- Rehabilitation Center
- About Us
- Contact Us
- Online Store
Lasering aching elbows that are caring much of a weaker dog’s body weight.
As a veterinary rehab therapist I have seen my fair share of hind end weakness in older dogs. This loss of function can be from a variety of causes. A thorough exam is a great place to start to rule out issues such as tick diseases, weakness from anemia or endocrine imbalance, and to localize any areas where pain may play a factor. Arthritic joints and orthopedic injury can lead to a pet that doesn’t want to move because of pain and discomfort.
Do We Really Know the Cause of the Weakness?
The hind end weakness that I am referring to is the generalized geriatric hind end weakness that we often see in senior aged dogs. Several of my patients go through a progressive decline in function that is not arthritic in nature but rather a neuromuscular degeneration. We can be quick to call this neurological decline Degenerative Myelopathy (which is a truly terrible disease similar to ALS in people) and set ourselves on a negative course of doom and gloom for the patient. In my rehab career I have seen many dogs with hind end weakness but only a few of them actually had true DM (diagnosed by DNA testing and/or MRI screening). The DM dog’s journey of decline to complete dependency was fairly quick (months) and very heartbreaking because their bodies gave out well before their spirit did. So let’s just agree that dogs can have many other neurological things happening to their body (age related muscle loss, spondylosis, lumbrosacral disease, degenerative disks to name a few) besides DM to bring them to their weakness issues. Why is this distinction important? In short, TIME. Many of these non-DM related causes have a much slower rate of decline and that makes all of the difference when keeping a dog on their feet. Can we manage this hind end weakness, whatever the cause, and give these dogs a good quality of life? Sure we can!
Needs and Goals: Let’s Be Realistic
The first place to start is with setting realistic goals. In the case of age related progressive hind end weakness, we will never restore full function in our pets. Rehabilitation therapy will slow the process of weakness and decline but won’t change its course. My rehab goal is to improve quality of life, teach families how to manage a changing pet, and keep my patients on their feet for as long a possible. In the older patient, I usually find that once we begin rehab therapy we are maintaining where they are now in function and may be able to get back some activities such as being able to climb stairs again or getting on the bed without help. If they are currently able to just walk around the block before tiring out, rehab therapy will not get them back to that three mile walk that they used to do a few years ago. Rehab therapy will realistically keep the weakening dog walking that block for as long as possible with the least amount of help and secondary issues. They can still play ball or tussle with their canine buddies, but with some modification to avoid over fatigue and injury.
I like to have my owners identify some things that their dog used to enjoy doing but are not able to do any more. These lost activities can be markers for improvement if they return or goals to achieve with therapy. It is also important to find out what actions an owner needs their pet to be able to do (like get in and out of the car, up and down entry stairs) in order for the owners to feel comfortable taking care of their pet at home. There is a delicate balance between the level of care that a person is able to give and the level of care that a disabled pet actually needs.
Managing Hind End Weakness: The Plan
We Are Here For You!
It can be a very difficult thing to watch a beloved furry family member age and decline in mobility, among other things. It is important to remember that this journey of age related change is inevitable, but we can make it a whole lot more comfortable for everyone. There is help out there for you and your pets. You just need to take that first step with your veterinary professional to start your journey of management and support.