/3 per meal because a diet food is not always needed if the diet is balanced.  That advice was specifically addressing the need to lose weight.

In Part 3, I also included a diagram about body condition.  Dogs of all ages should be fed to body condition; the labels on dog food are a guide and not the Bible.  So, if a dog is gaining weight, then we may cut back on food a bit and help them reach an ideal weight again.  Sometimes, we end up cutting back too much and then we have to feed a little more.

This is where the ladder analogy helps us.  We can go up and down a ladder fairly easily.  And when managing our dog’s health, we have to be prepared to re-visit issues and change approaches accordingly.

Sometimes we go up the ladder and sometimes we go down.

Older dogs generally have a slower metabolism and combined with less physical activity because they are slowing down (with or without arthritis) –  they require less calories.

There are also other considerations for diets when your dog is older. 

For example, if your dog has been diagnosed with kidney disease, then a diet lower in protein is recommended because the kidneys process extra protein for removal in the  urine.  If the kidneys aren’t working well, we need to lessen the pressure on them.  If this is the case, your vet will probably recommend a commercial diet to meet those needs.

Protein is important for muscles – keeping them strong and helping them to repair themselves.  Proteins are a source of energy; they help keep the immune system strong, and have a role in creating enzymes and hormones.  They’re an essential part of the diet.

(When I started making my own dog treats for sale, I remember talking with a Board-certified veterinarian at the Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston.  She was of the view then that all older dogs should have reduced protein diets.  But in the intervening years, more research has shown that this is not the case.  A lesson for all of us.   As we gather more information through study and research, professional advice may change.)

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), we understand that older animals don’t have the digestive energy that younger dogs do.  Therefore, protein sources should be highly digestible when you are managing an older dog.  This is a main reason why I like the homemade and topper approach to foods.  I use a good quality dry dog food, but I enhance it with many fresh ingredients.

A few sources of good protein toppers are:

  • Eggs (whole) –  I like to hard boil eggs and then slice the over the kibble before adding warm water
  • Cottage cheese
  • Sardines

I also cook my own toppers.

Toppers add palatability (taste) and because the dog’s sense of smell is much better than our own, I think the toppers add appeal through smell, too.

If a dog has an arthritis diagnosis, then “Joint Diet” foods are readily available and companies like Hill’s have undertaken feeding trials to prove their diets are balanced.  As part of the research into the product, the veterinary team observed a reduction in the clinical signs of arthritis with a subsequent reduction in the dosages of anti-inflammatory drugs that were required to manage the dog’s pain and arthritis symptoms.

That said, I have never fed a joint diet because I really dislike the ingredient panel in these highly processed foods.  I’ve always felt that if we are told to keep fresh things in our diet, then the same should go for our dogs. I can still use supplements and other modalities to manage arthritis and inflammatory pain.  I just don’t need to have a ‘complete solution in a bag.’  (This post is getting long – see why I chose to leave Supplements to their own post?)

Because digestion in an older dog is slower, if they have less physical activity such as recovery from a surgery or advancing arthritis, they can also become constipated from time to time.  Drugs like Tramadol are also constipating. (This happens in rest homes with older people, too.  An older person who lives their life in a wheelchair and unable to walk around much and on medication often finds that it is harder to get the bowels moving.)

More fibre combined with good hydration helps keep the bowels doing what they need to do (rid the body of wastes and toxins) and the best addition to food for fibre is steamed pumpkin.  I know that tinned or canned pumpkin is also very popular in the USA as well.

Parents need to watch what they are giving as treats, too.  Treats are food and add calories to the diet – but they also add variety and variety is the spice of life!  If an older dog has lost some teeth over the years, for example, harder treats may need to be avoided in favor of softer ones.  If we are focusing on hydration to help manage constipation, softer texture treats or those that can be soaked in water are a good idea.

Izzy with pigs ear

Izzy the greyhound with a pigs ear. These help to clean her teeth to some extent (although we brush her teeth every night, too). Treats add variety to the diet and because I source my pigs ears locally, I am more confident in their quality.

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Pet insurance words of wisdom

I believe that things happen for a reason.  This post was motivated by two separate comments I received over the course of the week.

Dog with toothbrush

Reminder: February is Pet Dental Health Month

#1 -You need insurance before something happens

A travel agent made this comment when presenting her pitch at a business networking meeting.  She was talking about travel insurance in context of the coronavirus outbreak.

People who have had travel booked for a while are getting in touch wanting travel insurance in case their trips are cancelled due to the virus.  Her advice:  too late.  You need to buy insurance as soon as you book a trip.  Straight away.  Now that coronavirus is a known risk, no insurer is going to cover it.

The same is true of pet insurance.  Insurers will ask you for your dog’s medical records to review and if they have a diagnosis or previous injury, don’t expect coverage.  They’re called pre-existing conditions.  (There are also things like exclusions – French Bulldogs often have an exclusion for airway surgery, for example, because so many of the dogs need this surgery).

So when I see posts on Facebook saying “My dog just broke his leg and needs surgery and I need pet insurance now” I think the same thing:  too late.

#2 – If you are struggling to pay for insurance, you’re probably the person who needs it the most

This one was personal advice given by a veterinarian.

In her experience, if a pet owner can’t reasonably afford insurance payments, chances are they are even more at risk of being unable to pay when the pet’s needs are acute  – surgery or illness.

Pets are our family, companions, and friends.  They are good for our physical and mental health.  But they are not cheap.  And so anyone who is taking a pet into their life really needs to understand that most pets, at some time in their life, need more than a vaccination, health check, or flea treatment.  If you don’t have insurance, how will you pay for necessary care?

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 3

In Part 2,  I introduced a ladder concept to explain that there were steps in managing an older dog, and particularly one that is likely to have arthritis.

This is what our ladder looks like now, with two rungs, because today we are talking about managing weight.

Arthritis management diagram with 2 rungs

Overweight pets are a first world problem.  We love our dogs, we use treats for training, and we keep using treats to show our love.  Many of us don’t measure (or ideally, weigh) our dog’s food at feeding time.  Portion sizes start to creep up.

And then our dog starts to slow down, not playing or running around as much.  They don’t need as many calories but we keep feeding them the same as we have always done.  So with less calories burned, the dog’s body adds fat placing more stress on joints that are arthritic because they now have to move more weight than they used to (or should).

As with any change in lifestyle, a vet check is always recommended before starting a weight loss program.  We don’t want to assume that weight is the only problem in an older dog.  (Kidney and liver function, for example, should be checked).

I advise my clients to weigh their dog as a starting point and it’s also helpful to take measurements such as the waistline line (in line with the knees) and a measurement behind the elbows.

I often ask my clients to simply reduce the food they are feeding by up to 1/3 per meal (requiring them also to measure or weigh up what a ‘normal’ feed has been).  A diet food is not always needed if they are already feeding a balanced diet.

Other tricks include scattering food around the garden or living room which requires the dog to forage for its food and, while doing that, they are getting some additional low impact exercise.  Snuffle mats, which I sell in my practice, are another slow feeding option.  Kongs are another.

Kobe with snuffle mat

Kobe the greyhound with a snuffle mat

Everyone in the household has to be on board with the weight loss program – sneaking treats just doesn’t help the dog reach its weight loss goal.

Regular weigh-ins and measurements will help you stay on track and be able to celebrate each weekly (or fortnightly) weight loss.  And we celebrate with some play, a tummy rub, massage or a car ride – definitely not food!

I use massage and acupressure to help my clients through weight loss.  Because if the dog is feeling less painful with endorphin release and muscles that are stretched and supple, they will move more.  And with increased movement brings an increase in calories burned.

I also become the dog’s private weight loss coach, and a sounding board for the family so we can remain positive when we have setbacks.

It becomes a happy cycle of more weight loss, happier dog and happier family.

Many parents just don’t realise that their dog is overweight.  Overweight dogs have become something of a normal occurrence in many communities.  A good rule of thumb is to lay your hands on either side of your dog’s rib cage.  Can you feel the ribs without pressing down?  If not, your dog is probably carrying some extra weight.

Charts like this one are also useful.  They are often on display in vet practices to help the veterinarian explain to clients about body scores and condition:

Layout 1

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand