Silent Pain in Dogs – How to Dog Proof Your Home
So, you have identified that your dog is suffering with silent pain, but can you do anything about it? When considering your dog’s silent pain, it is critical to consider pain management and adaptations you can make to their daily lives to help relieve your dog’s discomfort.
Even if your dog is not suffering with silent pain your dog’s living environment is one area where simple modifications and adaptations can be implemented very quickly and easily to prevent injury or deterioration of a condition. Below is a list of common areas in the home which can easily be changed to suit the individual needs of your dog. Which of these will you consider?
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How many times a day does your dog go up and down the stairs? This includes stairs in the house and steps in the garden! Did you realise that negotiating stairs several times a day could cause long term muscular and joint issues? This is because using stairs requires your dog to shift their centre of gravity (putting them at an unnatural angle) and adjust their stride length due to the height of the stair riser, the width of the tread and shape i.e spiral or box.
Ascending stairs – requires your dog to propel themselves forwards and up. This puts pressure on your dog’s hindlimbs, stifles (knees), hips and lower back as their joints move through a greater range of motion causing the surrounding muscles to work harder than if they were walking on a flat surface. Dogs with orthopaedic conditions (such as hip dysplasia or arthritis) muscular injury, or poor muscle strength may find the greater range of motion required to ascend stairs painful.
Descending stairs –Dogs bear approximately 60% of their weight on their forelimbs when stood on a flat surface. This load increases significantly when descending the stairs and intensifies considerably when descending the stairs at speed. This placing considerable pressure on the spine, shoulders, carpals (wrists) and elbows. If your dog has insufficient strength in their forelimbs to adequately control their descent or suffers with shoulder, elbow and carpal injury or disease, descending stairs may be challenging and painful.
Preventative measures - Preventing your dog from repetitively going up and down the stairs, installing a stair gate, ramps in the garden or carrying little dogs up and down the stairs will reduce the number of times your dog uses the stairs and will support their long-term mobility. Dogs with Orthopaedic issues should be discouraged from using the stairs as it will aggravate their condition.
What type of flooring do you have in your house? Laminate? Wooden? Tiled? What about in your garden? Do you have wooden decking or patio slabs? These types of flooring are very practical and stylish, but I wonder if your dog shares the same opinion!
Dogs are known as phalangeal creatures meaning that they walk on their toes. As a result, they need to be able to grip the ground to gain purchase. Running, playing, walking, and even getting up from shiny and slippery surfaces is very challenging for your dog, as they struggle to get a grip, causing them to slip and slide around (like Bambi on ice). This may look comical, but when your dog zooms around the corner and their legs splay underneath them it causes their muscles to over-stretch and joints to go beyond their normal range of motion, Ouch! Repetitive use of slippery flooring can cause Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), debilitating, long term muscular injuries, serious Cruciate ligament (knee) damage, spinal issues and aggravate Orthopaedic issues.
Preventative measures – By simply putting down non-slip/rubber backed runners or matting on slippery floors and jet washing the patio/decking will allow your dog to easily navigate around the home, support their mobility and reduce their discomfort. Ensuring that your dog has regular nail trims and hair trims between the paws will also help them gain purchase.
Jumping on/off furniture
Every household has its own rules about allowing their dogs on the furniture. But if you are anything like me, I love nothing more than to curl up on the sofa of an evening with my dogs and yes there are allowed on the bed too! However, for your dog to be able to jump onto furniture their hind-limbs need to produce massive drive to propel them. This places greater forces through your dog’s hind-limbs, stifles, hips and lower back. When your dog jumps off the sofa 3x their body weight will be placed on their shoulders as they land. This will cause jarring on the carpals, elbows, shoulders, and spine. And landing on laminated or slippery, hard flooring will only increase your dog’s chances of injury.
Preventative measures - Preventing your dog from repeatedly jumping on and off furniture will reduce their chances of injury. However, if they have been diagnosed with an orthopaedic condition then this activity must be avoided as much as possible. For smaller dogs it is worth looking at getting a small set of steps or even lifting them up and off furniture.
Where does your dog like to settle in the house or curl up at night? All dogs have a preference, some like to curl up in a doughnut bed whilst others prefer lying stretched out on a cold, hard floor. There is a wide range of beds and bedding available for dogs, but it is important to provide bedding that allows your dog to stretch and flex their spine as this will reduce the potential of developing neck, back and hip issues. It is also important to place your dog’s bedding away from draughts as this will help keep their muscles and joints warm.
All types of bedding have their advantages and drawbacks. Which one will your dog prefer?
Standard, flat beds - cushions/pillows which are available in many shapes, sizes, materials and colours. Ensuring your dog’s bed is flat, padded and supportive will enable them to lie flat, with their legs stretched out if they so wish. This can help to ease neck, back and hip issues. However, depending on thickness these beds may not offer the support needed for older dogs or those with Orthopaedic issues.
Orthopaedic beds - are designed especially for dogs with arthritis or other orthopaedic conditions. They are made with thick foam and provide extra support for your dog’s body and joints. They are available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Orthopaedic beds also benefit thin and bony dogs such as Greyhounds and Whippets as they help prevent pressure sores and calluses.
Crates - are available in many sizes and materials. It is important that your dog uses one that they can easily lie stretched out, stand up and turn around in. Thick bedding should be used, ideally a memory foam bed or very supportive pads. A vet bed or blanket is not supportive or thick enough.
Nest beds - like standard beds, except they have raised edges. Dogs will usually curl up in a ball. It is important that these types of bed are not too small for your dog as it will restrict their movement.
Doughnut beds - are very similar to nest beds with a raised rim around the entire bed. They are typically round or oval and made of very soft materials allowing your dog to really curl up and sink in. These beds are not suitable for older or weaker dogs as they will struggle to get in and out of them.
Raised beds - usually have a fabric top which is suspended over a metal frame. They have no sides so your dog is not restricted to a certain position. They may not be appropriate for dogs with Orthopaedic issues, short breeds or breeds prone to back issues i.e, Dachshunds as jumping on and off the bed could cause injury or discomfort.
Plastic beds – Round, hard plastic beds can encourage curvature of the spine and a bed that is too small or too hard will prevent your dog from having the full flexibility that their spine needs whilst they are asleep. These types of beds should be avoided at all costs.
You may consider what you put into your dog’s bowl, but have you ever considered their feeding height? Imagine having to eat your dinner stood up with your head titled down. This would not only be uncomfortable but will also create tension in the neck, shoulders and lower back.
An incorrect feeding height, especially in the medium, large, and giant breads places stress on their neck and lower back, pressure on the carpal and elbow joints and strain on the digestive system.
Did you know that raising bowls off the floor have many short-term and long-term benefits? There is much debate about the correct feeding height for a dog however the general rule of thumb is to ensure that your dog looks comfortable when eating and drinking. Health benefits may include;
Improved posture and comfort - feeding your dog from a raised bowl creates a more natural body position, offloading weight and stress placed on their neck, forelegs, and lower back and pressure on the elbows and carpals, particularly if your dog is older, weaker or has an Orthopaedic or Musculoskeletal issues.
Allows a neutral spine - which not only supports your dog’s posture but reducing roaching (curving) of the spine.
Improves balance - shifting weight back onto the hindlegs and hips.
Relieves pain – reduced pressure placed on joints, eases symptoms of Orthopaedic conditions such as arthritis and avoids exacerbating conditions.
Digestion – having a raised bowl at the correct level will create a neutral head and neck position. This help to improve your dog’s digestion and prevent bloat (volvulus - twisting of the stomach).
Helpful measures – Raised food bowl holders widely available at local pet stores. Alternatively, you could place your dog’s water and food bowl on a step.
Hands off Assessment!
Unsure if you have dog proofed your home? Wondering if their are areas you have missed? Concerned that your home may be impacting on your dog's physical wellbeing?
Book a 45 minute online session with me to identify and discuss areas in your home which could be modified, changed, adapted, or altered to support your dog’s mobility and comfort levels. We will also discuss how you can monitor your dog closely so you can look for subtle signs and changes, in your dog, which many indicate discomfort or injury.
Click here to book.