Difficulty Getting Up

You may have noticed the sound of your your dog’s nails on the concrete when you are out for a walk, and then starting to get up a little slower. These are the signs that the body is ageing and normal body functions such as getting up to get a drink or going to relieve themselves will eventually become very difficult. What is happening to their back legs to make this happen?

As the body gets older and wear and tear occurs over the years the joints start to wear away the protective cartilage. This can become sore and is known as arthritis. Arthritis is very common and often a normal part of seniors. Another factor as the years tick by is that muscle mass diminishes and you often notice smaller appearing back legs. The last component is the nerve messages don’t signal as effectively as they used to. Nerves have an insulating sheath that helps insulate the messages being sent. German Shepherds have a genetic predisposition for Degenerative Myelopathy which is when this nerve sheath breaks down and the messages do not get sent properly. Most commonly the back legs are affected the most as they are the furthest distance from the brain to receive the message.

So to try to understand why you started seeing just the odd slip of the legs as they try to get up, then progressively more difficulty actually getting to a standing position and managing to walk we have to think of the above factors all together. Older joints with arthritis, then add weaker muscles and then less control with nerve messages not getting through and this can help us see why the back legs stop working.

It is the hardest thing I have to deal with as a veterinarian. It is so sad to see the body start to struggle. Their head and appetite are ok but they start to struggle to get about and often these dogs were the most active and protective family members. It creeps on gradually and we almost become accustomed to helping them up and seeing them slip a little. However it is important to remember what they must be going through. When they cannot get up without assistance there is a real quality of life concern here. They cannot get to their water or food, or move away when they relieve themselves. Nursing care becomes vital, if not turned regularly bedsores and urine scald occurs quickly.

What can I do to help or slow down this process?

So knowing the causes we can help any arthritis pain with anti inflammatories, help the joints stay healthier with fish oils and adequan and physical therapy. Regular gentle exercise, allowing them to set the pace, will help keep muscle strength.

Unfortunately nothing can be done for the nerve degeneration. Some patients find some improvement with acupuncture but not everyone.

Thick padded orthopedic beds, little booties to stop their feet sliding, yoga mats all over the house to help with traction make their lives a little easier. Also a towel under their chest or harness can help with getting them up.

Like I mentioned, it is so very painful to watch them become trapped in a body that isn’t working properly yet they feel like eating and their head is ok. I urge you to carefully consider quality of life and decide when the time is right for them to go to sleep and have dignity. Contact Home Heart Veterinary End of Life Care for further information.