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​Maintaining Condition in Aging Performance Dogs

July 24, 2018

2017 CKC Top Rally-O Dog: Chevy
Chevy celebrated his 12th birthday as Canada's #1 rally competitor, proving that Golden Retrievers don't do retirement. 
Pictured with handler and co-owner, Kathryn Poirier. 
There is no feeling in the world like stepping into the ring with a dog you have trained and competed with for years. It is akin to slipping on a comfortable pair of slippers. The teamwork and connection you feel is incomparable. There are numerous considerations in keeping your senior dog physically fit so that you can enjoy many years enjoying the sports you both love.
It is extremely important to catch injuries or signs of arthritis as early as possible to maintain optimal mobility and fitness. One of the most important factors is to find a veterinarian and/or certified professional (animal-certified physiotherapist, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc.) knowledgeable about sports medicine and dog sports. Finding someone who will listen to you and work with you to keep your senior athlete functioning at his/her prime is invaluable. You are the person who knows your dog the best and will be the one to first notice subtle changes in movement, performance or behavior. There are now many veterinarians with advanced training or specialization in rehabilitation and sports medicine who are trained to detect very subtle injuries as well as perform maintenance therapies. Frequent visits to qualified professionals will help detect injuries early as well as help maintain mobility. Testing, such as radiographs (x-rays), diagnostic musculoskeletal ultrasound, minimally invasive joint scoping, CT and MRI scans, is available to help with early detection of injuries.
With any athlete, most particularly seniors, proper warm ups and cool downs prior to training or competition are vital. Senior dogs take longer to warm up and tend to stiffen up more quickly and more severely after training sessions. Ensuring that all training and competition occurs at venues with adequate footing and conditions will help prevent injuries. One of the most fundamental components of maintaining muscle strength is a good exercise regimen which includes cardiovascular conditioning as well as strength training, particularly to preserve good core strength. You do not need a lot of expensive equipment to maintain fitness. Simple exercises such as shake a paw, sit to stand, down to sit, sit pretty (when performed correctly), cookie stretches (touching nose to shoulder, hip, and between front legs), walking/hiking, swimming and underwater treadmill sessions are all extremely effective and only take a few minutes a couple of days a week.

Obesity is a major concern in middle-aged to older dogs. It is exceptionally important to maintain proper weight in athletic dogs. Obesity contributes to increased inflammation within the body and creates excessive forces on joints, which can accelerate the development of arthritis. It also predisposes to development of conditions such as diabetes. Feeding senior dogs high quality food in proper amounts is essential. Metabolic energy requirements decrease with age and therefore older dogs typically require fewer calories. Good quality proteins in the diet will help maintain muscle development, repair minor muscle damage that may occur during training or competition and prevent muscle atrophy.

There are a huge number of supplements available that claim to prevent or treat arthritis. Your veterinarian can help determine which of these supplements will be of the most benefit to your performance dog. There are also a number of safe, effective medications that can help keep elderly dogs comfortable, should additional analgesia be required. Regenerative medicine, including stem cell or platelet-rich plasma injections, can also be used to help alleviate arthritis and aid in recovery from injuries.
Tillie is wearing Back On Track
Leg Wraps and Hock Braces.
In addition to supplements and medications, there are also many complimentary therapies available to help maintain comfort and health in senior performance dogs. These include low-level laser therapy, acupuncture, veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (akin to human chiropractic), osteopathy, massage, and herbal medicine.
One of my most-recommended therapeutic modalities for older pets is the use of Back On Track products. These products are made from Welltex®, a fabric that reflects energy in the form of long wave infrared radiation into the body. This radiation improves blood circulation and thus assists in repairing minor muscle/tendon/joint damage before it can progress to arthritis or chronic injury. Back On Track makes a variety of products for that are useful in performance dogs, including beds, coats and leg wraps. Back on Track also makes pain relief products for people.
Proper health care, conditioning and training can help prevent injuries so you and your senior dogs can enjoy your favorite sports and activities for many years.

The opinions expressed by authors on the Canadian Kennel Club Blog and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Canadian Kennel Club or any of its employees.

Les opinions et les commentaires exprimés dans le blogue du Club Canin Canadien sont ceux des auteurs et ils ne reflètent pas les opinions du Club Canin Canadien ni de ses employés.

Author InformationInformation sur l’auteur

Dr. Kathy Kimmel BSc, DVM, CCRT, CVMA, CVSMT

Dr. Kathy Kimmel BSc, DVM, CCRT, CVMA, CVSMT

Kathy graduated from WCVM in 2000 and then completed a one year rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery in West Hartford, CT. Kathy then spent four years in a private practice in Penticton BC. Deciding she wanted to try something a little different, she switched to full time emergency medicine for eight years in Edmonton. As an active competitor in dog sports, particularly agility, obedience and herding, Kathy developed an interest in sports medicine and rehabilitation, completing her certification in rehabilitation through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute. Kathy is also certified in Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy through the Veterinary Chiropractic Learning Centre and acupuncture through the Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians program. She currently practices in rehabilitation and sports medicine as well as general veterinary practice at the Springbank Pet Hospital in Calgary, AB.

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