It has never been more important that owners become more aware of what is required to maintain a fit and healthy pet than right now. Issues such as obesity and hip dysplasia as well as other chronic illnesses in our dogs are ever growing and can easily be avoided or at the very least reduced, with a little more awareness on the subjects. To add to this, our pets psychological state should not be overlooked either, with the prevalence of anxiety disorders and behaviour problems ever increasing. As a result, it is important that owners are aware of the factors that help keep our dogs happy and mentally stable and how appropriate levels of exercise help aid most, or perhaps even all of the problems seen.
Issues Addressed Include:
- Hip Dysplasia and Osteoarthritis
- Separation Anxiety
Obesity is a major concern amongst our pets, with studies estimating up to as many as 50% (most commonly between 30-45%) of domesticated dogs being obese. This can lead to both physical and mental issues including: onset of osteoarthritis, increase in heart problems, increased chance of diabetes mellitus, decreased immune function (predisposing pets to more disease and infection) and reduced quality of life and unhappiness among many other avoidable issues. It has been reported that one third of owners underestimate their dogs body condition and therefore aren’t actually aware of the current health crisis their dog is already in, making it more important to increase owner awareness on ideal canine body conditions so that interventions can be given to correct the problem.
Obesity has a large effect on the joint issues seen in dogs. The added weight without improvements in strength and mobility leads to an enormous stress being placed on joints and limbs, contributing to increased cases of osteoarthritis and elevated rates of hip dysplasia, subsequently resulting in more cases of osteoarthritis (scroll down for more information).
The excessive adipose tissue that characterises obesity is known to secrete proteins called adipokines into circulation that drive inflammatory response throughout the body, exacerbating many disease processes. Although, weight loss regimes have shown decreases in both adipokines and inflammation, reporting decreased cardiovascular disease risk and improved insulin sensitivity (reducing likeliness of diabetes) meaning previously obese dogs can be brought back to healthy standards.
Other conditions your pets may already have such as Brachycephallic airway syndrome and Tracheal collapse can be further worsened by obesity. These conditions cause difficulty breathing due to partial upper airway blockages that are further worsened when a dog is obese. Many see exercise as an issue for dogs with such respiratory issues, which it can be when improperly regulated, but without the appropriate exercise needed to keep dogs healthy and at their proper weight, the obesity that accompanies this inactivity is far more detrimental to the dogs health.
Factors associated with dogs being overweight or obese include: indoor living, inactivity, middle age, neutering, mixed breeding and certain dietary factors (e.g. Feeding scraps of food from the dinner table). Neutered and aging dogs are more likely to become obese due to the reduced metabolic rate apparent in both processes. Although obesity has been seen to increase up until age 10 and then decline, which is likely due to obese dogs not living as long as healthy dogs along with increased likeliness of illnesses characterised by weight loss. Therefore there is added emphasis placed on neutered and aging dogs to complete enough exercise to compensate the disadvantages they already face.
Despite some breeds being more susceptible to obesity (e.g. Cocker Spaniels, Labradors, Collies, Longhaired Dachshunds, Shetland Sheepdogs, Cairn Terriers, Bassett Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Beagles), it is easily avoidable with a simple improvement in exercise regiment solving the problem, along with diet monitoring. With better levels of exercise and gradually increasing intensity over time, your dogs physical appearance can easily be rectified and with it, a substantial reduction in a huge amount of associated problems.
For more information on obesity, please click here for a brief summary of peer reviewed material on the subject.
Hip Dysplasia (HD) and Osteoarthritis
HD is a hugely common joint condition among dogs, more pronounced in medium and larger breeds, but can be apparent in most others. It is characterised by joint laxity (abnormally loose joint) that is normally inherited and seen as the major cause of severe HD if managed poorly.
It is generally accepted that all dogs will experience degenerative changes in their joints as they age, although HD has been shown to accelerate this rate by subsequently leading to osteoarthritis earlier than unaffected dogs. The development of osteoarthritis that more often than not accompanies HD is characterised by pain, joint lameness (noticeable irregularities in stance and movement) and inhibited movement that can be incredibly debilitating, reducing both length and quality of life.
Many dogs are unfortunately already predisposed to HD through inheritance, so it’s onset is certain – although, that doesn’t mean that reduced quality of life is also a foregone certainty. Proper maintenance and management of HD progression begins in puppyhood and continues right through adolescence and into adulthood. Management of HD starts with conservative management techniques (e.g. Calorie restriction, proper monitored exercise) before moving onto surgical intervention if degradation is apparent. The most important area of concern is calorie restriction most definitely from 8 weeks onwards to help keep body weight to a minimum and within healthy standards to decrease unnecessary stress placed on joints that will accelerate the joint degeneration process.
Secondly, proper exercise management is essential so that activities that can cause harm to the hip joints can be avoided or at least limited. Young puppies are already susceptible to joint issues and potential injuries (microfractures) because of their continued and rapid rate of growth, with puppies that have excessive looseness around their joints (laxity) even more so. This is why it is important for young puppies (up until at least 6 months of age) to avoid the following: climbing up stairs and obstacles, jumping up and down and onto high surfaces, rapid changes of direction and rough play. Removing these elements eliminates added stresses around the joints to help proper joint formations and delay the onset of HD if they are already genetically vulnerable.
Older dogs, like puppies, also need monitored exercise. Although for older dogs, the primary aim is to aid the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis, whereas with puppies, it is aimed at managing and delaying the onset of HD. The stiffness and movement restriction caused by osteoarthritis isn’t helped by preventing your dog from exercising, in fact it is worsened, with the inevitable obesity that comes with this inactivity further exacerbating the issues. That is why steady paced and progressive exercise is necessary for older dogs as to keep body weight to a minimum and to strengthen the surrounding muscles of the joints thus improving range of motion and reducing discomfort.
Some breeds of dog are more prone to HD than others (), with all dogs being vulnerable to osteoarthritis if body weight and types of exercise are managed poorly, making it vital that owners are aware of the appropriate types of exercise that their dogs should and shouldn’t be completing, along with once again, appropriate calorie restrictions.
For more information on HD, please click here for a brief summary of peer reviewed material on the subject.
Socialisation involves desensitising dogs to the experiences, animals, people and objects that they are likely to encounter throughout their lives in a controlled and pleasant way. The period of socialisation is generally accepted as between 3 weeks and 12 weeks of age, with the critical and most sensitive time occurring between 8 and 12 weeks. Although, age-appropriate practices should begin within a few days of birth and extend into adulthood. This process is extremely important in order to reinforce good behaviours, avoid aggressive and fearful behaviours, develop a successful dog-owner relationship and develop the well-being of the dog.
Early socialisation has been considered to have long-lasting psychological benefits that help dogs better cope with situations they will continuously encounter. It is important that this process begins young as the sensitive period that puppies experience during this time enables them to approach unknown situations with less wariness or fear, leading to easier adaptation and learning than older dogs are able to accomplish due to their reinforced past experiences.
Exposing dogs to the animals, people and experiences during the socialisation period that they will encounter in life, allows for healthy relationships to be formed without eliciting fear and aggression that will remain throughout life. If undesirable behaviours including fear and aggression are not prevented, then the dog is likely to be removed from the home and given to a shelter from which approximately 30% are euthanised (some kill rates as high as 68%). Given that one of the most prevalent reasons for relinquishing dogs to shelters is poor behaviour, the importance of reinforcing good behaviour through correct socialisation practices is paramount.
It has been shown that puppies that attend socialisation classes have higher retention rates in the home than those that don’t. These socialisation classes introduce puppies to a variety of smells, sounds, sights, surfaces, equipment and interactions in a safe way, that provides the mild stress needed for puppies to establish the differences between dangerous and harmless stimuli. Puppies that attend a form of puppy preschool have been found to be less aggressive, less fearful, more social and have reductions in other bad behaviours than those puppies that do not attend.
It is common for dogs to be left alone in the home, often for extended periods without any social contact and still be expected to remain calm and well behaved, which is clearly unreasonable. For desired behaviours to occur, correct practices need to simultaneously occur, therefore owners are the ultimate determinant of behaviour in their dogs and need to actively seek to fulfil the innate needs of their dogs and practice correct socialisation techniques.
For more information on socialisation, please click here for a brief summary of peer reviewed material on the subject.
Separation Anxiety (SA)
SA is the second most common behavioural problem reported by dog owners and can often lead to the giving up of the dog and even sometimes euthanasia for extreme cases. The high prevalence and consequences associated with SA cases means it is hugely important that owners are made aware of the ways to treat the condition to improve the well-being of your pets and enhance the human-dog relationship.
The exact causes of SA aren’t fully understood due to the large number of conflicting studies, although some of the potential causes include over attachment to owner, negative early experiences (e.g. early separation from mother), traumatic experience while alone and changes in family circumstances. It has also been suggested that dogs bred to be socially dependent, devoted and infantile have increased likeliness of developing SA. Whatever the actual causes of SA, the consequences are well established with the condition often leading to disagreements between household members and eviction of the dog.
The most common complaints reported by owners of dogs withs SA are destructive behaviour, excessive vocalisation (barking, howling etc.) and inappropriate elimination (urination and defection) associated with the owners absence. These actions are derived from over-attachment and over-dependency from the dog to the owner and can be aggravated by emotional departures enhancing the dogs anxiety, therefore the need to downplay departures is a must to help the condition.
Treatments for SA begin with owner education to help eliminate the misconception that this kind of behaviour is through spite, which is not the case. From here, environmental management, behaviour modification and therapeutic agents (drugs and pheromones) can be used as the primary SA treatments. The purpose of environmental management is to reduce the manifestation of signs by limiting the dogs exposure to situations that provoke anxiety (i.e. drop at day boarding instead of leaving at home and allow for daily exercise) so that effective behaviour modification techniques can then be applied.
Behaviour modification techniques are instructions given to owners to help reverse SA and remove symptoms associated with it. In general, calm behaviour should be rewarded and not attention seeking behaviour, with specialists agreeing that physical punishment and retrospective disapproval should be stopped. Other treatment methods and instructions include: Increased exercise to reduce excess energy; Regular relaxation training; Crate training to associate dogs crate or bedding as a safe place during absence; Downplay departure to reduce over-excitement on departure and return; Desensitise dog by leaving them for many short periods; Use special toys on departure to help associate leaving with pleasure (although ideally coupled with desensitisation); and Dissociate cues that dogs may associate with departure (e.g. picking up keys, putting on shoes) by actively doing these cues without actually leaving the house.
For more information on SA, please click here for a brief summary of peer reviewed material on the subject.