When little ones want to come up and pet him during our walks, I can allow it with total confidence that he will put up with pretty much anything. I always talk with children about how to properly approach a dog, especially one they’ve never met. We talk about not getting in their face or making sudden movements, etc.
But what’s wonderful about Jackson is that with many of these kids, I can then allow them to hug him. If they are listening well and paying attention to me, and the adult who is with them is comfortable with it, I let them know that Jackson is a special boy with a lot of patience who actually appreciates their attention and would love a hug. You should see a child’s face light up when they get to snuggle right in with my boy!
But as much as Jackson enjoys his walks, especially his off-leash hikes, he’s slowing down. He is beginning to lose muscle mass in his hips and back legs in particular. Stairs are increasingly difficult. So what can I do to help him? How do we take care of our aging dogs so they can continue their jaunts in nature and their playtime for as long as possible?
Animal Wellness magazine has a great article that explains the importance of muscle health, what atrophy is, how to prevent it, and what to do once it has already begun to set in.
In order to prevent atrophy and all of its side effects, like pain, weakness, and loss of vitality, it’s important for dog caretakers to make muscle health a priority.
Keeping an Eye on Diet and Exercise
First, always talk with your vet about proper exercise and nutrition. Usually, it is still very important to keep exercising your dog, even if the walks become slower and shorter. But you want to be sure you’re doing what’s best for your pup, and occasionally those walks might need to stop. Or become less frequent.
Jackson would go much further on our hikes in particular, but I know if I allow him to do too much, he will be sore for the next couple of days. While I hate telling him playtime is over, I know it’s what I need to do. I do forget from time to time, though. It’s just so fun to watch my old man fully enjoying himself.
After talking with my vet, I had to adjust Jackson’s diet a bit. While protein is vital, I was actually feeding him a diet that was too rich in this nutrient for his activity, which affected his digestion a bit. That made him uncomfortable and also caused him to gain weight, which put more strain on his already aching back legs and hips.
There are some conflicting views about high protein diets for dogs, but what it really comes down to is the quality of the protein and your dog’s activity level. Much like humans, a working dog (like a sled dog, for example) will need more calories and protein than an older dog, or one that leads a more sedentary lifestyle. So make sure to pay attention to your dog’s behavior. She will tell you if something is off.
Supplements Might Help
Along with proper nutrition, some supplements can help keep a dog’s joints healthy, or help relieve pain and inflammation once they begin deteriorating and hurting a bit. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are commonly recommended, along with MSM (methylsulfonylmethane).
Certain fish oils, as well as turmeric, reportedly improve joint health as well. Just like everything else, always talk with your vet if you’re considering adding something new to your dog’s health and nutrition plan.
You may be wondering about CBD oil, since it seems to be sold everywhere these days and lots of people tout its physical and mental benefits for both humans and animals.
While I am all for natural remedies whenever possible, I personally haven’t had any experience with CBD, and not enough reliable testing has been done yet for me to feel comfortable offering an opinion either way. All I can suggest is you do your research to find a credible company that you have vetted, and discuss this option with your veterinarian.
Activity Level and Type
Next, I was concerned whether I needed to decrease Jackson’s activity. Was I harming him by still taking him for his favorite activity of off-leash hikes?
I asked my vet if I should just be allowing him a short walk around the neighborhood and leave it at that. Luckily for both of us, she assured me that Jackson should continue his exercise. She explained how it’s good for him, will help slow down muscle atrophy, and perhaps even help strengthen what he still had. I do, however, have to keep an eye on the difficulty of our hikes, as well as the distance.
If muscle loss has been confirmed, it can be addressed with exercise, nutrition, and supplementation. Together, they’ll help rebuild healthy muscle for better stability and mobility.
Another wonderful activity to consider is swimming. It’s so much gentler on their joints, yet still allows them to use their muscles. And many dogs, especially labs, really enjoy the water. Jackson doesn’t dock dive (never did) or chase balls into the water these days, but he does love his leisurely swim in the nice, cool water, letting his body float.
Jackson will stop on his own when he’s tired, but I used to have an Irish Terrier who would try to go straight out to the middle of the lake, then be too tired to return to shore. Needless to say, that girl wore a canine life vest on her aquatic adventures. Either way, never leave your dog unattended, and be sure you have a way to bring them back in if they over-exert themselves.
If you’d like to read more about the health benefits of swimming for your dog, check out this article by Top Dog Health.