As a physiotherapist, I understand the significance of recognising and addressing postural adaptations, especially in our canine amputees. There are several reasons for postural adaptations, such as injury or trauma, muscle weakness and imbalance, and to alleviate pain and discomfort, to name a few. These adaptations can significantly affect a dog's overall function and well-being. Dogs cannot express their pain or discomfort in words, making it a challenge to diagnose and treat their specific needs. In this blog post, we will specifically discuss the various postural adaptations that occur in dogs following front-limb and hind-limb amputations. We will also explore how the field of physiotherapy can play an indispensable role in their road to recovery.
Postural Adaptations in Front Limb Amputees:
Losing a limb is a significant change for any dog. However, dogs usually adapt quickly after removing a limb, especially younger ones. But younger dogs have to spend the rest of their lives adjusting and potentially overusing their remaining limbs to compensate. On the other hand, older dogs may not adapt as fast, but they have a shorter period to adjust their posture and experience less load through the remaining limbs. In cases of front limb amputation, dogs tend to shift 14% of their weight into the remaining front leg and 17% into their hind end (Jarvis et al 2013.) This adaptation can lead to an increased strain on the remaining carpus joint (equivalent to the wrist joint,) which can flatten out and become extended over time. This condition is called carpal hyperextension.
As a canine physiotherapist, my role is to address these postural adaptations and create customised exercises to strengthen the remaining limbs and improve balance. My focus is different for each dog but generally my exercises aim to encourage weight shifting, boost core stability, and refine proprioception.
Along with exercises, manual hands on techniques such as massaging and stretching to address tight and over worked muscles is equally important in the amputee dog. With a front limb amputee, you may notice a more pronounced head bob up and down to compensate for the missing front limb. This can lead to muscle imbalances or tightness in these areas as they rely more heavily on their remaining limbs. Massage or stretching exercises aim to alleviate tension and improve range of motion in these areas of interest.
Postural Adaptations in Hind Limb Amputees:
Hind limb amputees face unique postural challenges. After losing a hind limb, dogs tend to shift their weight forward onto their front limbs, especially the diagonal front limb from the amputated side. Studies suggest this weight shift can be as high as 33% (Fuchs et al 2013,) leading to muscle imbalances and potential joint issues over time. To compensate for the loss, dogs may adopt a crouched posture or lean to one side during movement, which can cause dysfunctional spinal movement, affecting their gait and balance.
As with a front limb amputee, the treatment approach for hind limb amputees focuses on fortifying the remaining hind limb, improving weight distribution, and promoting proper alignment during gait.
Strengthening the core muscles is a vital aspect of rehabilitation for hind limb amputees. These muscles play a crucial role in maintaining stability and providing support during movement. I often use a myriad of exercises to engage the abdominal and deep back muscles to support and improve overall balance and stability.
Proprioception training is equally important. Proprioception is the body's ability to sense its position in space, which may be compromised in amputee dogs. These exercises challenge the dog's balance and coordination, progressing from basic postural sets to advanced dynamic exercises as the dog improves.
The role of assisted devices:
Assistive devices, like braces or prosthetics, can be game-changers for some dogs. They provide extra support and stability and improve the dog's overall gait pattern, reducing strain on the remaining limbs. However, their use requires a judicious assessment and ongoing monitoring by a qualified physiotherapist to ensure proper fitting, adjustments, and regular follow-ups.
Physiotherapy and quality of life:
Postural adaptations in canine amputees can profoundly impact their overall quality of life. Physiotherapy can improve their mobility and well-being by addressing these adaptations through a curated blend of targeted exercises, manual therapy techniques, and the strategic use of assistive devices. Physiotherapists work with dog owners, educating them about their pet's condition, teaching them how to perform exercises at home, and providing guidance throughout the rehabilitation journey.
Understanding and addressing postural adaptations in canine amputees is critical to their rehabilitation and overall well-being. Physiotherapy interventions focus on strengthening the remaining limbs, enhancing weight distribution, fine-tuning alignment during gait, and harnessing the potential of assistive devices. By partnering closely with owners and implementing a comprehensive rehabilitation program, dogs can regain their independence and experience an enhanced quality of life.
Jarvis, S. L., Worley, D. R., Hogy, S. M., Hill, A. E., Haussler, K. K., & Reiser, R. F. 2nd. (2013). Kinematic and kinetic analysis of dogs during trotting after amputation of a thoracic limb. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 74(9), 1155-1163. doi:10.2460/ajvr.74.9.1155.
Fuchs, A., Goldner, B., Nolte, I., & Schilling, N. (2014). Ground reaction force adaptations to tripedal locomotion in dogs. Veterinary Journal, 201(3), 307-315. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2014.05.012.
Insights from a Canine Physiotherapist
Canine rehabilitation and physiotherapy have seen a lot of innovative advancements in recent times. One such tool is the underwater treadmill, which is fast becoming a staple in the physiotherapists clinic. The underwater treadmill offers a wide range of advantages that can help dogs regain their strength and mobility. As a canine physiotherapist, I've seen the impact of underwater treadmill therapy firsthand. Lets take a look into the many advantages it offers to our doggo's overall wellbeing.
Understanding the Underwater Treadmill
The underwater treadmill is a fairly impressive piece of equipment designed with the well-being of dogs in mind. It's a treadmill submerged in a tank of warm water, usually to the tune of 32deg celcius with the depth of the water and the treadmill's speed adjustable to meet the unique needs of each dog.
Benefits of Underwater Treadmill Therapy
Canine rehabilitation therapists and physiotherapists often make use of the underwater treadmill, which is a highly versatile and therapeutic tool. It offers a low-impact workout that can help improve the health and well-being of dogs, whether they are recovering from surgery, managing a chronic condition, or simply looking for a great fitness routine. With an underwater treadmill, dogs can exercise in a safe and comfortable environment, making it a highly effective solution.
As our doggos grow older, they enter a new phase of life that requires somewhat, a little TLC. We have all seen it growing up; Nan or Grandpa slowly slowing down before our eyes and just as humans experience changes as they age, so do our dogs. In this post, I have put together a few tips and tricks to think about and to guide you through the process of caring for your senior dog and helping you provide them with the best possible quality of life during their golden years. But first things first, we need to understand with dogs, what is considered ' senior.'
Understanding the Aging Process
Determining when a dog is considered 'old' or 'senior' is not as straightforward as one might think. The aging process of dogs varies depending on their breed and size. The old way of multiplying a dog's age by seven to determine their equivalent human age is not accurate. However, as a general guideline, we can consider the following:
1. Small Breeds: Dogs weighing under 9 KG are often considered seniors at around 10-12 years of age.
2. Medium Breeds: Medium-sized dogs typically become seniors around 8-10 years old.
3. Large and Giant Breeds: Larger dogs may be considered seniors as early as 6-7 years old.
Taking care of your senior dog is crucial to ensure they stay healthy and happy during their later years.
Here are my top 10 tips for nurturing your aging dog:
1. Regular Vet Check-Ups: Just like humans need regular check-ups, senior dogs also require them to maintain good health and detect any medical issues early on. Your vet can advise you on vaccinations, dental care, and overall health management.
Tip: It's important to talk to your veterinarian about getting blood tests and screenings for common ailments like kidney disease, diabetes, and thyroid issues.
2. Nutrition & Diet: When it comes to the diet and nutrition of senior dogs, it's important to consult a vet or a nutritionist. They can help you choose a diet that meets your dog's specific nutritional needs. Senior dogs often require lower-calorie diets (as they tend to be less active in their golden years) and require supplements to support their joint health. It's beneficial to look for foods that contain high-quality protein sources and Omega-3 fatty acids, as these can help with their overall well-being.
Tip: You can promote joint health in your senior dog by feeding them foods that contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate. A supplement that I often recommend is 4 cyte.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight (Prevent Joint Stress): Excess weight can exacerbate joint issues, leading to discomfort and reduced mobility. Monitor your dog's weight and adjust their diet and exercise accordingly. Your veterinarian or physiotherapist can help you determine their ideal weight.
Tip: Measure your dog's food portions to control calorie intake, and avoid feeding table scraps.
4. Exercise and Mobility (Stay Active, Stay Healthy): Senior dogs benefit from regular, low-impact exercise to keep their joints and muscles in good shape. Consult with a canine physiotherapist to design a tailored exercise program that takes into account their age, breed, and any pre-existing conditions. Walks, gentle play, and short swims are great options.
Tip: Choose exercise times when the temperature is comfortable to avoid overheating or joint strain. If your dog enjoys going to the park but can be a bit overwhelmed with the commotion of all the other dogs off-leash running around, choose a time of day when the park is a little quieter.
5. Pain Management (Ensure Comfort): Aging dogs may experience arthritis or other chronic pain conditions. Discuss pain management options with your veterinarian, including medications and therapies like acupuncture. Other physiotherapy treatments like massage, cupping and mobility exercises can also help manage pain and can improve your dog's quality of life.
Tip: Pay attention to signs of pain, such as limping, excessive panting, reluctance to move, avoidance of normal day-to-day tasks or changes in behaviour.
6. Hydrotherapy and underwater treadmill (Swim for Health): Hydrotherapy, such as swimming or underwater treadmill, can provide an excellent low-impact exercise option for senior dogs. It not only helps improve mobility by unloading joints but it also relieves joint pain. Consider enrolling your dog in hydrotherapy or underwater treadmill sessions at a canine physiotherapist or rehabilitation centre.
Tip: If you decide to swim your dog out in nature at the beach or lake, consult with a physiotherapist to ensure safety comes first. Your dog may need a floatation jacket to help assist them in the water.
7. Environmental Modifications (Create a Senior-Friendly Home): Make your home senior-dog-friendly by adding non-slip flooring, ramps for easier access to furniture and vehicles, and comfortable bedding to support their mobility. Consider elevating their food and water bowls to reduce strain on their neck and back. Some senior dogs may benefit from assistance devices or harnesses such as a help-em-up harness or a belly sling to help support them with tasks such as standing from lying and going up and down stairs.
Tip: Use rugs, yoga mats or carpets to provide traction on slippery floors. If this is not possible, consider non-slip socks or toe grips to help give your dog more stability on slippery floor boards or polished tiles.
8. Mental Stimulation (Keep Their Minds Sharp): Just like physical health, mental health is essential for your senior dog. Keep them mentally sharp with puzzle toys and interactive games to combat cognitive decline. Short training sessions can also be enjoyable for both you and your dog.
Tip: Rotate toys regularly to keep them engaged. If you find your dog can be a little destructive with their toys, consider a hardy toy like 'Kong.'
9. Regular Grooming (Maintain Comfort and Health): Older dogs may have difficulty grooming themselves properly. Regular brushing of their coat and maintaining their dental health can prevent discomfort and health issues. Long nails can be painful and can contribute to tripping on slippery floors so keep them trimmed as well.
Tip: Brushing also helps distribute natural oils and keeps the coat healthy.
10. Quality Time (The Gift of Companionship): Finally, spend quality time with your senior dog. Their companionship is invaluable, and your attention can alleviate anxiety or loneliness. Gentle petting, cuddling, and simply being there for them can make all the difference in their emotional well-being.
Tip: Older dogs may need more frequent bathroom breaks, so be attentive to their needs.
As your dog grows older, it's important to adjust your care routine to cater to their evolving needs. By providing them with proper nutrition, exercise, and attention to their physical and emotional well-being, you can help your doggo enjoy a comfortable and satisfying life. Working alongside a canine physiotherapist and veterinarian can ensure that you give your senior dog the best care possible, allowing them to age gracefully and continue being the beloved member of your family that they've always been. Your commitment to their well-being will be repaid with the love and companionship of a happy and content senior dog.
Low-level laser therapy is fast becoming a heavy player in the veterinary and animal physiotherapy world as an alternative or complementary treatment. Nowadays, dog owners are searching for the best treatment available to enhance their dogs' quality of life, and low-level laser therapy is a great option. It's a non-invasive, painless approach to pain treatment that helps support the healing process. Let's explore the uses and benefits of LLLT for our dogs in need
What Is LLLT?
Low-Level Laser Therapy, also known as cold laser, is a medical treatment that uses low-intensity lasers or light emitting diodes (LEDs) to stimulate healing and reduce pain at the cellular level. Unlike surgical lasers that use heat to cut or burn tissue, LLLT uses near infrared light to target specific areas of the body without damaging surrounding tissue.
How Does LLLT Work for Dogs?
LLLT (Low-Level Laser Therapy) operates on a cellular level. The photons of light it emits are directed towards the mitochondria of the cells, which are the energy powerhouses responsible for producing cellular energy. In simple terms, LLLT is similar to the way plants use UV light to photosynthesize and create energy for themselves. This interaction enhances cellular function, leading to a range of therapeutic benefits for dogs.
Interesting Facts and Research Findings
Low-Level Laser Therapy is an effective treatment option that holds great promise in the field of canine physiotherapy. As a non-invasive, painless, and scientifically validated approach to pain management, inflammation reduction, and tissue regeneration, LLLT has the potential to improve the lives of our canine companions significantly.
*Always consult with a qualified canine physiotherapist or veterinarian before starting any treatment, including LLLT, for your dog. They can provide personalised recommendations and ensure that LLLT is used safely and effectively to address your dog's specific needs.
Barale, L., Monticelli, P., & Adami, C. (2023). Effects of low‐level laser therapy on impaired mobility in dogs with naturally occurring osteoarthritis. Veterinary Medicine and Science, 9(2), 653–659. https://doi.org/10.1002/vms3.997