Kristin Wolter, CVT, CCRA, CCFT
Since it’s animal pain awareness month I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss pain prevention. So often we wait for a painful event to occur and then treat it rather than taking the time and consideration to find ways to keep it from happening at all.
There are many medical conditions that contribute to pain – both acute and chronic. Some are preventable and others, less so. Congenital orthopedic and medical disorders, autoimmune disorders, disc disease, some types of cancer and infection can all result in pain and may be challenging to prevent. However, many injuries and illnesses in dogs, that result in pain and inflammation, are well within our ability to avoid all together.
The best way to reduce the risk of painful conditions is to develop good monitoring and management skills of your dog. Importantly, management of body weight, of physical activity and of environmental access are three key ways to keep your dog safe, happy and comfortable through out their lifespan.
Weight management, without a doubt, is the number one way to help prevent musculoskeletal pain related to injury and chronic arthritis. Starting at puppyhood and throughout a dog’s entire life, carrying extra weight can have a significant impact on orthopedic health.
A scale is not needed to assess your dog’s body condition at home. You should be able to feel your dog’s (or puppy’s) ribs almost as easily as you can feel the bones over the back of your hand.
Large breed and bully breed dogs are often grossly overweight because many people do not realize that what they think is ideal body weight is actually obese. Small dogs have their own set of rules as they are often over fed and perhaps get less exercise than other, larger breeds. If you aren’t sure about your dog’s weight ask your veterinarian, or better yet, a veterinary technician to make a body condition assessment.
Activity and Exercise Management
Central Oregon is a highly active community. Biking, running, hiking, paddle boarding are all common activities that dogs also enjoy.
Managing exercise and activity is a huge factor in pain prevention. I know a lot of you reading this right now are probably of the mind that “A tired dog is a happy dog.” Really, the saying should be “A tired dog is a happy human.” Yes, appropriate exercise is important for every dog’s health, but too much of it can have detrimental affects when it comes to causing chronic pain. Repetitive, erratic games of chase (to a toy, a “SQUIRREL!!!,” or at the dog park) are key predictors of orthopedic injury which can lead to chronic inflammation, pain and osteoarthritis.
Daily, moderate exercise such as leash walking, swimming, short distance (1-3 miles) jogging coupled with longer hikes once or twice a week is ideal for most healthy dogs. Weekend warrior type activity is ill-advised for our canine counterparts.
Certainly, playing fetch is a great way to increase cardiovascular fitness, but it is important to end your session well BEFORE your dog offers to stop. When muscles are fatigued (or are not properly warmed up), strains and sprains are much more likely to happen. Another way to help reduce the risk of “fetch” related injury, is to allow the toy/ball/frisbee to come to a complete stop then send your dog to get it and bring it back.
Alternatively, not getting enough activity can decrease strength, limit flexibility and reduce overall function and longevity. The saying “Don’t use it, you lose it,” applies to our canine friends as well as it does to us. Maintaining core strength and flexibility through appropriate exercise is vital to quality of life. More and more canine sporting competitors are realizing the benefits of dog fitness, and this should not be overlooked for the canine, couch surfing athlete.
Puppies have their own special set of rules when it comes to exercise. In a nutshell, puppies should be allowed to be puppies on their own terms with very little encouragement from people or other dogs. They should not ever play or run to the point of exhaustion. They should be restricted from long walks and hikes and should not ever “go for a jog” until they are at least a year old. Growth plates are extremely prone to injury. Severe growth deformities, elbow and hip dysplasia can result from repetitive or high impact play and trauma. Puppies can appear to be very athletic, but their physical maturity does not truly align with their athletic ability until they are 2 years old.
Environmental Access Management
Keeping your dog safe (sometimes from themselves), is very important in decreasing the risk of painful events such as GI upset, trauma or injury. It is easy to slip into the thought process that dogs automatically know how to safely navigate a human’s world. They do not understand that eating a fishhook or stuffed animal is not going to end well. Or that getting into the garbage only results in a new cleansing diet followed by an expensive carpet cleaning appointment. Most dogs have the cognitive ability of a 2 or 3 year old. They truly are not aware that stepping in front of a moving vehicle could result in loss of life or limb, or that jumping from a second story deck going after a squirrel will only result in the squirrel getting away while they take a trip to the vet.
Additionally, keeping them safe means teaching them how to rest in a crate or kennel (or reliably on a bed) so that when you are distracted, you know exactly where they are and what they are doing. It means being sure that the garbage is out of reach, that the leash is attached and that your dog has a good recall and will come back to you regardless of what is going on.
Moderation is the key to helping your dog maintain good health and lead a physically comfortable life. Be your dog’s guardian when it comes to pain prevention. Keep them at an ideal body weight, keep them active but not exhausted and keep them safe from themselves. They will thank you for it with many years of smiles and wags.