weight control

Exercise for old dogs – how much is too much?

Posted on in Geriatric care, Non-surgical Therapy, Prevention, weight control 1 Comment


Exercise for Old Dogs:

The longer they keep moving, the longer they will last


A common question is “How much is too much exercise for an old dog?”  We know that too much exercise has the potential to flare arthritic joints, that older dogs tire sooner, that they are more prone to injury, and all this needs to be respected.

But as much as we don’t want to over exercise an older dog, under exercising them is even worse.  Once a dog becomes inactive, their health and quality of life quickly drops.  Better to have an older dog take anti-inflammatory medication and lead an active life, than have it remain drug free but spend its time sleeping on the couch, too sore to enjoy the simplest outing.

There are many reasons why the health of under exercised patients declines so quickly, too many to cover in one blog, but here is a partial list:

Fiver might not be a geriatric, but she definitely needs regular exercise, not only to keep her sanity but also to keep her gluteals tone (she has had bilateral knee surgery).

Dysafferentation: This will get explained in more detail in a later blog, but the bottom line is that if the brain receives signals about body movement, it becomes less aware of pain.  Active dogs feel less pain.

Muscle mass/tone: Geriatrics tend to lose muscle tone and bulk. Inactive pets also lose muscle tone and bulk. Inactive geriatrics lose muscling the fastest of all. Exercise is the best way to maintain muscle mass (use it or lose it).  Good muscling reduces arthritic pain by providing stability to the joint.

Feeding the Cartilage:  Nutrients are transferred from the blood stream into the joint fluid.  Circulating joint fluid carries these nutrients to the joint cartilage.  Joint fluid is circulated every time the joint bears weight.  Lying around results in reduced nutrition reaching the cartilage, which accelerates cartilage degeneration and secondary arthritic change.

Neurologic benefits:  Again, the notion of “use it or lose it” applies.  Nerves need regular stimulation in order to remain healthy, the sort of stimulation that exercise provides.  Exercise helps maintain co-ordination and strength in the limbs, as well as the mental stimulation needed to combat dementia.

Weight control: As we’ve already seen (click here), increased fat results in increased pain.  The more active a geriatric is, the easier it is to prevent excessive weight gain.

 But how much exercise is too much?


The answer to that question varies from patient to patient but here are a few thumb rules that you can apply:

  • Keep sessions short and frequent – older dogs tire easily.
  • If the exercise session doesn’t contribute to stiffness afterward, then it was good for your dog’s health.
  • If the stiffness gets worse with certain types of exercise, avoid those types of exercise.
  • Casual walk on level or mildly challenging ground are best.  Rough-housing and sudden exertional activities (e.g. jumping down, hard braking etc.) are not as good.
  • Have your pet examined by someone experienced in detecting musculoskeletal pain, and let them help you devise an exercise program.


Again, too little exercise can do as much if not more harm than too much.  Any exercise that doesn’t increase pain and stiffness afterward was a good thing.

Assessing Puppy Weight

Posted on in Nutrition, Prevention, Puppy Care, weight control Comments Off on Assessing Puppy Weight

How to Assess Puppy Weight

Now that we realize how bad it is to have an overweight puppy (http://pointseastwest.com/ideal-puppy-weight/), and no one wants to feed their puppy too little, the next question becomes “How do I tell if my puppy is the right weight?”

Ideal puppy weight

Ripley is an ideal weight. Because he is a boxer, it is normal to see his ribs like this.

The number on the scale is useful, but not nearly as useful as feeling your dog all over and assessing its body condition, paying particular attention to the ribs, shoulders, back and pelvis.

Remember that not all breeds are the same.  Different dogs have different amounts of muscling.  What may be acceptable for a Greyhound is not acceptable for a Bernese Mountain Dog.  For some breeds, it is acceptable to see the last few ribs, but for some it is not.

To make matters worse, overweight puppies have become so prevalent, that for some breeds it has become the new norm.  When that happens, it’s the dogs that are actually at a fit weight that look abnormal.  Every day in parks across this country, owners of overweight dogs scold the owners of fit dogs, accusing them of starving their pets.

ideal puppy weight

Rain is an English style black lab. Although you should be easily able to palpate each rib with no fat between the rib and skin, for her it is not normal to see the ribs.


Below is a list of general guidelines to help you decide if your puppy is the correct weight.  If you have any doubts, consult your veterinarian.


Shoulders:  Palpate the shoulders and feel for a bony ridge running up the shoulder blade.  It is normal to feel the top of the ridge, but the sides of the ridge should be buried in muscle.  If you can feel the sides of this ridge, your pet may be underweight.

Ribs: Palpate the last 3-4 ribs.  You should be able to feel them distinctly, bumping your finger over each rib and into the depression between.  If you can feel any softness between the skin and the last few ribs, then your puppy is too fat.  For some dogs (whippets, pitbulls, boxers, dobermans, pointers etc.) it is normal to see these last 2-3 ribs through the skin.

Spine: It is normal to feel the bony tips of each veterbrae down the middle of the back, but as your fingers roll to the side, the rest of the vertebrae should be buried in muscle.  If you can feel bony points along the sides of the vertebrae, you pet may be too skinny

Pelvis: You should be able to feel the tip of the hip bone, but not the spoon shaped bone behind it; once your fingers roll off the tip, they should encounter muscle.

Case Report: Dog Hip Dysplasia

Posted on in Case Reports, Dog Hip Dysplasia, Non-surgical Therapy, Veterinary Chiropractic, weight control Comments Off on Case Report: Dog Hip Dysplasia

Dog Hip Dysplasia: Humphrey’s Tale


Normal Dog Hips

This radiographs shows a dog with well formed hips. Notice the deep sockets and a round femoral head. There is no roughening of the bone, or thickening of the femoral neck, or other signs of arthritis.


Dog hip dysplasia is a genetic condition in which the hip joint forms improperly.  Normally the hip joint should consist of a deep pelvic socket (acetabulum) supporting a round ball (femoral head).  If the hip joint develops a shallow acetabulum or flattened femoral head, then there is reduced bony support.  The body must then rely on muscle and connective tissue structures to compensate.  This added strain can trigger pain in other parts of the pelvis.  With time, arthritis inevitably develops.Most cases of dog hip dysplasia can be managed well with non-surgical techniques.  Humphrey is a good example; the level of dysplasia in his hips is considered `severe`, which is the worst rating for dog hip dysplasia that exists.



Dog Hip Dysplasia

In contrast, Humphrey’s hips show poor seating of the ball and socket joint, a thickened femoral neck, roughened bone and calcifications indicative of hip arthritis.


In contrast, Humphrey’s hips show poor seating of the ball and socket joint, a thickened femoral neck, roughened bone and calcifications indicative of hip arthritis.

Despite such appalling hips on x-ray, with a program of nutritional supplements, weight control, massage, and appointments with Dr. Lane every other month, Humphrey enjoys an active pain free life without the need for prescription medication.  He averages two hours of exercise a day and is an accomplished tracker.

For more information about the treatment options available for dog hip dysplasia, or the other causes of hind end pain in dogs, visit http://pointseastwest.com/dog-hip-dysplasia/.


ADDENDUM: Sunday Nov 4, 2012 – Humphrey just earned his CKC TD tracking title.  Congratulations!