Monday, 29 January 2018

Giving your dog a confidence boost

I’ve been visiting my Luther for over two years now. When I first visited, his Dads and vet were running out of options for his arthritis. But he responded so well to physical therapy from me weekly and his Dads daily he’s now had his 12th birthday. 

Several interventions have been added to his treatment regime, both pharmacological and complementary. He is off Tramadol and on Rimadyl and Paracetamol. He goes to hydrotherapy weekly. His daily walks have been realistically reduced - not stopped. And he’s happy. 

Last week he had a wobble when his front legs couldn’t quite support him. I was asked round for some emergency care. Poor chap did not look happy but allowed some physical help. We looked at supports and I mentioned the OrthoPets Help ‘Em Up harness which Fin uses. We see Fin daily and it’s made a lot of difference just having that extra help when he squats or has a little wobble. 

Today I visited Luther again and he was proudly wearing his harness. His Dad calls him RoboDog. It looked complex to put on but is quite simple. And most importantly it gives Luther confidence. As I was leaving he was tentatively standing inside the front door, looking to come out to say goodbye. All it needed was a helping hand from Dad - not a yank or a hold but a confidence boost. He came out and I got my tip, a goodbye kiss from Luther. 

You don’t want your dog to think that they have failed by not being able to stand, but that Dad and Mum are there just to give them that supportive boost. Think how many times our dogs give us their helping hand - when we’re down or just because we need it. Giving them back some extra help in their senior years goes some way to redress the extra hand, or paw balance.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The ABC of Home Improvements to support your dog around the house

Your dog is a family member. If one of your two-legged family members had a mobility issue (and that includes crawling babies) you’d do the best to make things safe for them. The same should be for your four-legged friend. When we make our AchyPaw Canine Physical Therapy home visits, we don’t just offer massage and exercise advice, but also give advice on appropriate home adaptations which might help their dog feel more comfy and safe. 

Here is a simple A, B, C to help make some improvements. 

A is for ACCESS. How many steps and stairs does your dog walk up and down daily in your house just to get around or to get in and out? Are they human sized steps? You can make simple and inexpensive improvements to ease their access. 

If you’ve got full sized stairs, buy some Half Steps (they are used for human mobility aids). We’ve got an old house with clumsy sized steps. No more – we have half steps everywhere which are more dog sized. Some are bought, some are home made. The dogs don’t seem to care how expensive they are, just how safe they now feel. And they must work as when we have canine visitors to our house, they always go straight to Sarah’s Steps rather than the bigger ones. 

Sometimes, a ramp might be necessary. There are many varieties available but check the size and weight they can hold – and how manageable they are for you - or you might not use them. You could even make your own. To get from our back door to the car, there were many different sized steps. We made a ramp by cutting decking planks to size, fixing them to a frame, and placing it over the offending steps. 

If your dog goes up and down stairs on their own but is now getting a bit wobbly, buy a stair guard to put up when you’re out so they don’t try to climb and fall down. 

B is for BOREDOM. If your dog is slowing down a bit in their senior years, you can hide the ball that finds its way under the sofa and introduce some Mind Games. Again, you can find all sorts to buy or make one with tennis balls in a muffin tin with treats hidden underneath. The dogs will spend ages picking out the balls to get to the treats. Snuffle Mats, perhaps hiding low calorie treats, can encourage mind stimulation. 

C is for CARPETS or lack of. This is the top way to keep your dog injury free according to Natalie Lenton of the Canine Massage Therapy Centre ( I know, laminate floors are easy to look after, but they can be very tricky to navigate if you’ve got aging joints or small paws. You don’t need to completely carpet your house, just provide islands of runners and mats so the dogs can get safely from their bed, to the door, to their food bowl. Otherwise, to the dog, it can be like walking over a glacier. I always carry a number of carpet runners in my car for visits for demonstration. Every time the dogs see it, they walk straight to it and on it. 

D is for DRIVING – (you not the dog). You’re going to take your dog for a walk. How do you get them in the car? If they are light enough, you can lift them. But this is not always possible. Again, there are many ramps and portable stairs to help them get into the car. The main requirement for me when I bought my new car, was the height of the boot. Not too high and enough to fit our drive perfectly. We even built a bridge for the dogs to get in and out. Simple but effective. While you’re there, warm them up before you drive them for their walk and cool them down when they’ve finished. We use the simplest but effective warm-up / cool-down called the Locomotion.

E is for EXTRA HELP. Some dogs with mobility problems or getting senior, find it hard to get up from lying down. Try a harness. There are several that have handles front and back which will give your dog that little extra assistance and thus confidence to stand up. Some can even be left on all day but check out how comfy they feel before you do. If you haven’t got a harness, a towel or a strong scarf also works wonders. 

F is for FOOD BOWL (and water bowl). Try this. Get on all fours. Imagine your food is on the floor. Bend down to reach it. Ouch – your neck starts to hurt, your back aches. If that food was raised a few inches it would make the whole process easier and comfier. 

Z is for ZZZZZZZZZ (sleep and bedtime). Is your dog sleeping comfortably? Try sitting on their bed for a while. Do you feel a bit numb? It might be the bed needs more padding, to be firmer or perhaps a memory foam mattress. Again, you can buy all sorts of these or make them yourself. We bought some memory foam offcuts, some cheap bed covers, cut the foam to size, slip them in the covers, dogs love them.

A few simple but effective ways to help your dog feel safer getting around and about the house.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Benefits of hydrotherapy

As well as offering education, physical therapy and massage, exercise advice and rehabilitation, we also have lots of useful suggestions for carers. This makes for an all-round Complementary Therapy for their dogs. I know some people tend to put quotation marks around Complementary Therapy or do those finger things in the air when talking about it as though it is whichcraft or dodgy. I’ve never understood why, as it is what is says – complementary therapy to that already being received. Most often, this is traditional pharmaceutical treatment prescribed by the vet. That should always be the first port of call. Anything else can add to or complement that. 

The Cancer Research UK site ( has a clear definition worth copying in full : “A complementary therapy means you can use it alongside your conventional medical treatment. It may help you to feel better and cope better with your cancer and treatment. An alternative therapy is generally used instead of conventional medical treatment. All conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, have to go through rigorous testing by law in order to prove that they work. Most alternative therapies have not been through such testing and there is no scientific evidence that they work. Some types of alternative therapy may not be completely safe and could cause harmful side effects.” 

Over the years of managing our dog’s various issues, and most recently Sarah’s arthritis, we’ve tried several complementary therapies allowing us to offer experience and advice. She’s had acupuncture from vet Guy at Coastway. Sam has had Cartophen injections. Sarah has had laser therapy. They have both had, and still do have, homeopathy from Tim Couzens of the HVMC and energy healing from Louise Wilson of Touch of Reiki. 

One that adds perfectly to their massage and physical therapy, and one used by many of the dogs I work with, is hydrotherapy. This addition made a considerable difference to our Sarah’s movement as well as to her fitness. At first, she could only manage once or twice round the pool at Coastway Vets and was totally exhausted when she came home. But that gradually built such that the therapist was able to do several laps non-stop with her. 

Unfortunately, she had a bit of a crisis 18 months ago and her back legs failed. After medication and other interventions, we started on twice weekly hydrotherapy at House of Hugo with Mia. 

This is a bigger pool which she seemed to prefer. We’re now down to weekly sessions and while she may not get into the pool with a big smile, she does it. She knows the way out. She knows where the exit ramp is. But she is happy to swim up and down with Mia helping and coaxing. She even allows Mia to ‘float’ her back to the start – which I think is probably her favourite part of the session as she lies in her arms like a Princess. 

I thought that the massage and exercise she was getting was enough. So, when we had to cancel a couple of sessions over Christmas, I assumed she’d be able to get straight back into the swim. But no. She was far more tired out on that first visit back after 3 weeks. Puffing and panting within 10 minutes. She needed a lot more rest and float time. 

It reinforced that if you find something that works, keep at it. Don’t assume you can drop this or that therapy – whether complementary or traditional – and your dog will be fine. It is rather like going back to the gym after a 2 week break. The cardiovascular exercise she was getting from her regular walks with us, was clearly not quite enough. Her body had got used to this weekly shot of non-weightbearing exercise. I’m confident that by the end of the month she’ll be back to her usual 30 minute hydrotherapy. Still not loving it, but doing it as she knows it’ll do her good. 

If you think it would help your dog, see if you have a local hydrotherapy pool which you could go to. It could be the thing that really helps – the perfect complement.