Why Muscular Maintenance For Your Dog is So Important in the Autumn / Winter Months.
Autumn, when leaves are at their colourful best, when nature showcases displays from deep, fiery reds to stunning orange and warm golds.
It’s a time when our dogs track and chase new and exciting smells.
It’s also a time when the daily dog walk can turn into a mud fest or skating rink.
Despite this I love autumn not just for the amazing foliage but also because it leads us into winter which will hopefully bring some snow to appease my yearning Huskies.
There are some very obvious seasonal hazards but they are only obvious if we are aware of them.
Why are muscular health checks and maintenance sessions with your Clinical Canine Massage Practitioner so extremely important during autumn and winter?
Years ago I did not consider for one moment that this time of year could present such a significant burden on my dogs’ muscles and joints, nor did I appreciate that this is a season of high risk of muscular injury, strain and sprain. I’ve since discovered through my Clinical Canine Massage practice that it undoubtedly it is
This needs to be a time for us all to stop and think about how our dogs manage to manoeuver on muddy walks or gain purchase on low friction surfaces such as icy ground, but more importantly how we as owners can help minimise their exposure to injury.
Perhaps you’re thinking ‘but I walk on mud, slippery grass and ice and I manage to keep my footing nor am I feeling any serious after effects,
On the contrary you ARE very likely to feel the after effects, but would you attribute muscular aches and pains at this time of year to your walking on less stable ground? Or the pain in your lower back to the change from your normal footwear to Wellingtons? Probably not.
Have you ever stepped in mud and your boot has been left behind by suction? Imagine that for a dog with no protection.
So, why is it then that our dogs find it so difficult to walk on slippery ground? Is it because their weight distribution is heavily loaded to the front, 60% versus 40% to the back? Or because they drive from the rear? Of course these points have a bearing but the key here is in the feet.
I’ll explain briefly why the balance burden and stability felt by a dog is not the same as us.
As humans we walk as plantigrades.
This means that our entire foot area is flat and our heels in the stand are in contact with the ground. This larger surface area is designed and built to withstand upright loading on the body and provides us with stability upon direct contact with the ground. In addition we use footwear which offers the friction our feet would otherwise lack.
Although we are still relatively unstable on slippery surfaces we are able to gain purchase with the ground and cope much better than our dogs.
Dogs on the other hand are digitigrade which means they walk on their toes. In the standing position their heels don’t touch the ground therefore the surface area is smaller.
The design of a dog’s foot compliments the speed required of a prey animal. The flexibility the hock, the muscles and tendons thereon promote instantaneous spring and take off.
This is why in the past as a sprinter, at the beginning of a 100 0r 200 metre race I would adopt a digitigrade position at the starting blocks.
For the record I wish this was me.
Imagine trying to walk on ice or run and turn on wet grass using only your bare fingertips and toes.
Maintaining your balance without tensing your muscles and overcompensating would definitely pose a challenge.
Let me show you something.
Please look closely at these stills of a young dog slipping on ice. Look at the positioning of his joints in each.
Can you appreciate how hard he is working to avoid significant and permanent injury to his ligaments and tendons but also to key muscular groups?
Dogs who slide like this will experience high levels of pain as the ligaments and tendons around the joints and muscles reach optimum stretch causing his supporting muscles to strain. In serious cases the tendon or ligament may tear. This dogs entire body is tensing and redistributing muscular use abnormally in an effort to avoid this.
In practice more and more I am seeing injury to the superficial pectorals which are across the upper chest of your dog or the pectineous which is a small muscle located at the inner thigh which adducts the pelvic limb. Another likely area of damage is the potential strain of the muscles of the back, known as the group – epaxials.
This article is about the mobility risks autumn and winter ground pose – but humour me for just a moment….
Are those beautiful laminate, wood or ceramic floors at home any different?
If your dog has a soft tissue or muscular injury what might you see?
- Recurring unresolved lameness
- Slowing down or lagging behind on a walk
- Refusal to jump into the car or use stairs or ‘measuring’
- Depressed or withdrawn
- Refusal to play or go for walks
- Twitching skin
- Stiffness after exercise
- Stiffness after rest
- Laying down to eat or drink from the bowl
- Defensive, evasive or unusual aggressive behaviour can also be key indicators of pain.
- Agility dogs may have weave entry or exit issues or stutter step at jumps.
How can we as owners help mitigate the risk of muscular injury due to slipping?
Try to avoid encouraging your dogs to walk or especially to run on ice, slippery ground or sodden grass. If it can’t be avoided please take it slowly, for you as much as for them. If you do need to walk on gritted roads remember to wash the grit off your dogs feet when you get home.
You could buy booties for them to create friction where there is none. These are available at sled dog stores and online.
I am not saying stop your dogs from having fun – absolutely not! However, awareness of potential hazards could help you to maintain your dogs muscular stability and general wellbeing in a much more measured and informed way.
Be a best friend to your dogs muscles and joints.
Place rubber backed runners on slippery floors.
- Providing surfaces to create friction will allow your dog to gain purchase and to move more comfortably around their home without tensing up. Rubber backed runners are game changing. Or a more cost effective way is to add rubber backing to the corners of existing rugs which are prone to sliding.
- Keep your dogs nails and pad fur trimmed. A dog walking with lots of underfoot fur must experience the same significantly reduced tactical sensation as we do when we wear gloves.
- Offer raised bowls for food and water with a large enough mat for your dog to stand on.
Above all book your dog in for a Clinical Massage assessment and session to treat all those areas of overcompensation caused by habitual holding patterns and protective muscle splinting due to routine hazards both in the home and outdoors.
This fine beauty is Selune settling into clinical massage which was booked by her owner simply to ensure her muscles are in tip top condition.
To book a consultation call 07730 133134
Member of the Canine Massage Guild and Pet Welfare Alliance
NB: Images are used for illustrative purposes only.