Rehab for Senior Dogs

As time goes by, more and more dog owners are becoming aware of the importance of K9 rehabilitation after surgeries like cranial cruciate ligament surgery, spine/herniated disc surgery, etc. A professional K9 rehabilitation and conditioning program can have a dramatic impact on how fast and to what extent a dog recovers after these operations.

Tuckerman enjoying a treat after an evening at Napatree Point. Earlier this year, he wouldn't have been able to make this trip. (photo credit: Jennifer Zapatka)

Tuckerman enjoying a treat after an evening at Napatree Point. Earlier this year, he wouldn't have been able to make this trip. (photo credit: Jennifer Zapatka)

But today, I’d like to shine some light on another, often overlooked, situation where rehab can significantly increase the quality of life for our dogs. That is, rehab and conditioning for senior dogs.

Last year was when I first started to notice Tuckerman’s rapidly declining mobility and health I found myself saying the same thing that I hear so many others say, “Oh, he is just slowing down. He’s old”

Today, those types of statements make me cringe because now I know that, at least in Tuck’s case, there was so much room to improve the quality of life for him even at age 13. And, though it certainly wasn’t my intention, by saying, “He’s just getting old” and not addressing it, I was inadvertently letting him suffer unnecessarily.

That fact kills me. But, we live and learn.

I hope that by shining some light on the topic, I can help others be slower to dismiss the declining behavior of our older dogs as simply a function of age. In so many cases, we can in fact help them feel so much better.

So, what is K9 Rehabilitation?

Simply put, rehabilitation is to “to restore to a condition of good health, ability to work, or the like”

I’ve been bringing Tuckerman to Wizard of Paws in Colchester on a weekly basis for a few months now. They specialize in K9 Rehabilitation and Conditioning and the owner, Debbie Torraca, is a leader of the industry. Under Deb’s expertise, Tuckerman has a routine that consists of a combination of laser therapy, underwater treadmill, and balance/core work.

If I didn’t see the almost immediate results with my own eyes, I would have never believed anyone who told me that it would work so dramatically to improve Tuck’s movement and overall health.

When I first brought him in, he was at the point of walking like he was on eggshells and with very pronounced limping all the time. In addition, he was so much less engaged with his surroundings and seemed very down most of the time. Our hikes had been whittled down to short, slow strolls around the block because he no longer seemed able. Again, I attributed all of that to just “getting old”.

Now, he is a different dog. We are back on the trails every morning. His limping is gone and his slow stroll has turned into energetic trotting, jumping and playing. His personality is back…he is alert, engaged and once again interested in the things going on around him. I couldn’t be happier with the results. He is obviously in a much better state both physically and mentally.

Since starting rehab, Tuckerman is back to hiking with me every morning. (photo credit: Jennifer Zapatka)

Since starting rehab, Tuckerman is back to hiking with me every morning. (photo credit: Jennifer Zapatka)

We don’t know how long we have with our dogs. I may be blessed to have Tuckerman another few years, or I may lose him days from now.

What I am sure of is that now he has a much better quality of life for as long as I am lucky enough to share life with him. Isn’t that what we want? These amazing creatures deserve no less.

Our dogs are talking to us all the time. It’s up to us to learn and understand their language. Looking back, Tuckerman was telling me that he didn’t feel well long before I realized it and thought to do something about it. That breaks my heart, but I hope that sharing this story with you helps if you are in a similar situation.

Look for a future post, where we will go over some of the communication that Tuckerman (and all dogs) use that (1) we often misinterpret or inadvertently ignore and (2) can help us help them.