Most of us will suffer from back pain at one time or another. If you’re having to lift, move, help your dog stand or walk during recovery, or as they age, then you’re at increased risk of injuring yourself. As physiotherapists, we are interested in not only rehabilitating your dog but also in assisting you to prevent injuring yourself when looking after your dog.
As dedicated dog owners, we often put our dogs before ourselves when they are injured. If they can’t get in or out of the car, we lift them. If they need help to walk, we want to try to help them. This can sometimes mean leaning forwards or to the side with a load on the end of a towel or hand underbelly. Let’s face it, we do whatever it takes, even if it means putting ourselves at risk.
The main concern with any manual handling activity is the increased risk of injury due to wear and tear on the back. Especially on the lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) intervertebral discs. Back injuries can be painful, reduce your mobility and if left untreated can lead to more severe symptoms. Here at ‘Dogs In Motion’, we care about you too. We understand your commitment to your dog and we’re here to help with advice on how to protect yourself and look after your pet as well.
So what kinds of ‘risks’ are we exposed to with our injured dog?
- Repetitive activities such as assisting with toileting, helping to move from lying to sit to stand. If motions are repeated frequently and for prolonged periods of time, fatigue and muscle strain can accumulate. Effects of repetitive motions from performing the same activities are also increased when awkward postures and forceful exertions are involved.
- The ‘dog’ is too heavy. This is easy to determine if you have a large dog but it’s also important to remember that if you are lifting your small dog with arms extended, the impact of that lift is greatly increased.
- The ‘dog’ is difficult to grasp. Not all dogs will keep still when they are lifted, especially if they are in pain or are fearful. The bulk of the dog can also interfere with vision which may also increase the risk of slipping, tripping or falling. Physical effort may also result in sudden movement e.g. if your dog decides to try and jump out of your arms when lifting them.
- Situations where we cannot avoid twisting or turning of the trunk e.g. when helping/lifting your dog in and out of the car. Stress on the lower back and neck is increased significantly if twisted trunk postures are adapted or where a person twists while supporting a load, or with prolonged lifting / carrying with your body in awkward positions. This risk is amplified when working in a confined space such as in the back of the car.
- Surfaces are slippery e.g. when trying to help your dog walk or get up on polished floorboards or tiles.
After many years of experience working with dogs, we can offer some helpful hints to address these risks and assist in prevention of injuring yourself.
1. Repetitive activities:
If your dog requires regular assistance to sit and stand, to roll over, to toilet or clean up after toileting etc., ensure you position yourself close to your dog to reduce reaching distance and place a kneeling pad on the floor or a cushion to protect your knees. To assist with getting yourself up and down off the floor, consider placing your dog near a couch so you have some nearby support.
Of course dogs come in all shapes and sizes but small dogs can also be difficult to lift frequently especially when we need to hold them out at arm’s length (eg. Lifting in and out of the car). If you have a small dog, position yourself close to the dog, bend at the knees and hold the dog close to your body to support it and reduce the impact on your own body . This is not quite as easy with a large dog but the same principals apply. Position yourself close to the dog. Support around the chest and under the abdomen and keep the load close to your body.
3. Assistive Devices:
For light or heavy dogs, there are a variety of harnesses and slings to assist with lifting, moving and carrying your dog. Here at Dogs In Motion, we use the ‘Help em up’ harness as it provides great support for the front and rear ends of your dog. By placing a pair of handles where you can quickly reach them, this unique dog harness allows you to lend support at any time. What makes this dog harness truly unique is it’s designed to stay on your dog for extended periods of time. (see below).
It’s fantastic for helping you get your dog in and out of the car, keeping them safe as they wiggle around and reducing the amount of twisting of your own back and torso. Another alternative is a belly sling. This sling can be used in conjunction with your dog’s usual harness to provide great support for an unsteady gait pattern. Great for assisting your dog over slippery surfaces and in and out of the car
To assist your larger dog in and out of your car, a ramp may also be a suitable option. Your dog needs to be able to walk with or without assistance to use this aid or it doesn’t serve it’s purpose. Ramps can be bought online, in pet stores or we can order these for your pet.
We suggest placing matting or yoga mats on slippery surfaces where you’re dog may need to walk when they are unsteady on their feet. Also over areas where you are assisting your dog into standing. This provides extra support and reduce sudden slipping movements that can also jar your back. Non-slip booties can also be very helpful in these situations and are easily sourced on the internet by searching ‘non-slip canine booties’. Soft boots are more suitable for indoor surfaces and the more sturdy ‘ruffwear’ griptrex boots are great for outdoors.
6. Moving a disabled or injured dog
Blankets can be useful under your dog to assist getting them in and out of car. Especially helpful when they are severely disabled. Lay the blanket out. It needs to be bigger than the dog’s body size but a very large blanket can be folded. Lift, slide or roll the dog onto the blanket. Lift the four corners of the blanket, one person at the head end, and one at the rear. A third person can walk beside the dog and reassure it, even hold its head if necessary. Finally, if your dog is severely disabled and very heavy, consider notifying the Vet or Physiotherapist. They may be able to assist you to move your dog in and out of the clinic. Many clinics do have a moveable trolley to assist in these situations.