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Stiffness in Aging Dogs

By Dr. Aubrey Hefner

The most common issue that our clients schedule a chiropractic consult for is stiffness that they’ve noticed recently in their older pet. Stiffness is a general term that all dogs and cats experience at some point in their lives, but we especially notice this among older or aging pets. There are many potential causes of stiff muscles, but the most common cause of chronic stiffness in older pets is arthritis.

Osteoarthritis or “wear and tear” arthritis, is a very common condition in dogs and cats. When it is found in the spine, another name for it is spondylosis. Mild and moderate cases of spondylosis don’t always show symptoms, but when they are symptomatic, it typically presents as back soreness and stiffness especially in the morning or after a nap. Spondylosis is diagnosed by X-ray and there are a large range of options to help manage the symptoms.

Chiropractic is a great tool for treating the effects of spondylosis because it is non-invasive and the effects are often seen very quickly. After our first chiropractic treatment with a dog or cat, owners most commonly report that their pet was more active, alert and able to move easier. Chiropractic treatment may be used in addition to medication or other modalities such as acupuncture, cold laser and massage therapies.

Spondylosis develops from continuous stressors placed on the spine over time. Chiropractic adjustments address specific points in the spine (and throughout the rest of the body) that are stuck and adding extra stress on the spine. Through a chiropractic adjustment, we are helping address pain, inflammation and stress in these areas. The best results are seen in pets that receive regular chiropractic care throughout their lives.

Aside from chiropractic, below are some additional ways that you can help avoid adding unnecessary stressors on your pet’s spine:

  • Restrict your dog from jumping on and off high surfaces including couches, beds and into cars. The repetitive stress of jumping especially off of high surfaces can be jarring on their backs, necks and forelimbs.

  • Use a harness that attaches to a leash on the back and is well padded.

  • For older pets with arthritis, make sure they have a comfortable bed that has plenty of evenly distributed padding.

  • Many animals enjoy a light massage on their neck and back after waking up.

  • Proper nutrition is vital for the health of your pet’s joints.

How many sessions will it take to help my pet?

Depending on the pet, we usually recommend a recheck 1-2 weeks after the first chiropractic treatment. Every animal is different, but we usually see that pets with chronic stiffness will feel much better for a few days to a couple weeks after their first chiropractic treatment. Chronic issues will often take longer before we see significant and sustained improvement, but after a few visits we typically see that the pet feels better for longer periods of time. Each pet is unique and we cater to the needs of every animal and their owner.


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