As devoted dog owners, we always strive to ensure our furry companions lead happy and healthy lives. While we often monitor their diet, exercise, and overall well-being, there's another valuable aspect of our dog's physical health that we may overlook - their gait. A dog's gait, or the way they walk and move, can provide us with important clues about their overall physical condition. By understanding what their gait can tell us, we can proactively address any potential health issues and provide the best care possible for our beloved pets.
The Importance of Observing Your Dog's Gait
Just like humans, dogs have their unique ways of moving. By paying attention to your dog's gait, you can detect subtle changes or abnormalities that might indicate an underlying health problem. It's crucial to remember that no two dogs are the same, and their gait will differ based on breed, size, age, and individual characteristics. Regularly observing your dog's gait and being aware of any deviations from their usual movement patterns can help you spot potential issues early on.
A Balanced Gait: Signs of Optimal Health
A dog with a balanced gait demonstrates smooth, effortless movements. Here are some key features to look out for when assessing your dog's gait:
Symmetry: A healthy dog moves with a balanced gait, where all four legs move in a coordinated and symmetrical manner. If you notice any irregularities in limb movement or favouring of one side, it might indicate pain or discomfort.
Head and Tail Alignment: A dog with optimal physical health carries its head and tail in alignment with its body. The head should be level, and the tail should follow a natural arc. Any tilting, drooping, or abnormal positioning could be a sign of musculoskeletal issues or injury.
Fluid Movements: Observe your dog's movement for smooth transitions between strides. Ideally, there should be no stiffness, limping, or visible effort required while walking or running. An agile and effortless gait is a positive indication of good physical condition.
Indicators of Potential Health Issues
When observing your dog's gait, keep an eye out for the following signs that may suggest an underlying health problem:
Lameness: If your dog displays an irregular or exaggerated gait, such as a limp, hopping, or favouring one leg, it could signify an injury, joint problem, or pain. Seek veterinary attention promptly to diagnose and address the issue.
Stiffness: Difficulty in initiating movement, hesitancy while walking or running, or a lack of flexibility in joints may indicate joint inflammation, arthritis, or other mobility issues. Such stiffness may worsen after rest or intense exercise.
Abnormal Posture: Noticeable changes in your dog's posture, such as a hunched back, arched spine, or uneven weight distribution might be indicative of spinal or musculoskeletal problems. Consult your veterinarian for a comprehensive evaluation.
Seeking Veterinary Guidance: While our observations and awareness play a crucial role in understanding our dog's gait, it's vital to remember that professional veterinary guidance is essential. A veterinarian can perform a thorough physical examination, conduct specific tests, and provide expert insights into any issues affecting your dog's gait. Early detection and intervention can greatly improve your dog's quality of life and prevent further complications.
Your dog's gait serves as a window into their physical health, providing valuable insights that can guide us in maintaining their well-being. Regularly observing their movements and being attuned to any changes or abnormalities can help us identify potential health issues early on. By partnering with a trusted professional, you can help ensure our dog live a long, happy life free from pain and discomfort.
It’s also important to remember that you know your dog – dogs can be stoic and identifying pain can be difficult. Even imaging such as x-rays can be misleading, as pain is experienced differently by every individual and some dogs may seem clinically fine with severe structural issues while others are struggling to cope with only mild issues appearing on scans. A pain relief trial, where dogs are given pain relief for several weeks so we can observe changes in behaviour (such as a change to their gait, behaviour or activity levels), is one of the only ways we can truly rule out pain. If your vet is unable to find any problems on examination but you are still concerned, consider asking them about a pain trial for your dog. This is a relatively inexpensive way to get a good idea of whether your dog is suffering.
If the dog is in pain and it is affecting their behaviour, our trained behaviourist
is able to work with you to reduce these problem behaviours.