Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Hemivertebrae in dogs

Hemivertebrae is a congenital abnormality of the spine which often affects brachiocephalic breeds, such as the English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Pug and Boston Terriers. The vertebrae become deformed, either by fusing or becoming wedge-shaped, which can cause a twisting of the spine. The deformity in the vertebrae can cause compression of the spinal cord sometimes leading to weakness of the hind limbs. Fortunately, many dogs with this condition do not exhibit any clinical signs or pain, and do not need to be treated. Rest and anti-inflammatories can be helpful for affected dogs. Only in the more severe cases would surgery be considered as necessary to relieve compression on the spinal cord. 

Now meet Will.

Just before the festive season I was invited over to help Will. He is an 8 year old French Bulldog who was rescued a couple of years ago so his physical and genetic background is unknown. 

Recently he had started to knuckle his back paws and was wobbly on his rear legs. When his Mum took him to the vet, it was thought he could have hemivertebrae. 

In Will’s case the vet prescribed anti-inflammatories for Will and recommended that his Mum try canine massage. Will's Mum, Alison, has known of AchyPaw for a while since she works for the Bulldog Rescue & Rehoming Trust where we've supported a couple of their annual bulldog picnics with our stall. Those shows have always been some of our favourites as there is a sea of bulldogs of all ages and sizes so you get lots of cuddles. 
There are some pictures half way down the page on the AchyPaw website here with the adorable Kiss-A-Bull booth.

When I heard of Will’s condition I thought there could be two options. Firstly, I could treat him myself but that may involve several visits to help him along. Or I could provide Alison with a tailored massage lesson and routine with specific exercises to help him regain his posture and confidence. 

We opted for the second as I could always return for a top up maintenance therapy session should he need one. 

His condition didn't seem to be causing him any pain, more like annoyance because his back legs didn't want to support his movement. Initial palpation revealed a distinct tightness from his mid spine, also reinforced by the fact his fur was quite different over that area being coarse rather than smooth over the rest of his body. 

As he became more trusting with massage and touch, he subtly shifted his body so I was working over that area, his shoulder muscles and neck which were also very tight due to him overusing them. 

I showed Alison a routine on one side of his body and then she took charge of the other side. By that time Will was in French Bulldog paradise, loving every stroke and knead. He was also very good at the exercises we tried out on him. 

By the end of the two-hour session, he was visibly happier and moving a lot easier, even standing straight with no knuckling. Hopefully with his Mum doing her homework regularly, which I know she is, we can get little Will back in his feet again enjoying the New Year. In fact I received feedback later that same day “Huge thank you for coming round to give Will massage therapy and show me how to do it. Will was so receptive and to see results straight away was amazing. I have one very sleepy Frenchie now who is curled up sucking on his teddy. Les you are my hero xxxxxx”. 

Once again, this demonstrates the multi-purpose benefits that canine massage can offer. Not just for arthritis but for a diverse variety of other conditions. I guess some things are worth doing on Christmas Eve other than wrapping the presents. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Relax HAOK9 Massage : Cohort 4

Last week I delivered the Relax HAOK9 Massage Level One to 10 of the Healing Animals Organisation students and graduates. These therapists already bring a great deal to the practitioner table and wanted to add a physical skill to their mix of remedial tools.

We started, as usual, with the Muscle Game to familiarise the students with the difference in muscle placement and action between humans and canines. Then we played the Compare It game where a number of different breeds are presented and students are asked to think what issues they may have because of their breed – such as Labradors or Dachshunds. 

After demonstrating the full Relax HAOK9 Massage routine, the students were taken through the first half of the massage techniques. 

After the lunch break I demonstrated a masterclass with two handsome senior Golden Retrievers, Perry & Joey. 

The rest of the day was taken up with practicing the first part of the Relax HAOK9 Massage routine. During the second day the students were taken through the other half of the routine in preparation for their examination which all passed.

That’s another 10 canine massage therapists who are truly multi modal in practice. 

Monday, 31 October 2016

Pictures of a tailored and customised AchyPaw massage class.

If you've ever wondered how a dog transforms during an AchyPaw massage training session - look at these. 

George the Chihuahua's Mum contacted me recently to ask if I could teach her a relaxation massage routine to help him through the firework season and generally help calm him down when he is anxious. 

He is a 9 year old boy who does not respond to 'Little' George...he is a Great Dane in all but size. Helen asked if we could offer some Reiki calming initially before the session so Chris kindly sat in at the start. Helen has been on several of Elizabeth Whiter's courses at the Healing Animal Organisation so knew that George would be receptive. Not that George needed too much help with his relaxation. Within a few minutes, he was already droopy eyed and ready for the rest of his therapy. 
George at the start.  Chilled but not relaxed
George beginning to chill out during move No. 4

George during move No. 5 - eyes closing

George during the next moves - eyes even more closed

George and Mum thoroughly relaxed

George happily chilled.

I had devised an 11 move toolkit from which Helen could select the ones most appropriate and most acceptable to George. This gives them a truely adaptable and individual treatment plan. George was not keen on ear massage this morning, so we put that move back in the toolkit while he instantly responded to the next big long flowing effleurage technique. 

As the session progressed he found it harder and harder to keep his eyes open. The pictures show his progression into snooze land. His Mum was not far behind in chilled-outness. Which is a double result. 

We offer a variety of massage routines and workshops which are tailored to the needs of you and your dog. It is not a case of "one size fits all"...just like George. Please contact us if you'd like to learn any of our individual and customised massage routines.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Canine Calm & Comfort

Last night we held the first of our monthly Canine Calm & Comfort sessions @ Cup of Joe CafĂ© Kemp Town from AchyPaw and Touch of Reiki Saltdean. 

The aim is to introduce owners and their dogs to a smorgasbord of holistic therapeutic techniques for their dogs. Some will be demonstrated, others will be guided practice. All will be fun. 

We focussed on some simple but effective calming massage moves yesterday evening with Halloween and November 5th fireworks just around the corner – as ably demonstrated by Mr Sam and his Asda Thunder Shirt in the previous post. I introduced the new Zebra massage technique that I recently discovered and adapted to be appropriate for relaxation. The dogs that have experienced that particular technique in my daily work have l-o-v-e-d it. And young rescue dog Kosti was no exception. He came in boisterous and excitable but ended up chilled and relaxed. 

 Louise demonstrated canine self-selection of macerated oils which our Sarah adores to show people how good she is at it. Again, Kosti really enjoyed trying that out. We’ve just received some feedback “It was lovely to meet you! Such sweet gentle energy you have. Many thanks to you and Les for a most fun and informative evening. Kosti is the most chilled out dog ever right now. He's so happy and relaxed! I am definitely going to get into a daily massage routine with him….I look forward to spending time on the website learning more too”

Our menu for next month’s session on November 18th at 18:00 will be some adding more massage techniques to the routine plus a demonstration from Lou of energy healing. Come and join us. 

Our venue
Sam and Sarah being Ying and Yang

How am I meant to massage you that way Sam?

Kosti processing the oils he has just selected

Sam still calm and comforted

Kosti after his massage routine

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

AchyPaw Canine Mobility Advice

An important element of what I do is education….or maybe the term should be awareness. Nothing is really rocket science but it is just making the Mums and Dads of the dogs I see, aware of environmental or daily living changes they can make to help the mobility of their pet. 

The classic one is flooring, and I’ve mentioned this one many times. Wooden floors are lovely and easy to keep clean, but little paws, older paws, arthritic legs, find them tricky to keep their footing and sometimes slip and slide. Mats and rugs help enormously. You don’t have to carpet the whole house, but adding ‘islands’ of rugs as places the dogs can use to get up or lie down on, can make such a difference. Doing the homework each dog parent is given – tailored massage routines that can be done daily – help enormously as well as doing the appropriate recommended exercises. 

AchyPaw Mobility Advice

Poppy’s Mum has done EVERYTHING I suggested since my first visit last week. I was met today with “Poppy loves walking over the poles, she really lifts her hind leg to get over them, can you show me again the Incline exercise?” She showed me the little buggy she bought for £15 from the Friday Ad which she uses so that Poppy can be pushed to the park while her other dogs walk along side, and can then get out to play with her brother and sister. This means Poppy doesn’t get tired before she actually reaches the Park and her siblings don’t feel like they are missing out on their exercise. Everyone is happy and it has really benefitted her mobility. Poppy's Mum showed me the 'half steps' I suggested she bought so that Poppy could get in and out of the garden more comfortably.  She is even going to buy some more.  As I sat down on the floor to work with Poppy I had to move away the lavender heat pad that Mum had bought for Poppy to be placed over her hips after a walk to help ease out her muscles (not hot, just gentle warm heat). She has even bought a new bed for Poppy with sides so that she can fit the new memory foam mattress inside and Poppy can sleep on the floor without any draughts aggravating her arthritis. Add to that the daily massage she gives Poppy and I think the entire check list has been checked and some. And that’s just the first week. 

Very heart-warming…well done Poppy’s Mum.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

World Arthritis Day

#WorldArthritisDay matters to dogs as well. 

Osteoarthritis as a diagnosis for your dog always sounds scary. But regular visits to your vet with appropriate advice and medication plus the addition of massage, suitable exercises, advice and education, the scariness can be helped. 

Take Poppy – a 13 year old Jack Russell terrier who was referred to me by Guy from Coastway Vets with a whole series of scary sounding symptoms including hind leg weakness with slight response to medication, severe arthritis in both knees shown by X-rays which were also bony and ossified, lumbar/sacral joint of the spine showing some spondylosis which is in turn pinching the femoral nerve which is causing her right hind leg to drag. He wanted me to go along and add physical therapy to her treatment plan to ease out her discomfort and try and give her some confidence back. 

I spread my massage mat on the floor and sat on it, as usual, until the dog approaches me. Normally this takes a few minutes. But Poppy saw the mat, saw me on it and strolled across the mat to sit in my lap with her back leaning toward me. Her Mum said “Oh….she doesn’t do that to anyone. Is that normal behaviour for a dog who hasn’t seen you before?”. I replied “Erm…..well…..yes actually but not normally with such speed and confidence”. It’s not magic, it’s just dogs sense things we don’t. They don’t faff about with polite conversation and cups of tea. Once they have decided that you’re there to help it is “OK…you’re here…I’m here…get going” 

Poppy did not move for 60 minutes except to shuffle around in my lap a little. But after an hour she got up and trotted off to the garden. And that trot was a lot more mobile than when she first strolled onto the massage mat. 

I was chatting to her Mum arranging dates for the next visit when we noticed Poppy walking back and sitting on the massage mat. Down I went giving her a little extra before I left. I used the mat to show her Mum some appropriate exercises she can do to help with her balance and proprioception. Poppy then got off the mat while I folded it up for transport. As I was putting my shoes back on, Poppy returned to sit on the folded up massage mat. It took us 15 minutes for her to finally return to her usual bed. Her Mum repeated the original question “Is that normal behaviour for a dog?” My reply this time was “Erm…well…sometimes yes”. It is why I always prefer to massage dogs on a ‘special’ place like my massage mat and not in their own bed. It is a place they can associate with therapy whether it is from me or from their Mums and Dads. It is not the sleeping place, or the feeding place, or the petting place but the Therapy Place. Luther shows his displeasure at me leaving by remaining on the mat AND holding on to me. Ralph shows his displeasure at the end of a session by sitting on me so I can’t get up but when I do, he shuffles to the front door so I can’t actually get out of his house. Equally as persistent as little Poppy and equally endearing. 

Hopefully, with regular massage sessions from me, daily massage moments from her Mum, some gentle exercises to stretch out her back and rebalance her hips, Poppy will be able to manage her arthritis and have a better quality of life.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Granulomatous meningoencephalitis

Granulomatous meningoencephalitis – not a condition that rolls off the tongue. But in small breed female dogs between 6 months and 10 years of age, it is actually more common than it sounds which is why is it shortened to GME. It is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system and can affect a dog in a variety of ways depending on which part of the nervous system is affected. It also tends to show its symptoms very rapidly. 

Hattie’s Mum came home the other week to find her collapsed. A rush to the local vets resulted in a recommendation to Fitzpatrick Referrals (the Supervet) where the condition was diagnosed as “inflammatory disease of the nervous system of unidentified aetiology but most likely to be GEM” and treated with chemotherapy and prednisone. 

A couple of days after the chemo- and steroid therapy started to work, Hattie was getting better but her mobility was an issue, particularly along the right hand side and her front leg was displaying considerable paralysis. She was given some physiotherapy exercises and her Mum was advised that this needed to be continued daily. Which is where I came in. A round about referral from the Supervet via a recommendation from Paws, Play and Stay. 

I went over to visit Hattie at her home and, although she was bouncy and active, she was clearly ataxic as though she didn’t really know where her right limbs were. She bounded happily to greet me but decided that it was easier to talk to me sitting down, which is where I sat with her. She absolutely loved her massage immediately falling asleep purring – mind you, Mum is a massage therapist so she has had some Mum Therapy already. 

As you can see in the picture, her right front leg is held at an angle and she tends to knuckle with that paw. She does know where it is as, when I held it, she would press against me. And when we placed it correctly she would walk with it but then ‘forgot’ it was there. 

With Hattie, the aim was all about rehabilitation and devising exercises she can do which will help her relearn where her right legs are so that she starts to use them again. Hattie loves her food, even more so now that she is on steroid medication. At the moment, she can’t afford to put on too much weight. An exercise routine for her had to be constructed that her Mum could do without using treats. Fortunately, we’ve got quite a portfolio of active exercises and it was a case of going through the ones which would benefit her condition and could be performed treat-less. We came up with about half a dozen. It doesn’t sound a lot, but these exercises, when performed with care and consideration, can be quite fun and not a chore for the dog and a little goes a long way toward rebuilding lasting rehabilitation. Add to that mix a few appropriate massage techniques and her muscles and joints should start to show some progress. 

Hopefully, when I return, she will be less wobbly and starting to walk with more confidence. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016


“DISCOSPONDYLITIS” - sounds like a made up word doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it is a rather nasty infection. Not to be confused with spondylosis, this is an -itis; an infection. And it is not the easiest of ailments to diagnose as it initially presents like so many more common issues. 

Now meet Fletcher (named after the Ronnie Barker character in Porridge as he is such a comedian). It took multiple referrals and scans to actually find out what was causing him to lose muscle mass and his mobility. 

Despite its cheery name, discospondylitis is an infection of the bone and disc space of the spine which causes inflammation in the vertebrae pushing on the nerves and spinal cord causing acute pain. Not cheery at all. Typical symptoms include weight loss (Fletch went from 36 kg to 31 kg), lack of appetite (Fletch developed paralysis of the gut), depression, fever, back pain (Fletch became quite hunched) and overall loss of mobility. But most of these symptoms can also be seen in many other ailments including illnesses like meningitis. In Fletch’s case, he initially showed these symptoms back in June, appeared to recover before re-displaying them all again 2 months later. 

Fortunately, once diagnosed and treated with the appropriate antibiotics, improvement and recovery is quite hopeful. Fletch is only 3 years old and was a very strong lad running half marathons with his Mum. He has been on his antibiotics for only a couple of weeks now and is already making considerable progress. He is also on Gabapentin to help with his neuropathic pain. 

The reason I was called in was to help with his muscle wastage and to provide some safe exercises which he can do to build him up. He is still a big red Irish Setter but doesn’t have the muscle strength to get his body around with confidence at the moment. He walks like he is tired with small steps – understandable with all that he has been through. 

Fletcher is a wary dog despite being the comedian. He is all about “Ok…I like that, I like you but I’m still not sure so I’ll keep my eye on you if that’s alright?”. It took a few minutes to persuade him to fully lie down on the massage mat but once down the eyes slowly closed….and then opened every now and again just so I was put in my place. 

He adored work on his neck, he liked work on his shoulders, he was Ok with work on his hips and thighs but he was still very unsure about work along his back. The massage part of the session was all about getting those muscles full of the good stuff again (blood, oxygen and nutrients). There were clear limits to how far he could stretch with the passive movements which allowed us to make markers to monitor any progress over the next few weeks. The exercise routine was to help stretch his back safely and confidently. 

He sleeps on a sofa, of course, but it is quite high off the floor. I suggested he might benefit from a cushion to help his climb up and down. Almost immediately after his Mum put the cushion down he eased himself off the sofa, placed his front paws on the cushion, looked at us both with a “There…that’s what I’ve been needing” look, stepped on to the floor and gave the biggest stretch. First time he has done that in a while. Little things help so much. 

It will probably take a while to regain full recovery but hopefully he and his Mum can look forward to those long runs along the beach again in the New Year. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Aids for daily living in dogs

I’ve always been a firm believer of how simple changes to a dog’s home environment can be beneficial to their mobility. When I first visit a dog’s home I find myself looking around their living quarters not in an interior designer way (I'm sure dogs don't really mind too much about the colour of the walls or curtains) but at their flooring and where the dog might jump down from. 

Any changes don't need to be expensive. Mind you, one Mum of a dog I visited not so long ago took to heart my suggestion that adding carpet to their wooden floor would help as, on the following visit, I found she had carpeted throughout covering all the slippy floors and added matching cushions! When we moved to AchyPaw HQ all those years ago we had lovely ethical bamboo flooring installed. The kids didn't care it was environmentally friendly, it made a great race track for them scooting around the house in circles. Bit by bit we added rugs and runners until we went to IKEA and saw some inexpensive practical carpets which we cut and matched to cover most surfaces. The last thing I'd want is for a dog to come here for therapy only to slip on the way out. 

Similarly, the entrance to our garden via the therapy room involved climbing a couple of stairs. With our Sarah starting to get stiff, we decided they needed adaptations too. Luckily Chris is rather handy and with a few bits of wood we had around, we made Sarah's Stairs. Since initial installation we've added more half-steps. The tops of the steps are sanded or covered with rubber so they are not smooth and slippy. 

As you can see in the video, Sarah now has her own set of small steps to get up or down to the garden plus a ramp if she's feeling extra lazy. Then another step to get into the conservatory where a 'senior half-step' brings her indoors. Finally carpets into the living room means paws don't get caught. 

Apart from the car ramp (which she refused to use as a car ramp but now loves using the 50p plywood off cut that Chris made as a ramp this weekend), all these aids cost less than a tenner. Equally important to helping her get in and out of the garden safely, is the fact that as she climbs the small steps she's actually exercising. And she doesn't know it!! A good result for a tenner. 

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Meet Hamish

I know….I’ve done it again. Hamish is a cat. How did this come about? Have I changed allegiances? No…just broadened my horizons. 

A Mum of one of the dogs I see, told me of her friend who has a cat that is suffering from arthritis and wondered whether I could do anything to help? OK…they are built similarly to dogs, why not give it a try? I’ve got 5 years of experience working with arthritic dogs helping them with massage and giving advice to Mums and Dads on any adaptations they can make to their house to make life easier for achy older dogs. Should be the same with cats shouldn’t it? 

It turns out that Hamish’s Mum is already a human massage therapist and aromatherapist so it would be simply be a case of finding the techniques that cats would appreciate and would be beneficial for arthritis and teaching her an appropriate routine. I did my usual research to check up on the anatomical differences between cats and dogs. Cats are not just small dogs but have a number of physiological differences largely around diet and internal organs. Interestingly, they are also better drinkers and anyone with a dog knows how useful that would be. Cats are also different socially preferring to be alone rather than in a pack. They can jump and climb whereas dogs tend to be earthbound (except when that squirrel goes up a tree). Apparently dog training is easier than cat training (yeah right!). Claws and teeth are different too but skeletally and muscularly they are pretty similar (see picture). 

I prepared a workbook for the training session going back to my AchyPaw Canine Massage workbook thinking which move would work for cats or be good for arthritis. I then replaced all reference of ‘dog’ with ‘cat’ (whoo hoo for Find and Replace), found some images and there we have it – a workbook for Massage for Felines. 

Some of the moves I thought would be beneficial were not Hamish’s favourites. He preferred the petrissage (kneading type moves) rather than effleurage (stroking moves) but with some adaptations we built a good routine. It was more a case of Hamish’s Mum learning to massage him with intent rather than simply petting him, using her existing skills for therapy on her own cat. 

It was fascinating to see him process the techniques in the same way as a dog with the same “Oooo…what is THAT? I LOVE that move” expression his face that dogs give when first therapeutically massaged rather than petted. 

Here we are then, second feline case. One with mobility issues and another for arthritis management. Horizons broadened, skill set increased, new workshop written.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Meet Miss Multimodal

Well…yes…I know…it is our Sarah but…there is a story behind this.

Since I started AchyPaw I’ve been an exponent of complementary therapy.  When Marion and Dan kindly came up with the suggestion of AchyPaw as the name of the new business, that seemed all encompassing.  It didn’t suggest we only worked on one issue or one technique but all sorts of aches and pains.  I could have called the business AchyPaw Remedial Massage, Myotherapy, Acupressure, Education, Exercise, Advice, Maintenance, Rehabilitation, service but that would that never have fitted on my tee shirt.  What we do is not a single technique based therapy but a multimodal approach. 

So what is the story?

A few months ago, our Sarah developed very sudden onset of idiopathic rear leg muscle wastage.  Of course she was getting daily massage but that didn’t seem to help.  We started to add more complementary therapies to the mix.  These all started with a visit to the vet of course.   

Our shopping list now reads :

1. Laser therapy.  Our vets, Coastway, had just started laser therapy.  We were one of the first to try it out.  Sarah now loves her Uncle Jay who zips and zaps her on all sorts of settings for 30 minutes.  We just think it is cool wearing the green laser-proof goggles.
2. Hydrotherapy. This is a new addition to the mix.  Sarah doesn’t really enjoy the stretching parts but loves the swimming with Auntie Kimberley at Coastway.  Three sessions in and the difference is beginning to show. She will never make the Doggy Olympics but she is a darn good paddler.

3. Massage.  Of course this has to be added.  Throughout the day I sit with her and work on this bit or that bit –  the bit of leg and shoulder that she is not lying on.  When I design a tailored massage routine for my clients, I try to make it short and do-able while being beneficial.  I know that if I give them a 60 minute routine, it won’t get done.  But make it 10 or 15 minutes and it will.  The same with Sarah – a little often seems to keep her happier.

4. Acupressure.  After my acupressure course there are a couple of really good acupoints that are guaranteed to make her sigh and relax.  She adores her gentle massage along the Bladder Meridian and then working on her BL40, BL60 and KI3 points.

5. Adjustments to daily living.  The house is already ‘foamed out’ with foam mattresses at places where they might just want to jump and crash land.  New memory foam beds.  Our lovely bamboo floor is now covered with IKEA carpet pieces – not chic but oh-so-much-more-comfy for slippy legs.  Food bowls are already raised off the floor so no back aching stooping down to eat or drink.  We’ve upped her glucosamine and chondroitin tablets which complement the turmeric and omega 3 she already gets.  In the garden there are hand-built steps to ease any jumping.  I think this is the true definition of a ‘dog friendly house’.

6.  Energy healing.  Sarah loves her visits from her Auntie Lou (of Touch of Reiki).  She just lies down and sleeps through the entire session with a big fat soppy grin.

7. Rehabilitation.  This is the latest addition.  She is now moving well enough to try a few exercises.  She can be a bit lazy (editors note : a bit!!!  That’s an understatement) so exercise has to be fun and stimulatory.  When I visit a dog client I always leave behind a personalised and tailored exercise plan.  I now had to devise one for myself.  Lou suggested that Sarah liked to walk over poles.  Instead of splashing out on expensive cavaletti poles, I searched around our shed and garage and found brooms….lots of brooms.  Who knew we had so many brooms?  It was almost as if we had bought them in advance for this purpose.  As shown in the pictures, our garden looks like a scene from a Harry Potter Quidditch game with all sorts of brooms on the grass.  We started with simple lines then added in large and small circles.  Add into that an ‘exercise slope’ (made out of an old car ramp) and we have our very own AchyPaw Sports Field.  And she loves it.  As soon as she hears me open the dried meat treat jar she is ready at the bottom of the exercise slope and prancing round the poles.

The moral of this story – adding several complementary therapies to the multimodal mix can be more powerful than a single therapy.

"Look Dad...I'm swimming"
Sarah copies Dad walking over the poles

How to turn 6 brooms into an exercise field
Sarah's Step and Sarah's Slope