By Lisa Perri DosPassos
The field of canine physical rehabilitation has grown tremendously over the past 20 years. Many veterinarians and pet owners have come to find rehab therapists as valuable resources when pets are injured, recovering from surgery or having difficulty with mobility.
A canine rehab professional may touch upon areas similar to what, as humans, we seek out in physical therapy, massage therapy, athletic training and personal trainers.
Professional dog groomers and stylists are also valuable resources for pet owners when it comes to their pet’s health and well–being. The groomer has a unique opportunity to see a dog regularly and can alert an owner when they notice infections in the skin, ears, eyes or even the dreaded anal glands. Lumps and bumps, weight loss and body condition are just some of the things that groomers take notice of when working with a dog.
When a dog is experiencing pain or discomfort, they may show subtle signs that can be easy to miss. A dog that has pain is certainly more likely to display unwanted behaviors when handled. Below is a list of some common signs and indications that a dog may be experiencing pain, weakness or discomfort.
Rounded or “roached” topline
Everyone loves a nice straight topline on a dog. If a dog presents with a curved, rounded or even “pointed” back, a red flag should go up. As dogs age, they can lose muscle mass, strength and flexibility through the spine, contributing to poor spinal posture. A rounded spine may also be an indication that there is trouble somewhere else in the body, such as a painful limb.
Avoidance of shifting weight to a limb
As you lift each leg of a dog, they shift their weight through the other 3 limbs. If you observe a dog that consistently does not want to off-load a limb, take a closer look. The limb on the opposite side may be painful or too weak to support the dog. This is common with conditions such as hip dysplasia and arthritis.
Inability to stand for several minutes
A fit dog should be able to stand upright for 3 minutes or more. You can probably think of several dogs that constantly want to lie down when they are on the table. This is not only frustrating, but is also concerning. Why does this dog need to lie down so quickly? Obesity, poor conditioning, painful joints, chronic disease or injury may be to blame.
Reacting when touched at the waist
We have all encountered that dog that will whip around and snap when you touch or hold them around the waist. This may be the result of under–socialization or poor exposure to being handled as a young dog. Or this can be an indication that the dog has pain in their hips, back or hind legs. A common muscle injury in the hind end is a strain of the Iliopsoas muscle group. “Guarding” the area of the waist is often seen in a dog with an iliopsoas strain. Look for twitching or stiffening of the muscles around this area when touched to give you a better idea if this is a problem with pain versus behavior.
Not wanting to move front legs forward
A dog with a painful shoulder, neck or rib may not be comfortable having their front leg moved forward. Dogs naturally carry 60 percent of their weight through the front end. Any front end lameness or pain should be taken seriously.
Strong dislike of having feet/nails touched
This may yield an eye–roll, after all, what dog enjoys having their feet touched? The take–away here is to be on the lookout for a dog that has a particular foot or toe that they strongly protest having touched. Or a dog that previously did not fuss about their feet but now reacts when handled. Arthritis of the wrists and toes can be a sneaky culprit, and may make it very painful for a toe or foot to be flexed, pressed or squeezed.
Asymmetry in the limbs or muscles
As a groomer, you have an eye for balance and symmetry when clipping and trimming the coat. Be aware of any imbalance, asymmetry or visual difference in the muscles or posture of the limbs of the dog. A dog that is not using a limb properly will likely have smaller muscles on that side, or may hold the leg in a different position when standing, sitting or lying down. Knee ligament injuries are very common, and usually lead to muscle wasting on the injured leg.
Dogs are often stoic creatures, and do a good job of adapting to painful changes in their bodies. Whether from injury, disease or changes from aging, dogs can hide their pain very well. As their groomer, you handle and touch a dog in ways that their owners may not. You are a valuable part of their health and well–being, in addition to their good looks. If you notice any signs of pain or discomfort in a dog, encourage their owners to have the dog checked out by their veterinarian and their rehab therapist for a full evaluation. ✂
Lisa DosPassos, OTR/L, CCRP, is a canine rehabilitation practitioner from southern Pennsylvania. Lisa spent over 14 years working as a veterinary technician, as she went on to become an occupational therapist. She is one of the few occupational therapists that have become canine rehab therapists, through the University of Tennessee program. She and her husband compete in the sport of flyball, and train in disc, agility, weight pull, barn hunt and dock diving with their dogs. Next Level Canine Rehab & Fitness is located in Chester County Pennsylvania, serving canine athletes and family companions alike. www.nextlevelcaninerehab.com