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Hind-limb weakness

Weight gain is the single most important factor that contributes to weakness in the hind limbs, Lucy Richardson says

I had a phone call today from a gentleman who wanted me to write a very specific column about his dog.

I love it when I get feedback and ideas from readers, so I wanted to jump right on it. He has a beloved older labrador, who is gradually getting weaker in the hind limbs and wanted to know what could be done to help her.

She is still up and about but taking daily pain relief and he could see the slow decline in her mobility. And here’s the keyword, mobility. It is so important to keep these older dogs mobile and the good news is that there is a lot we can do to help with this. Your vet will use diagnostic tools such as radiographs and ultrasound to determine the causes of the weakness and apply the appropriate treatments.

Weight gain is the single most important factor that contributes to weakness in the hind limbs. Your dog should be maintained at the target weight that is optimal for their breed, size, and age at every life stage. Your vet will be able to advise what that weight should be. There are excellent diets on the market now to help with weight control and joint care.

Fitness is also a key factor. I always encourage daily walking when possible, being mindful of the heat in the summertime. Walking has equal benefits to the mind and body for both you and your dog and is a great way to keep in shape.

A mobile life relies on the prevention of weakness in the muscles and of arthritic change or dysplasia in the joints. I like to start my middle-aged (or even younger) dogs (and cats) on a good quality joint supplement such as Dasuquin, which acts to improve the health of the joints and prevent arthritic changes. Omega 3 is also good to supplement for joint and skin health, although it is worth speaking to your vet before making any dietary change.

There are a whole range of excellent muscle-building exercises that can be used daily to help dogs maintain their muscle mass and to strengthen the neurological connections which often contribute to hind-limb weakness. By incorporating these physical therapies into your dog’s daily routine, you can keep weakness at bay. I use regular household equipment such as pool noodles, brooms, and ladders to put together programmes to suit the individual requirements of your dog and target their specific weaknesses. These exercises can be done at home, without the need for specialist equipment. You might even enjoy them yourself.

Assessing the level of pain your dog is experiencing in their general mobility is important. Pain is debilitating and will stop dogs wanting to get up and go, which in turn will lead to more stiffness, weight gain and pain. It’s a vicious cycle. The key is to use good medicinal pain relief and anti-inflammatories if pain is a limiting factor. I often use daily Meloxicam and add in Gabapentin if needed, to make sure pain is effectively controlled, but there are many different combinations of pain relief which can be used depending on the dog. Some dogs respond well to supplements such as CBD oil but the benefit across all dogs is still being studied.

I work a lot with laser therapy and have had impressive results. Laser causes micro vibrations at a cellular level, which promote healing and tissue repair. Other treatments such as water therapy and acupuncture can also improve mobility and quality of life for your pet. I frequently work with an animal chiropractor and physical therapist to keep my patients in their best shape no matter what their age.

Old-age animal care has come such a long way in the past few years, so speak with your vet to find out how to best treat, manage and prevent hind limb weakness in your beloved pet. For the gentleman who kindly contacted me, I hope that helps your lovely dog.

Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband, Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda

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Published November 17, 2022 at 7:51 am (Updated November 17, 2022 at 7:51 am)

Hind-limb weakness

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