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The Lowdown on Canine Rehab for Disabled Pets


June 14, 2017

Back in the day, you had to be a prize-winning racehorse to get the benefits of professional animal physical therapy.  In the 1980s, however, canine rehabilitation caught on in Europe and later in the US, and the demand became so great that vet colleges started to offer it as a specialty.

Today, canine rehab is taught formally in US vet colleges, and is the fastest growing specialty in veterinarian medicine.  While agility exercises and physical training benefit healthy dogs that compete or work as rescue or police dogs, modified exercises can also help disabled dogs.

Among the many benefits of canine rehab for injured or disabled dogs include:

  • Higher functional capacities
  • Better pain management
  • Shorter recovery periods from surgery or injury
  • Higher quality of life
  • Improved range of motion and more strength

Goals of canine rehab

The main goal of canine rehab is to enable the patient dog to get back as much function as possible after injury, surgery, or disease. If normal functioning is precluded, such as when the dog suffers from a progressively degenerative disease i.e. degenerative myelopathy, canine rehab can help the patient develop the right way of coping with their disability and lead a relatively normal life.

The biggest problem that a disabled dog may develop is atrophy of the muscles. This can happen quite quickly , sometimes after just a couple of days of inactivity. Early signs of incipient muscle atrophy include swelling in the area of the injury or surgery, shakiness or stiffness in the joints, muscles, and tendons, and diminished muscle control. Because of this, the sooner you do canine rehab, the better the results.

While a dog that has just undergone surgery will not be able to do the normal weight-bearing exercises in canine rehab for up to several weeks, but it can do some activities in water within a few days post-operatively.

Of course, a post-operative dog may not be allowed to do any weight-bearing activities for several weeks. However, canine rehab can take place in a pool much earlier, often a few days after surgery. Water provides some resistance, but also provides support when moving.

Physical therapy using an underwater treadmill is a great way to get your dog’s muscles moving again without causing further injury. This includes natural gait functions such as walking, running, and trotting. Not only will it keep the muscles from atrophying, it will maximize its range of motion.

Eligibility

Postoperative dogs are the primary target for canine rehab, but the science has gotten to the point that it can also provide significant benefits for dogs with disabling conditions such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Abnormal gait
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Joint problems
  • Soft tissue damage
  • Pain
  • Old-age problems
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Pain
  • Overuse injuries

Specialists will create a program appropriate for the dog’s condition. Canine rehab activities will have to meet a vet’s approval before therapy can begin.

A course of rehabilitation can be as short as two visits or as long as three weekly visits for three months. Sessions are generally an hour, and progress is carefully documented at each visit. You as the owner will also be given a set of exercises for your pet to do at home.

Rehab therapy options

Therapy aids

A canine rehab specialist may require the patient to use tools that will address balance issues such as wobble boards, rockers, physioballs, and therapy bands. These aids will also increase their coordination, strength, and flexibility. Getting the dog to walk on an irregular surface trains it to know where the feet are at all times (spatial awareness). This comes in handy when it changes positions.

Manual manipulation

Canine rehab specialists properly trained in the manual manipulation techniques may perform them on the patient when needed. These are especially important for dogs with degenerative diseases, and include stretches, moving the joints, massage, and other exercises.

Aquatic therapy

Aquatic therapy is appropriate for dogs that may not be allowed to do weight bearing exercises. These include swimming and the use of an underwater treadmill. The water supports the patient’s weight to prevent injury, and at the same time exerts gentle resistance to improve cardiovascular function, range of motion, and strength that will increase its mobility out of water.

Other therapies

Your canine rehab professional may also employ several techniques to treat some conditions. Cryotherapy contracts the blood vessels to reduce deep tissue and surface bleeding using ice packs. This helps keep inflammation down and relieve pain. One the other hand, heat therapy with warm towels dilates the blood vessels to promote healing, which also helps relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

Special machines may also be used in turn, such as:

Low-level laser therapy – accelerates wound healing and reduces post-trauma pain and swelling by stimulating the natural production of pain-alleviating chemicals in the dog’s body such as endorphins

Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation or NMES – treats vascular and musculoskeletal issues by causing the muscles to contract and release using low-volt electrical stimulation

Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy or ESWT – accelerates healing b transmitting highe energy waves through the dog’s body, generating heat the increases blood flow. ESWT can also reduce muscle spasms, swelling, and inflammation. It is especially effective in treating ligament and tendon damage, fractures, osteoarthritis, and hip dysplasia.

Takeaway

Mobility is more important for your dog than you think. The absence of physical activity can have a significant impact on their physical, mental, and emotional health. While wheelchairs are important to their well-being of permanently disabled dogs in the long term, canine rehab helps them develop the proper coping mechanisms for their disability and make the most of any mobility they retain. Canine rehab together with good quality mobility aids can give your injured or disabled dog a new leash in life.

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Creating a Normal Environment for Your Disabled Pet


April 12, 2017

Most people get teary-eyed and upset when they hear stories about a disabled dog or cat. However, such emotional reactions will most probably go over the head of the afflicted pet. Most animals are incapable of feeling self-pity, and cheerfully adapt and accept any changes in their circumstances. That is, unless their owners consistently treat them with pity.

Pets are quick to pick up their owner’s mood, and may start feeling anxious as a result. The best thing you can do for your disabled pet is to stop projecting your own feelings and start creating a normal environment for your pet. Disabled pets are capable of living long, happy lives if you give them half a chance.

That doesn’t mean you will not have to give them special care, however. Here are some quick tips for living with your disabled pet.

Sight impaired pets

Blindness in pets is not as devastating to them as they are for people that used to have their sight. Most people forget that dogs, particularly, rely largely on their sense of smell, so losing their sight is not all that debilitating. You may not even know they’re blind for a long time! Cats do use their sight much more, but they too can adapt to its loss if you make it easy for them to do so.

  • Reinforce their sense of security by talking to them; the sound of your voice assures them
  • Help them use and develop their sense of smell more by using attractive-smelling treats and toys to keep them alert
  • Make a point of keeping areas they frequent free of obstacles
  • Lead them around furniture and rooms to familiarize them with the layout and dimensions
  • Encourage them to socialize with other pets under controlled conditions until they are more comfortable with their sightlessness

Hearing-impaired pets

Most pets that were not born deaf have good hearing, so the loss of it does have a significant effect on their lives. You will have to make some changes to your communication and routines to cope with a loss of hearing.

  • Start practicing hand signals and touch to communicate with your pet as spoken commands will no longer work
  • Make eye contact frequently so your pet will start picking up on these non-verbal signals
  • Avoid startling your pet by approaching them with a firm step so they can feel your approach
  • Use a light to get their attention at night and keep some light available to give them a sense of security

Mobility-challenged pets

Loss of mobility presents some major challenges for both you and your pet. Mobility impairment renders your pet completely dependent on you, even if the situation is temporary. To create a normal environment order for your pet, you need to make some changes to your daily lives.

  • Get a specialist to give your pet a complete check-up and ask for long-term care recommendations
  • Keep your pet from becoming anxious by keeping to a regular schedule for daily activities
  • Give them more frequent baths if they are incontinent or cannot move quickly enough to take care of business on their own
  • Find out how to express the bowels of your pet to make life much easier for both of you
  • Make a point of regularly checking your pet for sores and wounds especially in the afflicted limbs as mobility-impaired pets can get some nasty injuries without knowing it by dragging their useless limbs around; this can lead to serious infections if not treated
  • If your budget allows it, you might try acupuncture or massage for your pet to improve mobility, especially if they are recovering from surgery
  • Continue walking your pet to give them a chance to socialize and get some outdoor time
  • Seek some support and advice from pet owners in your same situation; you just might get some great tips

Mobility aids are also a great way to create a sense of normalcy for your disabled pet. Adjustable wheelchairs, for instance, are available for all types of dogs provided they have some mobility in their front legs and otherwise healthy. Giving them the ability to get around on their own will do wonders with their well-being and physical health.

Check out these dogs in wheelchairs videos for inspiration.

Conclusion

Your disabled pet is capable of living long and happy lives despite their limitations given half a chance. While creating a normal environment for your disabled pet may requires a significant amount of time and resources at first, it will be worth it in the end.

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How to Train Your Disabled Dog to Poop on Demand


January 20, 2017

You will encounter many challenges when caring for a disabled dog, but one of the messiest is poop incontinence. Your pet does not have the ability to mobilize its forces as it may want to, so it just goes whenever it moves them. That can be upsetting for anyone, but what can you do?

Actually, you can do quite a bit, but if you are particularly squeamish, you may not like the alternative. Expressing the bowels, a.k.a. training your dog to do number two on demand by stimulating the poop reflex is not pretty, and involves the touching of the anus. However, for everyone’s health and well-being, you might have to steel yourself to do it.

Controlling when and where your disabled dog does his business can take some time, and you may have to do a bit of trial and error. However, if you succeed, it would mean no more nasty surprises in undesirable places.

Inducing the reflex

Expressing the bowel is essentially conditioning the dog’s body to evacuate it under controlled conditions, and the most convenient way to train your disabled dog to poop on demand. You will need a few things depending on the method you choose, but in any method you will need gloves. Ask your vet where to buy disposable latex gloves, the thin kind with the powder. It is hygienic because you just discard it after each use. You only need it for one hand, so a box should go a long way.

Are you ready? Here are the best techniques for inducing the poop reflex.

Technique 1:

This is the preferred technique if you have a small breed of dog, because you will be able to use the toilet to get rid of the evidence. Hold your dog securely in the crook of one arm, orienting it so that the butt is directly over the bowl and you are in a position to see what you are doing. Gently secure the tail up away from the hole so you have a clear view. Okay, now here comes the icky part.

With your gloved hand, palpate the area around the butt hole. The tissue there is usually soft, so if you don’t feel anything solid behind it, then your dog is probably not ready to go. However, if you feel a solid mass in that area, you’ve hit the jackpot. Gently press down around the solid mass until part of the fecal matter puts in an appearance. With a pincer grasp, squeeze the butt hole shut, effectively cutting a section of the poop (it can get pretty long) so it can fall off. Do the same thing again for the next section, and the next, until there’s nothing coming out anymore.

Be very careful with this technique, as pressing too hard can injure your pet. If the poop is too hard to come out easily, don’t force it. You may have to use a suppository. Consult your vet before you put anything up there.

Technique 2:

Medium and large breed dogs may be too heavy and ungainly for the potty technique, so you can try the squirt technique. Fill a squirt bottle with slightly cool (not cold) water, and test if you get stream and not spray.

When you’re ready, place your disabled pet’s butt region on some old newspapers, or lay down a couple of paper towels. Find the butt hole and squirt a bit of water directly on it. You should observe it contract when the cool water hits it. That’s the poop reflex.

Do this several times until poop starts coming out. If it is taking long, you can further stimulate it by rubbing the hole very gently with moist baby wipes. When the deed is done, simply fold over the poop-laden paper and get rid of it.

Technique 3:

You might be interested in a simpler, although not always effective technique involving ice cubes. This is very similar to the squirt method except you simply hold an ice cube on the butt hole to induce the poop reflex rather than squirt water on to it. The idea is to hold it there until the poop surrenders and comes out with its hands up. It’s not very comfortable for the dog, though, so it doesn’t always work.

Technique 4:

If none of the above techniques is proving effective for your dog, you can try one last thing. This one involves the use of a lubricant such as petroleum jelly, so you can probably guess where this is going. Rather, you know where your finger is going.

It sounds gross, yes, but you will be wearing gloves and the lubricant will ease the way, so stop whining. Do the same preparations for Techniques 2 and 3, but you won’t need any form of H20. Slather the probing finger with petroleum jelly and gently slide it in the butt. The purpose of this is to cause the butt muscles to clench, so if it does, don’t freak out. Don’t go in too far, though. A centimeter or two should do the trick. Wiggle the finger around a little and then take it out. Do this several times until the eagle lands.

Important!

You need to commit to a regular schedule and area (call it the expressing station) for training your dog to poop on demand. This gets them used to the idea, and keeps them from panicking about what you’re about to do to them with those gloves. It also conditions the body to respond appropriately, so there may come a time when you won’t need to do anything more than bring them to the right place at the right time. You can always hope.

You should try to induce the poop reflex at least twice a day, one in the morning, and one just before turning in for the night. Of course, not all pets will have the same cycle, so you may need to adjust your timing as you get to know the cycle.

Poop is a by-product of the food your pet eats, so if it smells too strong, or the texture is too hard or soft, you may have to change what you feed it. The goal is to get poop that is solid and not so smelly. Many pet owners prefer dry Bil-Jac for the ideal poop, but others think Science Diet w/d is better. Do your experiments and adjust accordingly.

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Does Your Dog Need a Quad Support Wheelchair?


August 12, 2016

Tinkerbell in a quad wheelchair.

Dogs are man’s best friend, and it is simply heartbreaking when the ability to walk of these constant companions are taken away by disease or traumatic injury. Aids to mobility such as dog carts or wheelchairs can improve their quality of life for however long they are needed. Each case is different, however. Your dog’s disability may require a specific kind of wheelchair. There are many different types, including quad wheelchairs. Below are some facts about when to choose quad wheelchairs for dogs with disabilities.

Description

Quad wheelchairs are designed to assist disabled dogs that have little or no function in any of their legs. They have four wheels and a rigid support frame to hold up the weakened pelvis. It should ideally be adjustable to accommodate dogs within a certain range of weight and size, as dogs can be slightly different from each other in a myriad of ways.  While a quad dog wheelchair is designed for a totally paralyzed or quadriplegic dog, it is not always the case.

Appropriate conditions

Accident or trauma
The best-case scenario for a disabled dog is when the paralysis is temporary, due to surgical treatment or some type of traumatic injury, such as a car accident, a disagreement with another dog, or as a hitch in the surgical process. A quad wheelchair can help with mobility while the dog is in rehabilitation or recovery.

Cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM)
Also known as Wobbler syndrome, this condition is a debilitating one caused by compression of the spinal cord, usually affecting large dog breeds. The result is total paralysis of the afflicted dog. A quad wheelchair would be appropriate for this type of disease. In some cases, the effects of CSM may be reversed with surgery to ease the compression. The quad wheelchair thus serves a temporary, but rehabilitative, function.

Canine degenerative myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a progressive disease that afflicts certain dog breeds at around the age of seven. These include boxers, German shepherd dogs, and Pembroke Welsh corgis. If your dog is diagnosed with DM, your best mobility aid investment would be an adjustable quad wheelchair. The early stages of DM involve just the loss of function in the rear legs. However, the paralysis typically spreads to the front legs as well, leaving the sufferer totally paralyzed. An adjustable quad wheelchair can provide mobility to the DM dog throughout the progression of the disease.

Conclusion

A quadriplegic dog can live a relatively normal life for many years, provided you choose the right mobility aid for the dog’s physical needs. An adjustable quad dog wheelchair can improve a disabled dog’s quality of life significantly, even if the condition is just temporary. It is even more important when your dog’s condition is tragically permanent.

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Should Your Pet Sleep with You?


March 4, 2016

Many of us have thought about it. Others are probably doing it already. What are we talking about? We are talking about the age-old question of whether it is a good or bad idea to have your pet sleep with you in the same room and even on the same bed. The answer to this question is probably more important for owners of disabled or handicapped pets since we take care of pets with special needs.

So the question remains to be answered, should we allow our pets to sleep with us in the same room and bed. For some of us, the question may be moot because we are already doing it, having our pets sleep with us. Either way, it would be great to know if this is a good or a bad thing to do. So let us go through the pros and cons before we decide.

There is actually a study done to try to answer this question. It was conducted last December 2015 by the Center for Sleep Medicine of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. The study was conducted with 150 patients. Half of the patients slept in individual rooms with their pets while the other half without their pets. The results were not entirely conclusive. Although 41 percent of the patients who slept with their pets felt they had a better quality of sleep and that they were able to fall asleep faster, 20 percent felt that having their pets with them during sleep did not help at all. In fact, they felt that having their pet with them actually disturbed their sleep.

The study does show that there are benefits for the owner when sleeping with their pets. But does it work both ways? Does the pet also get any benefits? Are they also sleeping well? The answer to these questions is that it depends on certain factors that need to be taken in to consideration. Let us talk about some of these factors.

A major factor is knowing if your sleeping habits are compatible with your pet’s sleeping habits. What time do you usually sleep? Does your pet sleep around the same time? What do you do before sleeping? Is it something that might disturb your pet’s sleeping habits? Are you or your pet easily disturbed by soft sounds? Do you move a lot while sleeping? These are just some of the information you need to know to find out if you and your pet’s sleeping habits are compatible. Knowing your sleeping habits is important so that you and your pet can sleep well together if you do decide to sleep with your pet.

It is also important to take into consideration the number of pets you have. For instance, one or two pets are ok, but three or more may be too much. It may be disturbing for both you and your pets. Size will also matter. A big pet may not have enough room to sleep comfortably on your bed or in your room. Both factors are important in making sure your pets are comfortable and relaxed when they sleep. You may find that your pets are better off sleeping in a different area of your home using their own sleeping facility.

There is also the need to make sure your pet is well groomed and clean. If your pet goes outdoors every day, it might not be a good idea to have them sleep in your room unless you can take the time to clean them up daily before going to bed.

Taking all these and other factors into consideration, remember that what is important is to make sure you and your pet are both comfortable and happy with the situation. Most pets do not really need to sleep with their owners. It is usually us, the owners, who feel that we need to sleep with our pets or that our pets need to sleep with us. This is especially true of owners of handicapped pets. For most pets, handicapped or not, having a comfortable and warm place to sleep is all they need.

 

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Keeping Your Disabled Dog Healthy and Mobile


July 13, 2015

Your disabled dog is no less the pet you had before the disability, and a disabled dog from the start is just as capable of loyalty and affection as a healthy dog. The difference is in the attitude of the owner. It is important for the owner to accept that dogs do not react to disability the same way as humans. In most cases, pity is wasted on them, and just makes it harder for the human owner to adjust to the situation. If you want to keep your disabled dog healthy and mobile, you need to accept the following facts:

  • Dogs do not indulge in self-pity – humans do, they don’t
  • Disabled is not something they can smell or see – dogs have no concept of disability. They accept the fact that they can’t move so well and work around it
  • Humans can make it harder for disabled dogs – Dogs can sense human emotions, and respond encouragingly. If you have a negative attitude towards the dog’s disability, they will likely pick up on it and react accordingly
  • Pride is not a factor – Disabled humans usually eschew the help of others because of pride. Dogs are not handicapped in that way. Don’t assume that they are
  • Dogs are resilient – It takes a lot to break a dog’s spirit. Given a little practical help and a lot of love, they can bounce back from the most horrific injuries with little emotional or psychological damage

You still need to provide quite a bit of care for your dog, and it will not be easy. However, if you have the right attitude and a bit of help, you should be able to provide your dog with a home that caters to its special needs. Here are a few tips to get you going.

Have a regular routine

Routines are soothing to pets as well as children. It makes them feel secure and confident. Your disabled dog will benefit from a predictable schedule that takes into account any special needs that need addressing, such as medication, cleaning, feeding, and putting on the harness or wheelchair. If you have  healthy dogs in the house, it would help to get them out of the way so you can focus on getting your disabled dog ready for the day.

Have the supplies you need on hand

Many disabled dogs have a hard time doing their business, so you have to take measures to ensure that keeping them clean is as hassle-free as possible. You should have:

·       baby wipes

·       bandages or pads to prevent bed sores

·       diapers

·       dry shampoo for spot cleaning fur

·       an orthopedic bed you can machine wash

·       mild shampoo

·       underpads for sleeping

·       vet-recommended moisturizing rinse for dry skin

Have the skills to prevent and identify bladder infection

Bladder infections are a common problem with disabled dogs, especially those with spinal problems. The bladder has to be voided completely or it can lead to a potentially life-threatening infection. If you think that your dog has a bladder infection because of the smell or appearance of the pee, then you should bring your dog immediately to the vet. In most cases, an antibiotic is all that is needed.

To prevent it from happening, you may need to give your dog some assistance. The bladder can be expressed by squeezing the right area. Ask your vet to teach you how.  Regularly checking the urine can also stave off an incipient infection.

Have the correct mobility aids

Dogs with certain conditions can retain near-total mobility with the right wheelchair. You just have to take the trouble to make sure that the product you get is adjustable so that you achieve the right height and support for your dog. Ask your vet to teach you what to look for. An incorrectly adjusted wheelchair can make your dog’s condition worse, and you dog may even refuse to use it.

A harness is another must-have, especially if you have large dogs. It makes it easier for your to assist your dog to get up and to move from one place to another. Just make sure you place and use it properly to avoid injury to your dog and yourself.

Dogs do get depressed if they do not achieve some type of mobility, so it is important that you provide them with the proper mobility gear once the vet considers them well enough to use them.

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Choosing a Pet Wheelchair


December 7, 2014

When your pet loses the use of their limbs, it can be devastating but it isn’t the end of the world. The loss may be due to a congenital problem, disease or accident, or it could be just a natural result of age. Arthritis is one example, but degenerative myelopathy (DM) affects dogs of any age and may be otherwise healthy and alert. It is a disorder that affects the white matter of the spinal cord typically affects large dog breeds and results in the eventual loss of their mobility.

In such situations, your pet may exhibit significant deterioration because of the lower quality of their life, and this can shorten their life span. Fortunately, there is an easy solution to the loss of mobility that is appropriate for certain situations: pet wheelchairs.

Consultation

Pet wheelchairs can do your mobility-challenged cat or dog a world of good, but it is not suitable for all cases. In general, pet wheelchairs will work for pets with limited mobility due to amputations, arthritis, DM, or any weakness in the limbs. When considering a pet wheelchair, you need to consult with your vet first before making a purchase to make sure that it is advisable to have one.

Not all dogs (or cats for that matter) will adjust to using a wheelchair. Some will fight against it, and that will make getting them to use it properly a big challenge. Some will be apathetic, and refuse to move because they simply don’t want to. Pets that are in pain or experience discomfort may not derive any benefit from a pet wheelchair no matter how well-built, and may even make their condition worse.  In some instances such as when a pet is recovering from surgery and needs to develop muscle strength, a wheelchair will only prolong their recovery period. Finally, pets that have weakness on all of their limbs will not be able to make a wheelchair work, because propulsion is to be supplied by either the front or rear limbs. In such cases, you can stop reading right now.

If your vet agrees that a wheelchair will benefit your pet, however, then you should continue reading.

Selection

Back in the day, pet wheelchairs was a pain the backside to obtain. It used to be custom-built, so the pet had to be measured. If the fit wasn’t right, the owner had no choice but to send it back for adjustments, and that took a lot of time and effort all around.

Nowadays, pet wheelchairs are much more versatile and DIY. They come in all shapes and sizes and adjustments can be made instantly. The standard sizes can fit the smallest dog to large breeds weighing up to 175 lb.

They are also easily available, but not all are built the same. When choosing a wheelchair for your pet, you will want to choose one with sealed wheels so that it can be used outdoors. You also want one that is made with aluminum and stainless steel so that they are easy to clean, resistant to rust, lightweight, yet durable.

The recommended dog wheelchair is one that is ergonomic to maximize comfort, and should pass muster with a K9 orthopedic surgeon. The parts that come in contact with your pet should be made of neoprene or any type of soft rubber, which is easy to clean and will not chafe. Last but not least, choose a pet wheelchair that is easy to assemble and adjust to make your life a lot easier.

They can be a bit pricey, but there are excellent refurbished pet wheelchairs available that can be acquired at a considerably reduced price compared to a brand-new one that fits even a small budget. They are just as good but not as painful to the pocket.

Use

Getting the wheelchair is the easy part, however. Once you have one, you will have to get your pet to use it. And that will not always be easy.

The first step is putting it on. Be ready with your powers of persuasion (and maybe a treat or two) because your dog will not understand what it is and may struggle against having it put on. And when finally manage to put it on, the hard part starts.

Your dog may resist the pet wheelchair if they are still able to move around quite a bit. It is the seriously impaired dogs and those that feel pain when putting weight on their affected limbs that are easier to train. Below are some suggestions to make the training process easier.

1. If your dog can still walk on its own, go for a walk without using the pet wheelchair. As soon as your dog starts to look tired, strap on the wheelchair before heading bag. Your dog may appreciate then the advantages of the wheelchair.

2. Place your dog paws on the ground and see if it can still sense the ground even if it has difficulty controlling the limbs. If it can, adjust the height of the wheelchair so that the paws just touch the ground to prevent the feeling of being hobbled by a too-high perch. When the wheelchair is too high, it also puts more stress on the spine and the good limbs. Try for as level a height as possible, using the back as a sort of leveling tool. The beauty of this technique is that it lets the muscles on that limb work a little and keep its tone, and this can help your pet’s health.

3. Make sure that your dog’s back is not curving upward (or roached); this usually means the harness is cinched too tightly, preventing the dog from stretching its back. It the back is curved downward, this may mean that you need a belly strap for added support to the core muscles.

4. If your dog seems to be falling towards its front legs, the yoke may have to be readjusted because it may be putting too much stress on the neck. It could also mean that the front legs cannot take the weight, and this could entail finding a counterbalanced wheelchair where the load is neutral for all limbs.

There you have it, some basic tips on how to choose and use a wheelchair for your mobility-challenged dog or cat. If you have anything you would like to share about this article, please feel free to do so.

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Understanding Degenerative Myelopathy


October 17, 2014

Dog owners are typically unaware of the many diseases that may possibly beset our pets. People tend to think that our pets will live out their lives in good health as our faithful companions as long as we give them the right food and lots of love. Unfortunately, pets are just as likely to get sick as any person no matter how well-cared for they are. One of these diseases that seemingly spring out of the blue is canine canine degenerative myelopathy or DM.

Definition
DM is a spinal cord disorder that occurs spontaneously in dogs, usually in ages between 8 and 14, although it has infrequently occurred in younger dogs. It erodes the white matter of the spinal cord as well as the peripheral nerves which control movement.  It is painless, and presents the same general symptoms of that of Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans.

Cause
The cause of DM is not known, but real progress is being made in understanding it. It is suspected that the disorder may be genetic in etiology. There are more than 70 breeds that have been identified as either carriers or at risk for DM by carrying one or two copies of the mutated gene SOD1, respectively.

Some breeds are more at risk than others, and while the actual number of dogs that have DM is not known, developing the disease is not just dependent on the presence of the SOD1. It is estimated that roughly half of the Kerry blue terrier, nearly all of Pembroke Welsh corgis (91%) and wire fox terriers (90%) carry the gene but they rarely develop DM. However if both parents are at risk for DM or carriers there is a good chance that the offspring will develop DM.

Diagnosis
A DNA test for the presence of SOD1 has been developed in various research institutions to identify whether a dog is at risk or a carrier of DM. Some tests require drawing blood while others make use of the saliva.

German Shepherd dogs and other large dog breeds appear to have a higher risk of developing DM, so it is ideal to have the diagnosis early. The symptoms may not be obvious, so a pet owner has to be vigilant in observing telltale signs that will progress as the disorder advances. These include:

Early symptoms
·       Lack of coordination in the rear legs

·       Wobbling or stumbling

·       Dragging or knuckling of one or both hind feet (nails will show unusual wear)

·       Difficulty in getting up and squatting

Late symptoms
·       Weakness in hind limbs

·       Difficulty in standing for any length of time

Advanced symptoms
·       Incontinence

·       Weakness in front limbs

These symptoms do not necessarily mean the dog has DM; there are tests aside from the DNA one such as an electromyogram (EMG) to find out what neurological disorder it may be. A telltale sign that it is not DM even without any tests is when the dog exhibits pain; DM is painless. That is, unless it is DM with co-morbid disorders that produce pain i.e. arthritis.

Prognosis
Dogs with DM have a life expectance of 6 months after diagnosis, but this varies widely from as little as a few weeks to as much as three years. In some cases, euthanasia or hospice care may be recommended if the disorder is well-advanced. Dogs that retain some mobility may benefit from some treatment modalities that researchers believe is efficacious in alleviating some of the worst symptoms of DM.

Treatment
There is no known treatment for DM, but hydrotherapy and acupuncture has been known to improve the dog’s nerve health and slow down the progress of the disease. Some vets recommend supplements called N-acetylcysteine and aminocaproic acid. Pet owners may also want to invest in vitamin B-complex, C, E with selenium, and bromelain. Ask your vet about them.

A study using 22 dogs with DM investigated the effect of physiotherapy (combination massage, gait exercise, passive joint therapy, and hydrotherapy) on a dog’s survival. The study indicated that dogs that received intensive physiotherapy survived an average of 255 days, while those that received none at all survived 55 days. DM researchers agree that while DM is so far irreversible and untreatable, an early diagnosis will increase the impact of recommended therapies.

Mobility aids
DM slowly but surely takes away your dog’s ability to move around until it comes to a point that the paralysis is complete. Nerve death typically affects one or two of the rear legs, and inevitably progresses. However, there will be a period in which the dog is still able to move around although with difficulty, and this is the time to invest in mobility aids.

In many cases, a belly harness or sling is enough to help the dog get up stairs or into a car. Because DM generally affects large dogs, it may not be possible to carry the dog bodily when needed. Never use the tail instead to lift the dog’s rear legs; it is cruel and a really bad idea. Booties are also not recommended because dogs that retain some sensation in the affected limb lose whatever advantage this gives them.

For outdoors, a DM dog may benefit from regular exercise using a pet wheelchair appropriate for the dog’s size. These are readily available brand new as well as refurbished, and either will work equally well.  For the budget-conscious though, refurbished is probably a better buy. At any rate make sure that the wheelchair (or dog cart as some people call them) is made of lightweight, durable and corrosion-resistant material for maximum benefit. Dogs with DM tend to make a lot of mess in the advanced stage of DM because they can no longer control waste elimination, so you need a wheelchair that will not rust.

So there you have it, a really brief run-through of what DM is all about. If you suspect that your dog has it, or your dog is among the at-risk breeds, have it tested as soon as possible.  The worst thing for an anxious pet owner is uncertainty; it is better to know.

Do you have any questions or comments about DM? You may want to know more in-depth information about it. We’ll be happy to give you what you need. Let us hear all about it!

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