I received a question in regard to a sporting dog with lumbo-sacral disc disease. The question was a bit more specific to the individual dog and their signs/symptoms, but it gave me a spark of inspiration for this blog. What do we advise to the owner of a dog with a chronic condition in regards to continuing competition or practice? I penned a few thoughts on how I have managed this scenario with previous cases. Hence the title: Mange; Monitor; Adapt; Respond.
Let’s first recognize for a moment that as humans, we push ourselves to do activities that we love or have to do, despite our injuries. Sometimes we know that if we do ‘this’, then ‘that’ will happen. We do it all the time, from what we eat or drink, to recreational activities, to where and how we focus and manage our time at work, in class, around the home, and so on!
Managing our limitations, monitoring effects, predicting potential reactions (to proactively counteract), and responding to consequences is something we do for ourselves. So why not adopt this approach with our canine athletes (when appropriate) as well?
We all have those canine-patients who love to have a ‘job’, a sport, an activity. This group of dogs is likely the cohort that needs a plan for maintaining an active lifestyle, and rehab professionals are ideally suited to provide advice and guidance in this area.
There will most likely be things that can be done to manage chronic musculoskeletal cases. Physiotherapy / rehabilitation can provide modalities for pain management, inflammation control, and cartilage health as an example. Daily tail pull tractions can help the dog with lumbosacral disc disease. Mobilizations and balance exercises can help the dog with medial shoulder hypermobility. Nutraceuticals and/or medications could help the dog with osteoarthritis. Identify the source of the problem and the treatments that will target the issue and institute a maintenance regimen.
The owner will need to learn what the dog can and cannot do. We can’t always assume that a certain task will cause an issue. In lots of chronic cases, we (the owner and the practitioner) learn what type, length, or intensity of activity will cause pain or dysfunction. So, the dog-handler team will need to do some testing to find out the dog’s limits by slowing increasing in one or more of these areas until all involved become aware of ‘how much is too much’. This might also include testing different activities as well, to see if a different sport of activity is better for a chronically injured dog.
I know that when I have dairy, there will be consequences! So, I predict those consequences and take a ‘lactaid’ tablet before I gorge on the cheese plate in a restaurant!!! The same can be done for the dog, but rather using an anti-inflammatory before or shortly after a competition. Or plan on a therapy session the day after a competition weekend. Showing an owner things that they can do to help with an issue (i.e. shoulder wobbles for a medial shoulder hypermobility, tail pull traction for the lumbosacral dog, chest lifts for a dog in a wheelchair that likes to go on long hikes on the weekend, or purchasing a portable PEMF unit to use on the arthritic dog after a day at the beach.)
This can be responding to a crisis (i.e. a pain flare up), or it can be responding by reducing activity, changing the game, or taking advantage of sport-specific modifications. I have a patient that always seemed to ‘break’ himself with hunt-tests. When the owner switched his sport to tracking, he’s stayed injury free! Changing sports isn’t for everyone, but maybe it is for some dog-owner combos. I’ve also had some agility dogs compete in ‘specials’ before they become veterans. This allows them to reduce the dogs jump height. This is great for a dog with early arthritis.
All in all, there is lots that rehab professionals can help with. Guiding and empowering our clients to make good choices for their dogs and helping them to understand the principles listed above can ensure that the dog-owner bond stays strong for many years!
Food for thought anyways!