We see a lot of dogs and cats with neurological deficits at Scout’s House, including older pets who develop neuro issues as they age. This month, our therapists wanted to share with you their top ten tips for keeping your older or neurologically impaired pet happy, healthy, and safe!
1) If your pet has trouble walking or can’t walk unassisted, don’t allow him to drag himself around as this may limit his recovery or lead to additional injuries. Instead, use a harness (such as a Ruffwear or Walkabout) to help him stand and/or walk. And when you can’t assist him, keep him in an enclosed space, such as inside an X-pen or crate.
2) If your pet can stand, use elevated food and water bowls to encourage normal posture. Placing a yoga mat or other “grippy” surface near the bowls for your pet to stand on will help as well. If your pet cannot stand, use weighted food or water bowls so they don’t slide away.
3) Use boots to protect your pet’s feet if she “knuckles” (walks on the top of her feet) or drags her feet when she walks. Pets who knuckle or drag their feet will scrape the tops of the toes, which not only hurts but also increases the chance of infection. Dragging feet will also cause your pet to wear down her nails, which will eventually bleed.
4) Use non-slip area rugs or yoga mats around your house in areas where your pet walks to keep him from slipping or falling.
5) Keep your pet with you and your family, especially if she’s unable to walk. Regular family contact is even more important to pets with special needs.
6) If your pet is unable to move on her own, be sure to change the side she is lying on every 2-3 hours to keep her from getting pressure (bed) sores. Placing her on a soft bed can also help to reduce pressure on bony areas.
7) If your pet is incontinent, keeping him clean and dry can help limit skin irritation and reduce the risk of infection. Absorbent bedding and waterless shampoo can help with this. And keep your pet on a regular potty schedule to help reduce the likelihood of accidents.
8) Proper positioning can help keep your pet more comfortable and help with recovery.
Try to keep her back legs tucked up (bent at the hips, knees, and ankles) when she’s lying down or sitting.
9) Putting a rolled up towel between his back legs when he’s lying down can help support his joints and make him more comfortable.
10) Monitor your pet’s comfort. Avoid putting her in a location where she may become too cold (eg, near a draft) or too hot (eg, in direct sun), especially if she’s unable to move herself to another place. Also ensure that she has easy access to fresh water at all times.
Greyhounds: A Breed Apart
By Andrea Mocabee, RVT
When I walk my two Greyhounds down the street, it never fails that people stop and stare, ask questions, or simply state how beautiful they are. But what people don’t realize is that Greyhounds are very unique and a lot of education goes into living with a retired racer.
The first thing people should understand about Greyhounds is that although they are the second fastest land mammals, they are sprinters not endurance runners. Greyhounds are not good running partners as they fatigue quickly. As racers, they are only expected to run 1650, 1980, or 2310 feet. Greyhounds are happiest when they have a comfortable bed, especially yours, or a couch to lounge on and be lazy. They didn’t earn the nickname “fastest couch potato” for nothing!
Another thing people need to be aware of when adopting a Greyhound is that life outside of the racetrack can be unfamiliar to them. Many have never used stairs before or walked on hardwood floors. These are things that need to be introduced slowly and with patience. My first rescue, Barney, was afraid of the ceiling fan. The first time he saw it, he ran and hid in the bedroom. What seems normal to us may be very scary to a dog who has never seen these things before.
Also, Greyhounds have a high prey drive; they’re raised to chase the lure at the racetrack. But after retirement, they carry that drive with them. Greyhounds should never be off leash. A small dog, squirrel, or even a plastic bag blowing in the breeze may trigger them to take off running, and even the fastest human runners will not catch a Greyhound in a full sprint. Never let a Greyhound off leash unless you are in a completely enclosed area.
One final thing people need to understand is that Greyhounds are different medically than other dogs. When Greyhounds come off the racetrack, vets will often put them on thyroid medication because their thyroid function is lower than other dogs. This low number can be normal for Greyhounds. My 5 year old, Ridley, was placed on thyroid medication when he retired for low levels and it turned out he didn’t need it because that was normal for him.
Platelets, which are involved in clotting, also tend to run lower in Greyhounds. Unless a Greyhound bruises very easily or bleeds excessively, lower platelets can be normal for the breed. My 10 year old, Gilly, tends to have a lower platelet count but does not have any signs of concern. As a precaution, however, he doesn’t have blood drawn from his jugular vein just in case he has difficulties clotting.
Greyhounds also tend to have a lower White Blood Cell (WBC) count but a higher Red Blood Cell (RBC) count than other dogs. Higher RBC results in more hemoglobin and a higher blood volume. That, along with having a universal blood type, makes Greyhounds great blood donors.
Because Greyhounds have such a low percent of body fat, they often have difficulties metabolizing anesthesia, so veterinarians tend to avoid using barbiturate drugs with them. And low body fat also means Greyhounds can get cold—or hot—very easily.
Adopting a Greyhound can be an amazing journey filled with unconditional love, devotion, and many fun-filled years. I’ve done a lot of research and learned a lot along the way, but adopting my retired racers has changed my life for the better. I couldn’t imagine it without my lazy couch potatoes.
Try This at Home!
As with humans, exercise is an important factor in keeping dogs movin’ and groovin’, especially as they age. And while we have a whole slew of exercises at Scout’s House that we have our patients do, here’s an easy one every dog can benefit from, even at home:
The goal of this exercise is to improve core strength and body awareness, as well as to increase ease of movement and your dog’s stability.
1) Have your dog stand with you sitting or kneeling at her hips or shoulders.
2) Place your hands on the sides of her hips or shoulders and gently move her rear/front end from side to side or forward and back. If she has to take a step to keep her balance, you’re pushing too hard. The idea is to make her gently “sway to the music” without stepping out of her stance. This exercise helps strengthen her “stabilizing” muscles.
Start for 20-30 seconds a day, twice a week, building up to 45-60 seconds five days a week. Your dog’s tolerance and willingness to cooperate will determine how long you should do this exercise. This should be fun for your dog—don’t force it if it’s not!
NOTE: Discontinue this exercise if your pet shows signs of discomfort.