As a rehabilitation therapist, I see geriatric animals on a daily basis. Many of their common complaints are weakness, osteoarthritis, obesity and tendon or ligament injuries.
One day in walked Lucy, a 15-year-old Jack Russell terrier, and her housemate Holly, dressed in matching outfits and accessorized better than most people. They both have important jobs raising awareness and money for pet charities. Lucy had injured her cranial cruciate ligament (the ligament connecting the thigh bone to the lower leg bone; similar to an ACL tear in humans). Surgery is usually recommended, but Lucy, like many geriatric animals, had additional health issues that made surgery a greater risk for her. Rehabilitation therapy is a viable option for those dogs and cats that are unable to have surgery due to age or other health issues.
Lucy was started on a home exercise plan with specific exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding her knee, and also came in for weekly in-house therapy sessions. These sessions involved the use of the underwater treadmill to build strength, improve range of motion and aid in weight loading, as well as cold laser therapy to help with inflammation and pain.
Lucy has done very well with her therapy. Her mom brings her in for regular maintenance sessions as well as working with her on doing a consistent home exercise program.
Consistency is the key with our older pets. Just like us, they need to keep moving but not do so much that they injure themselves or experience pain. You must find the right balance. Also, whatever you can do daily is better than sporadic exercise.
Maintaining a proper weight is also important. I am always surprised how just a few pounds of weight loss can improve function and quality of life for our pets.
And don’t forget to keep your dog mentally strong. Change their routine a little, hide treats for them to find and teach them new tricks.
So keep them moving, watch their weight, and yes—you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Amy McFarlin, DVM
Atlanta Animal Rehabilitation and Fitness