Detecting Old Dog Mobility Issues
Old dog mobility issues can be detected by carefully observing the dog’s daily behavior, such as how he moves and stretches. Read on to find out how.
Just like older humans, older dogs suffer from stiff joints, arthritis, muscle tension, and similar aches and pains. All these may affect their mobility and of course their quality of life.
We may not be medically trained and cannot make diagnosis (make sure to leave that to a vet!), but we can use our eyes to observe to see if anything is out of the ordinary.
If we do this on a regular basis, we may well be able to detect early on the onset of, say, osteoarthritis in our old dogs. That can lead to timely treatment and may even slow down the deterioration of the condition.
Observe Your Old Dog for Mobility Issues
Here are a few things that you can do at home to help detect the beginning of some joint pain and stiffness that may affect old dog mobility and quality of life:
Did you know that your dog is a great yoga master? You surely know that your dog does the “downward dog” and “upward dog” stretch routine every day, right?
These stretches are in fact very important. They maintain the balance between the front and back muscular system, and the proper mobility in the lower back and pelvis.
If a dog has joint pain or stiffness, or muscle spasm, he’s not going to do these stretches. If you notice your older dog is stretching less or has stopped stretching altogether, it’s a sign that he may have some issues with his joint and/or muscles.
And if your dog is still stretching? Great, but still, observe carefully. Does he do both “upward dog” and “downward dog”? Is the depth of the stretch equal on both sides? If so, all is fine and well, but if not, get him to the vet.
By that, I don’t mean shaking due to cold or fear.
When a dog gets up from his sleep, he usually shakes his body a couple of times, right? Sometimes they also shake right after the “upward dog” and “downward dog” stretches. (When my dog did that, usually hair would go a-flyin’!)
Did you know that there is a real smart purpose for this body shaking?
The shaking movement is to mobilize the spine after a period of rest. It actually stimulates the joint capsules to produce joint fluid (called synovial fluid), which lubricate joints. (Shaking doesn’t seem to do the same for people, does it?)
Anyway, when a dog stops shaking his body after getting up, it can mean several things.
If they have sustained an acute injury to their joint(s), they may stop shaking all of a sudden.
In the case of older dogs, the shaking usually tapers off progressively due to stiffness and arthritis.
So… observe your older dog’s “shaking pattern”. Does he do it regularly? Is the frequency going down? Is the shaking a full body one or just the neck and the upper body?
Hind Leg Stretch
Dogs are “rear wheel drive”. The driving force basically comes from the rear – the lower back, pelvis and the hind legs.
As a dog gets older, his joints and muscles become stiff. This can cause compression to the nerves that control the muscles in the hind end. As these muscles get weaker, the dog has to compensate by using his front legs as a pulling force.
You must have observed an older dog struggling to pull himself up from a lying position, or up the stairs. It’s especially difficult if the floor is not carpeted.
Observe your dog as he is moving around the house. Does he have trouble getting up from a lying position, and can he go up the stairs without any difficulty?
Range of Motion (ROM)
ROM refers to the limits of movement of a joint, and is commonly used to assess a dog’s mobility.
If a dog has joint pain or the joints are inflamed, they do not move as well and as smoothly as they should. (duh!)
If the limb joints are painful and have a decreased ROM, you will notice that the dog cannot flex or extend the joints as much as normal. They may have problems getting up, jumping into a car, going up the stairs, and so on.
But ROM is not restricted only to the limb joints. It also refers to the neck – dogs have neck pain too!
To test whether your old dog has a neck problem, hold a yummy treat in front of his face. Then slowly move the treat around the side of his body to assess how far he is able to rotate. Repeat on the other side. Are the rotations both full and symmetrical?
I know, it’s a difficult word (hey, I didn’t invent it) meaning the ability of a dog (or a person for that matter) to know where his limbs are without looking.
Dogs have nerve endings in their paws that relay the information of where their limbs are back to the brain.
Problems occur when these nerves are compressed, due to joint inflammation for example. When that happens, the nerve pathway to the brain is stopped and the dog is unable to sense where his paws are in space!
The result? The dog may start walking on his knuckles instead of the pads of his feet. This may sound bizarre but is true.
How can you test whether your older dog is fine in this element? Well, look at how he walks. Does he drag any of his limbs? Does he knuckle or scrape his nails on the sidewalk? Can he remain stable on slippery floors?
As you can see, you don’t need a medical degree to help your old dog. By closely observing your dog’s movement and behavior, you can help detect potential old dog mobility issues early on, and get him medical attention for timely treatment so he can enjoy his quality of life longer.