Ageing is not a disease. Age alone shouldn’t be a reason for our dogs to be slowing down, limping or losing their zest for life. Just like humans, each dog is an individual, and will age in different ways. We all know 60 year olds who struggle with movement and are largely housebound, and know of 90 year olds running marathons. The way your dog shows signs of ageing depend on many things including their general fitness, earlier lifestyle, their breed and any underlying orthopaedic and medical conditions.

Having said that ageing isn’t a reason for your dog to slow down, it can lead to other conditions that will affect your dog. Here are a few of the things you can look out for - 

What common conditions might we see?

Arthritis - this really is a wear and tear condition, as the cartilage at joints begins to wear down causing potentially painful inflammation. See the arthritis information page for more details.

Lumps - As your dog ages you may find various lumps and bumps, it’s important to keep an eye on them for changes and to mention them at your next vet appointment. If you find any that are oddly shaped, that change shape, that seem adhered to the body rather than loose in the skin, or that cause pain, go and get them checked out straight away.

General reduced mobility - wear and tear, both from arthritis, and also from scar tissue within the muscles which is more brittle and less pliable than healthy muscle fibres. Scar tissue occurs when the muscle is healing after a strain, if it is worked on during the sub acute phase of healing (72 hours plus) it can be remodelled to become more pliable reducing the long term effects on mobility. If your dog has had a generally active life they are bound to have developed scar tissue from minor muscular issues that you may not have seen the signs of at the time. Maintenance massage through your dogs life can help with the effects of this.

Vestibular attacks - these are a medical condition referring to disease that attacks the vestibular system (the balance system) and should be seen by a vet. Signs include flickering eyes, a head tilt and wobbliness among other things. They can be fairly common in older dogs and will affect your dogs mobility in the early stages and potentially longer term. This website gives more information

How can massage help your senior dog?

It improves circulation - improved circulation warms the muscles, reduces recovery times from exercise and helps to carry nutrients around the body to the organs and tissues that need them.

Improves mobility - by working on muscular issues such as trigger points, and breaking down scar tissue before it becomes brittle, the muscle can work at full function, supporting full movement through the joints.

Muscle splinting - when a joint has an issue such as arthritis, the muscles across that joint form a protective splint. This stops the joint moving too much in order to reduce pain in it. However the splint reduces mobility and can lead to muscular pain. Massage will relieve muscular splinting so that the joint has increased range of movement, and can help to reduce inflammation around the joint itself.

We can identify problems early - by picking up muscular issues in the sub acute phase, we can drastically improve the recovery time of the muscle and increase mobility. If we wait until the dog is showing signs of injury, it may be that the problem is already in the chronic phase and there is only so much we can remodel old scar tissue. We can also spot changes in your dogs muscles that may lead us to suspect arthritic changes so we can refer you back to your vet to discuss things like medical pain relief alongside manual therapy. And we can pick up on lumps and bumps that you might not otherwise have noticed. Massage can be an extra health check as well as a muscular treatment, although should never be used instead of vet check ups.

What else can we do to keep our dog healthy?

Activity - carry on exercising, but you may want to look at reducing any impact exercise, and going for little and often rather than huge long walks. It’s important to carry on exercising your dog to keep good muscle tone, maintain mobility and also keep them enjoying life. Low impact regular walks are best, avoid impact exercise like jumping, and definitely no ball throwing!

Enrichment - stimulate their brains and keep them interested in life . Just because your dog is older and probably pretty calm and easy to live with doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work at keeping them happy and giving them things to do. Go and walk in different places, take them out and about to dog friendly shops and cafes if they can’t walk far, do some gentle trick training or scentwork at home, and generally include them in your life.

Five Principles of Pain - check out the five principles of pain from the Canine Massage Guild Keep an eye out for any signs of change in your dogs behaviour or any signs of pain mentioned, this can help you identify changes over time, and give you an idea of how your dog might be feeling.

Activities of daily living - this should apply to all dogs, but is particularly necessary for older dogs. Do what you can to reduce injury around the house. Put rugs down to avoid slipping on laminate flooring. Limit access to stairs. Ramps can help with getting in and out of the car, or smaller dogs can be lifted. And if your dog is allowed on the furniture you may want to get a step by the sofa or bed to help reduce the jump up or the impact on landing.

Weight management - being overweight places strain on the joints as well as increasing other health risks. If your dog is overweight look for a good quality diet, feed an appropriate amount of it, gradually increase exercise if appropriate and cut out extra treats and snacks. If you are concerned about your dogs weight, most vets will run weight clinics designed to support you in this.

Joint supplements - I would recommend a joint supplement with high levels of glucosamine, msm and chondroitin. My personal favourite is canine joint plus as it contains the highest levels of these per dose, and the company are open about their ingredient levels and very happy to supply information and discuss your dogs needs