Thursday, October 30, 2014

Addressing Frailty Syndrome in Geriatric Dogs

by Susan E. Davis, PT “pull in for a helpful refuel!”  

It’s all about guiding and empowering you to help your pet avoid injury, provide practical solutions and achieve rapid restoration of health and function!   

Pet owners often ask “What is the most important thing I can do to help my dog’s overall health?”  The answer is: “help them achieve and maintain a healthy weight”.

You might assume this refers to pets that are overweight and are at risk for arthritis, loss of mobility, metabolic disease, etc.

While obesity is a common problem with older dogs, there is another condition I will highlight here: frailty in dogs. 

With advances in veterinary medicine, our pets are living longer and may develop issues in their geriatric years that include changes in appetite, dental disease, fluctuation in hormones, reduced blood flow to the brain, slower nerve and balance reactions, etc. When these changes cause lowered body weight, decreased muscle mass (called “atrophy”), thin skin, bone loss, weakness and limited endurance, the pet becomes frail and compromised. Similar changes can occur after extensive surgery or prolonged illness in an older dog.

The term “Frailty Syndrome” is often used to describe this combination of signs and symptoms.

A veterinarian can advise the pet owner about nutrition (percentages of fats, amounts of protein, supplements), dental care, pain management and assessment of cognition for the elderly frail dog. An animal-trained physical therapist can evaluate and treat the dog’s function, mobility, coordination, balance and strength.

Here is a list of items a therapist should look for during the evaluation, along with tips for helping manage and even reverse aspects of Frailty Syndrome.

  1. The Physical Therapy Evaluation will include examination of posture and weight distribution, watching the dog rise and sit or stand from a lying position, balance testing, sensation to touch and pinch, proprioception (the dog’s sense of their body position in space), feeling for areas of pain, swelling, tenderness, measuring limb circumference to assess muscle mass, checking the joints for range of motion, gait analysis, checking reflexes and strength.

  2. What you should tell the physical therapist to help in the evaluation process:  about your home environment (one level, stairs, other pets, type of flooring); changes in behavior you may have noticed (dog paces around the house, seems lost, has a hard time standing still, is falling); how much time they sleep and rest during a 24-hour period, any changes in bowel/bladder function, changes in water and food consumption, how they use their food/water bowls (if the dog is able to stand up or does it sit or lie down to eat and drink).

  3. Types of Physical Therapy interventions may include modalities to decrease pain such as Cold Laser, TENS or PEMF; range of motion exercises (within pain free range), low force strengthening, light functional exercises (to conserve energy), weight shifting in standing (forward and back, diagonally, side to side), paw placement on different surfaces and heights to stimulate balance and awareness of body position.

    Therapists will adapt all exercises to allow for slower speed, zero or very low resistance, fewer reps and longer rest period between exercises. This allows muscle tissue adequate recovery time to avoid painful lactic acid build-up, which is harder for a frail pet to metabolize and eliminate. If the pet has a difficult time standing, the therapist will use physio- rolls, balls, carts or clinic standers (see Eddie’s Wheels for Pets) to assist with weight bearing. Water is also used to assist with standing and walking, via the underwater treadmill, a tub or a pool. Pools can also be used for swimming, with the frail dog wearing a flotation vest, to improve circulation and cardiovascular health.

  4. What you can do at home: follow all preventative measures given by your vet to maintain good dental care of mouth and teeth, maintain proper length of nails and health of paws and pads.  Follow the vet’s advice on nutrition and ensure your dog gets plenty of water and has easy access to food (even if you have to bring it to them). Hydration and food intake are often decreased when there is limited mobility in the frail dog.

    If the dog has difficulty walking, don’t pass on giving them the opportunity to stand up, often, during the day and evening.  Frequent standing: even if only for 20 to 30 seconds and increasing gradually to 1-2 minutes every few hours (ex: 5 times per day) can make a significant difference in cardiovascular health and endurance even if the dog is very frail. If a dog needs assistance to stand, use a sling, harness, or place them over a stack of cushions.  If you have a wheeled cart that your dog will no longer walks in, place them in it just to stand.

    Use toys and treats to keep the dog moving and active, even while lying down.  Engage them in moving their head or limbs by tickling the belly or rubbing lightly across their back or under the chin. Help the nervous system by providing sensory stimulation through petting, light massaging, brushing their coat, rubbing their ears and paws.

    If your dogs can walk, short but frequent walks are best. Three 6-10 minute walks are more beneficial than one 30-minute walk for a frail pet.

    As the dog gains strength, try low impact functional exercises such as “sit to stand” for 6-10 reps. If dog has difficulty with this, place a cushion or step under the rump for a boost. For balance and coordination do leash-guided walking around cones of chairs in a wide circular pattern, on carpet, grass or other non-slippery surface. Challenge balance safely by having dog stand on an inflated mattress, a couch cushion, foam pad.

    For safety, help them gain traction on the floor with the following: Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips, carpet runners, non-skid booties or socks such as those made by Sticky Pawz or Woodruff Wear, placing non-skid pads on steps, use of ramps with sides, etc.

  5. Precautions and Contraindications: deep tissue massage, stretching, heavy resistance, over-challenging your pet to the point of fatigue. Avoid slippery surfaces such as tile or wood floors; walking the dog up and down hills or steep stairs, activities that include jumping or running.

Frailty can be reversed, even if just partially, through home care and physical therapy. 

In the most severe cases, PT can help maintain the status and prevent it from becoming worse.  In either situation, it is important to ensure safety and maximize your dog’s quality of life.

Despite limited mobility and decline in former levels of function, happiness and high spirits can be achieved by meeting their needs at this new level. Accept your dog as they are, and show joy while providing their care.

If your dog feels special and loved, they will be content in fulfilling their main life purpose: to be your faithful companion.  


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ideas to Chew on - Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Problems?
Wrap It Up: Using Soft Supports For Your Dog
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part I) 
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part II) 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Safe Summer Boating Tips for your Dog 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Hip Dysplasia - What’s a Dawg Mama to Do?
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part I)
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part II)
Staying in the Loop with Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cookie's Minor Eye Irritation

Yesterday morning, when Cookie was coming for her breakfast, she seemed to have been squinting her right eye.

Of course, trying to observe one eye on a dog who's in constant motion isn't easy. Right after that it seemed like to was fine. (Trying to photograph it, btw, is even harder. You won't believe how many totally blurry photos I took)

I couldn't tell whether it was gone or not.

Then we left for our morning walk and I kept trying to watch what the eye was doing. It kind of seemed like she kept squinting a little bit but not all the time. Perhaps it was a reaction to the sunlight? (Yeah, we actually had a couple of sunny days, didn't know what to do with it any more ... well, today it's raining again so things are back to normal)

Overall I did think that the eye wasn't quite right.

When we got back and she settled down it became quite clear that the eye is not happy. (When "idle" she's squint quite a bit more than on the photo above. When active, she'd open it fully)

Squinty eye is a painful eye. There was no discharge, swelling or redness as we could see. But something was going on with it that should not.

I am quite paranoid when it comes to eyes.

Well, okay, I'm quite paranoid when it comes to anything being wrong with my dogs. But eyes are very vulnerable.

Of course, problems always crop up when it's hard or impossible to go to see a vet. Be it a long weekend, or, this time, hubby leaving down South for work.

I was quite upset. What if it gets worse?

I don't know what I would do without my online veterinary friends. I can always turn to them at times like this. Dr. Krista was around, took a look at the photos and said it wasn't too bad looking.

She recommended sterile saline flush.

Fortunately, having a fully equipped doggy first aid kit, we had some of that too. It was a big bottle so I pulled out a syringe which we originally got for force-feeding Jasmine.

I squirted it in generously.

This stuff doesn't do any harm, one can you all they wish or all the dog is willing to put up with. Cookie wasn't really impressed but let me do it. Right after she got special big treat.

Because nothing has changed in the next half hour, I repeated the flush. In fact, nothing has changed for the rest of the day. At least things didn't get worse but didn't seem to be getting better either.

So periodically I kept flushing the eye, hoping I won't have to get a neighbor drive us to the vet.

In the morning I was anxious to see what the eye looked like.

It looked good!

I can breathe yet again. Not sure if the flushes helped or it fixed itself but glad it's fine now. She might have had a bit of foreign material or hurt it a little bit when running through the bush.

Here is the complete answer I got on Pawbly:

A squinty eye is an irritated eye. Look for any  debris or foreign material in the eye, you know like we squint when we get an eyelash. Debris can be flushed out with sterile saline, the sort used for contact lens (no medicated red eye stuff, just plain saline). If the squinting persists or you start to see any ocular discharge, like excessive tearing or yellow-green discharge it is time to go to the vet.

My biggest concern is damage to the cornea, which is painful, hence the squinting. The good news is that  with early intervention a small scratch or damage often heals quickly. Eyes get bad, and heal, quickly, so early diagnosis and treatment is important in eyes.

And, remember to not let her rub her eye. Rubbing can worsen the damage if it is caused by a foreign material, or worsen the size of the defect if rubbed or scratched with a paw/nail.

Allergies are another possibility, but usually that affects both eyes.

All is well what ends well, right?

Related articles:
Incontinence? Cookie's Mysterious Leaks
From The End Of A Lead Line To Casa Jasmine: Meet Cookie, Our New Adoptee
And So It Begins Again(?) Our First Health-Related Heart Attack With Cookie 
I Didn't Know I Could Fly: Why Cookie Wears A Harness Instead Of A Collar
C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Chews For Dogs CAN Be A Choking Hazzard 
Our First Health-Related Heart Attack With Cookie: The Knee Or The Foot? 
Creative Solutions And An Incidental Product Review
Too Young For Pot: Cookie's Snack With A Side Of Hydrogen Peroxide  
Taming Of The Wild Beast: Cookie's Transition To Civilization  
Staying On Top Of The Ears: Cookie Is Not Impressed  
Putting The Easy Back Into Walking
Cookie's Ears Are Still Not Happy 
The Threat Of The Bulge Is Always Lurking 
Today Is Cookie's Three-Months Adoptoversary  
Cookie Meets The Electric Horse Fence And Her First Chiropractic Adjustment  
Why Examine Your Dog's Vomit? 
Why Is That Leg Still Not Happy? Cookie's Leg Keeps Getting Sore 
Cookie Too Is Insured With Trupanion
Does Being Insured Mean Being Covered? Our First Claim With Trupanion
Is Cookie's Leg Finally Getting Better?
Is Cookie Going To Be Another Medical Challenge Or Are We Looking To Closely? 
The Project That Is Cookie: Pancreatitis Up Close And Personal  
Pancreatitis: Cookie’s Blood Work   
Another Belly Upset: Pancreatitis Again Or Not?  
Happy Birthday, Cookie 
Who's Training Whom? Stick And Treat 
Don't Just Stand There, Do Something? Cookie's Mysterious Bumps 
Cookie's Mysterious Bumps Update
One Vomit, No Vomit 
Happy One-Year Adoptoversary, Cookie!
Cookie's Leaks Are Back: Garden Variety Incontinence Or Not?
Cookie's Leaks Update 
Don't Panic, Don't Panic: Know What Your Job Is 
The Continuing Saga Of Cookie's Leeks: Trying Chiropractic Approach

Do you have a story to share?

Your story can help others, maybe even save a life!

What were the first signs you noticed? How did you dog get diagnosed? What treatment did/didn't work for you? What was your experience with your vet(s)? How did you cope with the challenges?

Email me and I'll be happy to publish your story.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Adoption Monday: Misty, Labrador Retriever Mix, Deerfield, NH

Check out this lovely girl at Mary's Dogs Rescue and Adoption!

OK, so maybe you've decided you want a new family member, but you don't want all the work of a puppy??? 

Well then Misty is your girl! 

She's 2 years young, sweet as can be, and will make a fabulous hiking/snowshoeing/walking/couch buddy! And no need to "guess" how big she'll be: she the perfect size at 50 lbs!!! And her shiny, gorgeous, black coat will be easy to see no matter how much snow arrives this winter!

Misty is spayed, house trained and current on routine shots. Want more info on Misty? Call Mary's Dogs: or send along an email:

Ready to bring Misty home? Tell us about yourself and your interest in Misty in the adoption questionnaire. Check out all the wonderful dogs on Mary's Dogs Facebook Fan Page.


Mary’s Dogs rescues and re-homes dogs and puppies from Aiken County Animal Shelter, a high-kill shelter in South Carolina, USA. They also serve as a resource to communities in Southern New Hampshire and pet owners nationwide by providing education and information on responsible pet ownership, including the importance of spay/neuter, positive behavior training, and good nutrition.

Don't forget to check out Mary's Dogs Shop where you can shop dog and support their work!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Who Is In The Wrong?

Because of the crazy weather, we were unable to move on with our building and are staying at a friend's house for the Winter. The dogs love him and he enjoys their affections.

The friend's cousin went hunting at the back of our properties.

He spent most of the day back there.

In the evening I was taking Cookie for our last walk of the day. We just went around at the front so I kept her on the leash for safety.

Through the bush, there was crashing and there the cousin comes through the woods.

Understandably, Cookie barked at the intruder in the distance.

He was coming to the house and so did we, so Cookie could see who it was, meet and greet.

As we were coming closer, she stopped barking, interested in meeting this new person (she hasn't met him before)

As we came up, Cookie was all excited. She rubbed around his legs, positioning herself sideways, all wiggly, expecting attention.

However, no attention was coming her way.

Her friendly attempts got ignored; instead the cousin pulled out a power bar and started eating it.

Now Cookie was jumping up. I'm not entirely sure whether it was because she figured she'd get better noticed that way, or thinking that he was teasing her with the food.

"Does she want to eat me or just my power bar?" he asks.

I told him she just wanted him to greet with her. Yes, jumping up is wrong but what is one to do when polite attempts are being ignored and instead stuff is being waved up high in front of them?

To Cookie, the friend's place is now her property. All would be well if the intruder was being social. But he was not. And he does own a dog himself, so it's not like he should be all weird around them.

When the cousin finally decided to comply with required etiquette, he chose to do so by taking two fast strides towards Cookie.

Already suspicious of his actions, when he did that, Cookie jumped a few steps back and started barking.

The opportunity to make friends was lost.

If somebody came to my property, ignored my completely, I would find that disagreeable too.

What do you think?

Related articles:
From The End Of A Lead Line To Casa Jasmine: Meet Cookie, Our New Adoptee
Creative Solutions And An Incidental Product Review
Taming Of The Wild Beast: Cookie's Transition To Civilization  
Staying On Top Of The Ears: Cookie Is Not Impressed  
Who's Training Whom? Stick And Treat 
Observation Skills Of Dogs  
If You Want Your Dog To Do Something, Teach It  
Tricks? It's Not Just About The Tricks 
What Constitutes The Perfect Dog?
Are Dog Training Classes Really For The Dogs?  
Look Where You Want To Go: Finding My Reactive Dog Training Zen Zone? 
Dog Training And Emotions 
Dog Training And Emotions: Postscript
Dogs Love Sentences In Question Form?
Not All Dog Trainers Were Created Equal Either 
A Thought On Separation Anxiety
Happy One-Year Adoptoversary, Cookie!
About Freedom, Trust And Responsibility: A "Pilot Study"
So, We Have A Bear 
About Happiness: What Makes Your Dog Happy? 
Our Example Of The Use Of "Look At That" (LAT) 
Why Do Dogs Dig?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Let's Get This Straight: Do Vaccines Protect Your Dog From Disease?

Just recently a member posted a following question on Dog Health Issues FB group:

"Are puppies suppose to sleep a lot? Or is the puppy shot she got making her lethargic"?

Of course, puppies play a lot and sleep a lot. But this wasn't about that. With further inquiry, it turned out that this puppy was unusually sleepy specifically after it received its shots. It was not the way the pup usually acted.

Let's note here that mild lethargy, soreness or even mild fever are considered a potential normal reaction to vaccination. Substantial lethargy, though, can be a problem. Lilly's disastrous vaccine reaction started as lethargy.

When asked which vaccine the pup received it turned out she got her "9 in 1" shot

If you never heard of that don't feel bad, neither have I. But it surely sounds scary - 9 vaccines in one shot?? Yes, that's what this is.

This one shot combines Canine Distemper, Canine Adenovirus Type 2 (CAV-2), Canine Parainfluenza, and Canine Parvovirus Type 2b. The diluent contains killed antigens for Leptospira Canicola-Grippotyphosa-Icterohaemorrhagiae-Pomona bacterial extract. The CAV-2 fraction cross-protects against respiratory infection caused by infectious canine hepatitis (CAV-1).

Wow, everything and the kitchen sink.

Throwing all these things at the immune system at once?

When the owner asked the vet why they want to use this combo, she was told that they want the pup to be protected from everything all at once. Apparently, where she lives, they either give the combo or, when they give the vaccines separately, they give them all on the same day anyway.

"So the pup would be protected from everything all at once."
So the administration of a vaccine is an immediate and automatic protection, then, right? Wrong!

An administration of a vaccine doesn't protect anybody from anything, The immune system does.

Well, there is one exception and that is the rabies vaccine. While the vaccine itself doesn't automatically protect from rabies either, it does protect your dog from big trouble. Just recently a dog got euthanized after being bitten by a rabid skunk because of vaccination lapse and regulatory inflexibility.

So how is it with vaccines a protection from disease?

The purpose of a vaccine is to stimulate the immune system to arm itself to protect the body.

When your dog gets a vaccine, it is not like they get injected with ready-to-go soldiers.

It's like injecting it with a bunch of enemy carcasses. That's right. A vaccine carries either dead or disabled enemies, not soldiers. It is the immune system that has to build the army.

If you throw all these different enemies at it all at once, you can be looking at total mobilization and marshal law ... There can be chaos and there can be casualties.

Image Call Of Duty MW3

The immune system needs to build one army for each type of enemy.

Now you have it building nine different armies. That will take a toll on the body. You throw in with it some smoke bombs and firecrackers (the adjuvant). Now you have all the armies really wound up and trigger happy too. And because there are nine different enemies of different shapes and colors, civilian casualties are that much more likely. AND the immune system can run out of resource or miss an enemy or two and some armies might never get built.

It might be cheaper, it might be more convenient, but is it better for your dog?

Related articles:
Problems With Canine Over-Vaccination
Veterinarians And Vaccines: A Slow Learning Curve

Further reading:
Canine Vaccines: The Best Current Thinking
Dr. Jean Dodds' Recommended Vaccination Schedule

Friday, October 24, 2014

Veterinary Highlights: Susceptibility To Sunburn

We are all aware about the dangers of excessive UV rays. While we know to protect ourselves, do we need to worry about our dogs too?

Dogs with little or no pigmentation, dogs with thin coats, and dogs with certain pre-existing conditions are at particular risk.

The most vulnerable parts are the ears, nose, skin around the eyes, the back and bellies for those who enjoy basking in the sun on their backs.

Breeds particularly susceptible are The Dogo Argentino breed, White Bulldogs, Dalmatians, Boxers, Whippets and Beagles and, of course, hairless breeds, depending on their skin pigmentation.

Any illnesses or genetic defects resulting in a thin coat also make skin more sensitive to sunburn.

These can include parasitic infections, chronic skin conditions or congenital hairlessness.

Particular caution needs to be taken with dogs suffering from autoimmune skin diseases, where exposure to sunlight can worsen the condition (such as Discoid Lupus Erythematosus).

Source article:
Some dogs and cats prone to sunburn: How to protect your animal from skin damage

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