Many dogs – particularly large breeds – begin suffering from mobility problems as they age. The degree to which this impacts a dog’s life varies; some dogs may be unable to walk or stand without assistance, while others just take a little longer to get up off their bed.
But in all cases, you must do your best to treat the problem causing the mobility issues and provide your dog with the highest quality of life possible. Below, we’ll discuss some of the problems that lead to mobility issues and some of the things you can do to help your canine out.
There are a number of reasons dogs can suffer from mobility issues, but some of the most common are detailed below.
Osteoarthritis is a chronic medical condition that results from damaged joint cartilage. Cartilage serves as a type of shock absorber for your dog’s joints, so when dogs begin losing cartilage, their joint suffers from extra wear and tear. This leads to inflammation and mild to severe pain in the afflicted joints.
While osteoarthritis is most common in older dogs, it is not a normally occurring component of the aging process. It can afflict any breed and is typically caused by some combination of the following factors:
Typical symptoms of osteoarthritis include limping, laboring to lie down or stand up, difficulty negotiating stairs, stiffness, reduced stamina and a reluctance to do things he previously enjoyed, like running or playing fetch. Osteoarthritis can’t be completely eliminated once it occurs, so it is important to protect your dog from developing the condition as best you can.
You’ll need to visit your vet to be sure your dog is suffering from osteoarthritis, rather than some other medical condition. Upon confirming that your dog is suffering from osteoarthritis, he or she will review several management strategies, including medications, and physical therapy and supplements, which may help reduce your dog’s pain and improve his mobility.
Hip dysplasia is a disease in which a dog’s hips fail to develop properly. Typically, the disease causes the dog’s hip socket to be too shallow, which allows the femur head slip and slide around. This causes increased friction and movement in the joint, which can lead to pain, stiffness and reduced mobility. However, dysplasia varies in terms of its severity: Some dogs may only experience a bit of stiffness in the morning, while others may be rendered unable to stand or walk at all.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes hip dysplasia, although it is probably caused by improper developmental timing, and it appears to have a strong genetic component. Typically, dogs who suffer from dysplasia will have a first-degree relative that also suffers from the condition, but the offspring of dogs with the condition do not always develop it.
Some breeds are at a much higher risk for the condition than others, and some of the most commonly afflicted breeds include:
There are a variety of ways you can treat hip dysplasia, ranging from things like massages and joint supplements to surgery. Some dogs respond to some strategies better than others, and it may be necessary to try out several different options. Just be sure to start by visiting your vet to obtain a positive diagnosis and ensure the problem isn’t caused by some other ailment.
Elbow dysplasia is very similar to hip dysplasia, only instead of the pelvis and femur, the problem occurs in the joint formed by the radius and the ulna. As with hip dysplasia, most vets believe it is caused by improper developmental timing and joint formation.
Elbow dysplasia is common to most of the same breeds that are at high risk of hip dysplasia, and it presents in much the same manner, only the lameness obviously manifests in the front legs, rather those in the rear. The treatments for elbow dysplasia are broadly similar to those available for hip dysplasia, including things like joint surgery, supplements and supportive aids.
Luxating patella refers to a kneecap that has slid out of its normal position. This leads to abnormal wear and tear in the cartilage and connective tissues of the joint. A very common problem in dogs, luxating patella can cause a variety of different gait-related problems. For example, many dogs with the condition adopt a crouched posture or appear bow-legged when walking.
Luxating patella most commonly occurs in small and medium-sized dog breeds, including:
Treatment typically requires surgery to put the patella back into place. When luxating patella is caught early, the joint can usually be completely repaired and long-term aftereffects can largely be avoided. However, many dogs develop arthritis as the condition worsens, and this will require long-term pain management.
Just like humans, dogs can sprain their knee, twist their ankle or bump into a wall with their shoulder. And the symptoms and ramifications are often similar to those experienced by humans.
Injuries will often cause pain and reduced mobility, ranging from mild to severe. Many injuries will heal quickly and without any real treatment, but those resulting in limited mobility require veterinary care. As part of the treatment process, you may need to keep your dog fairly immobile, so his body can properly heal.
Dogs are active creatures, which are likely to suffer the occasional strain or sprain, but you should do your best to prevent them as much as is possible. Injuries can lead to long-term pain and inflammation, and osteoarthritis often develops as a result.
Veterinarians typically consider dogs obese when they exceed their ideal body weight by 20 percent or more (those whose body weights are 10 to 20 percent more than ideal are simply called “overweight.”) Obesity is a serious disease for dogs, and it can even reduce your dog’s lifespan.
Any time your dog is forced to carry extra weight, his bones and joints will be put under additional strain. This can make dogs struggle to get around and suffer from joint and limb pain. If burdened like this for an extended period of time, osteoarthritis can develop.
Fortunately, obesity is typically easy to treat in dogs. Essentially, you’ll just need to reduce the number of calories your dog ingests, provide him a way to burn off more calories than he does, or – most commonly – a combination of both strategies.
Work closely with your vet while trying to help your dog shed a few pounds to ensure your dog still gets the nutrition he needs. Additionally, you’ll need to make sure that you help him lose weight in a gradual manner.
Intervertebral disc disease occurs when the cushioning discs in your dog’s spinal column slip out of place or burst. In either case, the spinal cord becomes compressed, which can lead to pain or paralysis. If not treated promptly, nerve damage can also occur. There are a few different reasons the discs can become damaged, most of which are associated with developmental problems.
Short legged breeds — including basset hound, corgi, Pekingese and dachshund, among others – are at the highest risk of developing intervertebral disc disease, but it can occur in other dogs as well. Doberman pinschers are one of the most common large breeds to suffer from the condition.
Some of the most common signs of intervertebral disc disease include pain and lameness, but anxiety, incontinence and unusual postures also occur in some cases. Mild cases may be treatable with medications and supportive therapy, but those involving the loss of nerve function will often require surgery.
Regardless of the reason your dog is having trouble getting around, there are a number of that may help provide him some relief and help him get around better. Some of the best options are detailed below.
Dogs who are suffering from very serious medical conditions and exhibit greatly reduced mobility often require some assistance to stand and walk. One of the best ways to provide this help, is by using a sling, which will pass beneath your pet’s abdomen and feature two handles you can use to lift him up.
There are a variety of slings on the market, but the AMZ Pets Dog Lift Harness is one of the best options available. It is available in five different sizes, and features padding on the belly area for your dog’s comfort, and a removable hand pad to make the sling easier for you to use.
Some dogs with mobility issues have trouble getting a grip on slick floors. This can lead to falls and injuries, which will further reduce your dog’s ability to get around and enjoy life. Fortunately, slippers or boots that provide a bit of traction are an easy and affordable solution to this problem.
RC Pet Products makes a pretty good traction sock that should help your dog get a grip on the floor. These socks feature a textured bottom, and they come in six different sizes and nine colors. However, you may want to consider My Busy Dog Water-Resistant Dog Shoes if you also want a product that will also work outdoors, in snow or rain.
Braces are often helpful for supporting a dog’s joints, particularly when the knee is the problematic area. Many dogs will begin exhibiting improved mobility and confidence after wearing a brace, and they are easy to put on and take off as needed. Braces aren’t very helpful for hip, shoulder or back-related problems, but they can be used to help treat injuries to either the front or back legs.
Mobility issues can prevent your dog from jumping up onto the couch or into the car when you are heading to the park. In some cases, your dog may even be unable to negotiate very small heights, which he’d have formerly done without problems. Accordingly, it is often wise to use steps or ramps designed especially for dogs. Either solution may work for your pet; you’ll just need to consider your dog’s needs and health and the common challenges he faces.
If you think a few steps may help your pup out, consider the Pet Gear Easy Step II. It is easy to put together without tools, features removable carpet to give your pet a good grip and accommodates animals up to 150 pounds in weight. If a ramp sounds like a better solution, the Pet Gear Tri-Fold Ramp is a convenient, portable choice that will accommodate dogs of up to 200 pounds.
Dogs who have especially severe mobility issues related to their hips or rear legs may require a wheelchair to get around. And while they may be rather bulky, most dogs with mobility issues actually seem to enjoy the support these mobile chairs provide.
Most dog wheelchairs feature the same basic design, consisting of a pair of all-terrain wheels, a metal frame and a fabric sling to support your dog’s belly. However, there is a big difference in the best- and worst-rated models available. The Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair is one of the best products in the category, and it is sturdy enough to support dogs weighing up to 180 pounds.
A pet stroller is one of the best options for dogs suffering from severe mobility issues, as it allows them to just rest comfortably while you push them around. We’ve already reviewed one of the best pet strollers on the market – the Pet Gear Expedition. It is appropriate for dogs weighing up to 150 pounds, features a waterproof floor and rides low to the ground for ease of entry and exit.
Veterinarians and physical therapists can often help improve your dog’s mobility or reduce his pain and suffering. Vets will occasionally use techniques that physical therapists use, and vice versa, but typically these different disciplines approach the problem in slightly different ways.
Veterinary treatments will usually work in conjunction with physical therapy (and vice versa), but be sure that your vet and physical therapist are aware of the treatment being conducted by his or her counterpart.
Although your vet may recommend a number of home treatments to help support other treatment strategies, most veterinary solutions fall into one of two basic categories: pain medication or surgery.
Of course, your vet may recommend a combination of medications and surgery to repair your dog’s joint problems and improve his quality of life.
Physical therapists who specialize in canines can apply a number of different therapeutic techniques to help your dog feel better and enjoy improved mobility. Some of the most common include:
Physical therapy is always a sound component of an overall treatment strategy, just be sure to keep your vet in the loop. Unfortunately, physical therapy is rarely cheap, and it is often necessary for extended lengths of time – but it is hard to put a price on your pet’s health and happiness.
There are a variety of things you can do at home to help improve your dog’s mobility and reduce his pain. Most of these will work well in conjunction with veterinary treatment or physical therapy, just be sure to discuss your home treatments with your physical therapist and veterinarian.
Just about any dog will benefit from an orthopedic memory foam bed, but those with hip, shoulder or back issues will benefit the most. Memory foam dog beds provide better support than most standard beds do, and they will help cushion and cradle your dog’s joints and provide a better night’s sleep.
We’ve written about orthopedic beds before, so you should check out our full write up on the subject. However, if you are just looking for a quick recommendation, go with the Big Barker 7-Inch Pillow Top Orthopedic Bed. It is one of the thickest mattresses on the market, it is incredibly comfortable for your dog and it is available in sizes appropriate for even the largest dogs.
Over the last few years, many dog owners have begun treating chronic pain with an oil derived from the hemp plant. Don’t worry – it won’t get your dog high, as it only contains cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound derived from the plant. Very little research has been conducted on CBD oil for dogs, so you should definitely speak with your vet before beginning administering the oil to your dog. However, positive anecdotal reports abound, so CBD oil is definitely worthy of consideration.
If you’d like to learn more about CBD oil, check out our recent breakdown of the subject.
There are a variety of over-the-counter joint supplements available for your dog, and many of them can help to improve your dog’s mobility and reduce his pain. The active ingredients in most of these products are glucosamine and chondroitin, which help protect your dog’s existing cartilage and provide him with some of the raw materials to make new cartilage.
The empirical data surrounding joint supplements has been mixed, but because they are safe and unlikely to cause any problems, most vets feel comfortable recommending these supplements for dogs with mobility issues. We’ve written about joint supplements before, but if you just want a quick recommendation, try Nutramax Dasuquin Chewable Tablets. Most dogs appear to like the taste of these tablets, and many owners reported that their dog exhibited significant improvement after taking the supplement for a few weeks.
The application of heat can help reduce pain and relax the muscles surrounding your dog’s joints. Many owners find that heat therapy helps their pet feel much better, and many dogs seem to like laying on a heated bed or mat. K&H Pet Products makes a great heated bed that is even suitable for outdoor use, and features an orthopedic, memory foam core to provide your dog with the most comfort possible.
Just be sure to keep safety in mind when using a heated bed. Check the temperature of the bed frequently (you should be able to hold your hand on it indefinitely), and avoid using these types of products with dogs who like to chew on things – you don’t want your dog to chew on the cord and shock himself.
Have you ever cared for a dog with mobility issues? How did you help him get around? Were there any strategies or techniques that worked especially well?
We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.