How to help dogs keep their footing when age or illness are bringing them down
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
In the last few months, my dog Keeper, who is about 11 years old, has developed a wobbly rear end as a result of neurological condition. He slips and slides on our wood floors, goes splat on the tile as he leans over to drink out of his water bowl, and often falls to the side as he sways his way up the pet steps to the sofa, his favored resting spot. Sometimes he has problems scrambling back up when he slides into frog-dog position.
Because of his age and various heart and intestinal issues, Keeper is not the best candidate for surgery, so we’re working on improving his environment to make it easier for him to get around.
It’s all too easy for dogs with arthritis, hip dysplasia or neurological problems to injure themselves in a fall. You may find these tips useful if you have a senior dog with mobility issues or one with a shoulder or other orthopedic injury.
Throw rugs rule. We have several large area rugs as well as half a dozen or so throw rugs throughout the house. Nonskid throw rugs are great in homes with golden-age dogs who may become incontinent because of kidney disease or as a side effect of heart medication, to name just a couple of potential causes. But with Keeper’s new difficulty in getting around, we needed more. I went to HomeGoods and purchased five. When the checker commented that it looked as though I had bought out the store, I told her they were to help our older dog get around more easily. “I always say I want to come back as a California dog,” she said. My husband laid them out along Keeper’s most frequent pathways: to the kitchen, to the bedroom and to the “man cave” that he and my husband share. Yoga matting can be cut to size and is a popular and less expensive alternative to throw rugs. Both are easily cleaned.
Get a grip. We also purchased some nonslip rubber “grips” that fit over a dog’s toenails to help prevent falls and improve traction. He’s worn them for only a couple of days so far, but they seem to give him a little help on the slick floor. With a little more use, he may develop better ability to get around. A plus is that he doesn’t seem to notice that he’s wearing them, so he’s not biting at them or otherwise trying to remove them.
Options we haven’t tried yet are nonskid pads that adhere to the bottom of the paw, dog socks with nonskid bottoms and paw-grip sprays or balms that are meant to help improve traction on slick floors. Based on reviews, these items work great for some dogs, not so much for others. We’ve tried socks or booties on previous dogs, and they never stayed on, but for dogs who don’t mind them, they can work well. Some people wrap the paws in self-adhering fabric bandages such as Vet Wrap.
Paw-grip sprays get mixed reviews. For dogs with furry paws, such as spaniels, it may be necessary to reapply the spray frequently or to trim the fur on the bottom of the pads for best results. Simply trimming that fur can also help to improve traction.
Sometimes a ramp may work better than steps. We haven’t acquired one yet, but I think it might be easier for Keeper to navigate than his pet stairs because it’s difficult for him to lift his hind legs. He’d still run the risk of falling off when his rear wobbles, though. Most often, we lift him up or stand behind him as he walks up the steps so we can head off any falls.
The next step, if he becomes weaker, may be a canine cart, or wheelchair, but for now he seems to be doing well in his new nonskid environment.
Natural or not?
What to consider
Q: I’m interested in natural and alternative therapies for my pet. Which ones really work?
A: Complementary, or alternative, therapies often play a role in veterinary medicine these days. A lot of veterinarians combine traditional veterinary care with other modalities that include herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, low-level laser, acupuncture and massage. Some of these treatments and techniques are backed by science, while others haven’t yet undergone rigorous study.
Some complementary therapies are used for pain relief. As a backup to NSAIDs or other analgesics, a veterinarian might recommend cold laser therapy, acupuncture and nutritional supplements such as glucosamine-chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids. They may be beneficial for pets with joint problems or cats with pain from cystitis. There’s a lack of controlled, double-blind studies that positively demonstrate the effectiveness of nutraceuticals for these types of pain, but anecdotally, a number of veterinarians and pet parents have found them to be helpful for some animals.
Animals with liver disease may be prescribed an herbal remedy called milk thistle. Randomized controlled studies have shown that it has some positive effects in helping to support the liver.
Cranberry is often suggested for pets with bladder infections. It appears to work by keeping bacteria in the urine from being able to attach to the bladder wall.
Not every complementary therapy works for everything. For instance, acupuncture doesn’t appear to have an appreciable effect on animals with allergies. And therapies that are safe for dogs may not always be safe for cats. Work with a veterinarian who has a thorough grounding in integrative medicine.
Most important, remember that just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Herbal remedies, for instance, can interact with other medications your pet takes, so it’s essential for you and your veterinarian to communicate about what your pet is taking. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
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-- Bee health -- it’s a thing. Did you know that bees need veterinarians? That’s right. Bees are an important part of global food safety and security because of their role as key crop pollinators, so their health is paramount. Backyard and commercial beekeepers must deal with diseases bees face and the possible development of antimicrobial resistance. Veterinarians can help, and they are now required to as a result of a 2017 federal rule requiring beekeepers to work with veterinarians when it comes to administering antimicrobial medications. The goal is to help reduce the risk that antimicrobials will become ineffective in treating bees.
-- Have you been taking dog training classes virtually since COVID-19 shut down many in-person classes? According to an article by Linda Lombardi at Fear Free Pets (fearfreepets.com/taking-dog-training-business-online), trainers are taking their classes online and finding that it has a number of benefits for themselves, owners and dogs, too. Advantages include fewer distractions, more personalized attention, greater safety for trainers working with aggressive dogs, more convenient scheduling, less time spent commuting to and from class and options for shorter classes or single classes. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.