Four Stories for Arthritis Awareness Month – how combining therapies may help your dog

September is Arthritis Awareness Month and there have been lots of posts about it. I thought I’d take a different line and go through a couple of the dogs I’d worked with over the years showing how a multi-modal approach can work better than just medication or single therapy alone.

First is Luther. My big handsome wonderful Luther. I’ve been visiting Luther the Weimaraner since November 2015. He had been diagnosed with arthritis but suddenly he had gone off his back legs and his Dads just did not know what to do anymore. He also had a very stiff top line, he had gone off his food (which is NOT like Luther at all) and he generally looked sad. His vet referred him to me, and despite some initial scepticism from his Dads, I started to work with him. Luther, being a big boy, can be quite intimidating but is really a big softie when you get to know, and love, him. He was rather suspicious at first but allowed me to perform an almost classic massage routine on him.
The techniques that turned the corner for Luther were Myofascial Release. His discomfort from arthritis had made him concertina into a shorter dog. He was tight all over. Once we got that tightness released and stretched him back out, we could work with his muscle tone, building his wasted thigh muscles back up again to support his weight.

Two years on and his Dads are my best advocates so much so that they now give Luther’s new brother, Hugo, a massage every week when I’m working with Luther. Luther is now off Tramadol, and has added Rimadil to the medication mix as well as weekly physical therapy from me, hydrotherapy from Mia at the House of Hugo and laser therapy. He has his bad days, but don’t we all, and he is now 12 years old. Currently, though, he is walking three times a day in his steady plodding but comfortable way. And his loves his massage sessions regularly snoring his way through the hour.

Then there is Stanley the Shih Tzu. He is 12 now and I’ve been visiting him for 18 months. He was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the hips. He was treated with Metacam which was easing his discomfort but was not really helping with his wasted rear leg muscles. Stanley is a character and has to be massaged on the sofa so he can look down at his brother Freddy who is desperate to join in. His arthritis had caused his whole body to be wrong, which is a non-technical term but describes perfectly the way he stood. He had a very high rear end so the spine dips at the shoulders which were over developed. He did not walk but waddled with one or both rear legs crumbling under him as he progressed forward. He did not seem in the least bit perturbed by his legs giving way. He simply got up and continued to waddle on.

With Stanley, he benefitted from as much kneading as I could give him before his attention span ran out (usually between 30 to 45 minutes) and he asked to get off the sofa. In the last couple of months, the physical therapy was really only holding him stable but not helping his muscle tone to improve. His Mum even bought a buggy so he could go out but Stanley was having none of that. A few weeks back we added hydrotherapy to the mix. This was the addition that brought about his turning point. After a few sessions, he had muscles. Big muscles. And he stood without falling. For a long time. And he walked, actually walked. It was an emotional session the first time and such a joy to be able to work with his muscles again, helping to build them up further to maintain his mobility. And today his Mum is off to IKEA to buy some carpet runners for the hall and kitchen so Stanley can continue his progress without fear of slipping. Add ‘environmental changes’ to the mix of therapies.

Duffy the Old English Sheepdog sadly passed away a few months ago from a heart condition, but I had been visiting him every four weeks for 18 months. He was referred with Ankylosing Spondylosis in his upper back resulting in forelimb arthritis. He was already on a regime of Rimadyl and Cartrophen with monthly acupuncture from vet Guy Liebenberg of Coastway Vets. During the physical therapy sessions, his Mum added Holistic Veterinary Medicine to his mix from Tim Couzens. This took the form of daily herbal medication which included things like Turmeric and Ginger for the arthritis. He also had laser therapy.

As well as massage, he loved his stretching exercises and passive joint stretches. His Mum took on board the need to do a few massage moves and exercises daily to keep him mobile in between my visits. Another couple of additions to complement his multi-modal therapy.

For the first few sessions treatments, he just could not keep still and was very vocal. But by the 4th and 5th session, the problem with him was getting him to leave the massage mat at the end of the hour. He wanted more, and when I left, he always went into a deep relaxed sleep – a perfect result from a session.

Last, but not least, is our Sarah. My inspiration. We took her on a basic introductory massage workshop many years ago and one move we learned from the wonderful Pia Campbell was what inspired me want to start AchyPaw. Simple skin rolling released so much anxiety and discomfort from her that she turned from a grumpy old woman to the 5 year old she should have been within days.

She has now been diagnosed with arthritis in her hips and, 6 years on from that basic workshop, she has daily massage and acupressure from us, weekly hydrotherapy with Mia, holistic medicine from Tim, a raw food diet to help with weight control, environmental changes (such as our new ramp to the back door and half steps all over the house), daily activity changes (frequent but shorted walks daily so she exercises but doesn’t overdo it), nutritional supplements, a Bioflow collar, energy healing from her Auntie Lou and recently Regenerative Medicine. A truly multi-modal girl.

Which treatment is the one that is working? Don’t know. It may not just be ONE, but a combination of all. This is complementary therapy after all. What I do know is that she is currently fitter, happier and more comfortable than she has been in a long time. And I can’t ask for a better result than that.

Check out all the options open to an arthritic dog. It doesn’t have to be ‘just arthritis’.

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