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.