The presence of grey hair and the onset of muscle aches and pains is a reminder of the maturation process. We might be wiser, but our muscles, bones and joints are in gentle demise. There is good evidence that maintaining physical fitness and continuing to lift heavy weights can slow this decline, but some things are inevitable.
A trip to Browns Bay on Auckland’s North Shore highlights this maturing effect clearly for both people and dogs. The young joyfully leap and bound their way along the beach, smoothly flexing and extending their spines, arms, and legs; chasing after balls, birds, and fellow beachgoers with youthful abandon. In contrast, their aging companions with stiff backs and reduced flexibility are short stepping. The initial eager looks on their faces after exploring the wide expanse of the open beach change to resigned resentment. To attempt the same frivolity would be unwise; the body would pay a heavy price from over exertion.
Lameness in dogs is a frequent presenting symptom in veterinary clinics, including reports of animals appearing to be initially stiff-legged after rising from laying down, and then apparently improving to normal behaviour after walking.
To assess your pet’s locomotion, I find it easiest to compare one side of the body to the other. Look first at the front legs. Estimate the full range of motion or full stride length (foot placement) on one side and then compare that to the other leg. A painful leg will have a shorter length between footprints compared to the good leg. Repeat the procedure for the hind legs. Also, for most four-legged animals the centre of their body weight is a little behind their elbows, towards the tail. With lameness they frequently dip their heads when bearing weight on the good leg. They are attempting to move their centre of bodyweight towards the good legs and away from the sore leg. Animals with broken bones will usually not bear weight on the affected leg and be extremely uncomfortable.
Occasionally, a large adrenaline release can initially mask signs of lameness. Adrenaline is an endocrine hormone which “gives strength” by increasing heart output and blood flow to the muscles. This is the classical “flight or fight” response. Once the adrenaline wears off, the animal’s lameness may be noticed. Cats are notorious for this effect after riding to the vet clinic from home. Cats which have appeared unable to walk at home suddenly appear “better” in the examination room. Most Vets make allowances for this effect. We know that as soon as they are home and relaxed, they will return to the lame behaviour which so bothered their owners. Should you be concerned about lameness in one of your pets, then contact your local veterinarian.
Stephen McAulay, CEO and head vet, Wellsford Vet Clinic