I am frequently surprised when clients bring their dogs in to see me for a massage or bodywork when, in fact, they should start by seeing their vet. As a trainer and small animal massage therapist, I appreciate the trust and confidence that many clients have in me, but I often wonder why they would bring their dog in for an assessment or massage treatment before seeing the doctor.
However, after thinking more about it, I realized that many pet parents or pet guardians don't always know when to bring their dog to a vet. Many don't know the signs of pain or illness. Many still think that because "it's a dog" they do not feel pain like humans do, or that dogs cope with pain better. Or, they just don't know the signs and symptoms of pain or illness. As a professional who provides bodywork and who understands canine anatomy, physiology, and behavior, I also have to remember that it is second nature to me to assess a dog and know that the dog may need this medical intervention.
I will use Violet, a Great Pyrenees-Boxer mix, as an example. I had the honor of working with this lovely 8 month old rescue pup the other day. When she becomes healthy, she’ll be up for adoption.
The rescue organization Recycled Ruff Rescue, a very small but big-hearted foster-based group, rescued Violet and several of her siblings from a Missouri puppy mill when they were 8 weeks old. All the siblings were quickly adopted out, but Violet was still in foster care because she had congenital lateral luxating patellae. Barely able to walk, she underwent a trochleoplasty on her right and left stifles to repair them in hopes that she would walk normally someday. The most recent surgery was on her left stifle two months before.
I first met Violet at Kriser's Natural Pet Store in Park Ridge where she was hanging out behind the counter on a big fluffy bed. She would occasionally wander from behind the counter to check out store patrons. Although her cuteness could have been the only reason I was drawn to her, it was her muscle atrophy and hind end lameness that made me want to get to know this little angel a little more. It turns out that two of the groomers who work at this particular Kriser's – Debbie and Jaclyn – are the founders of Recycled Ruff Rescue. Since Debbie and Jaclyn are currently the only two members of this rescue organization, many of the costs required for dogs in their care come out of their own pockets. After discussing Violet’s case with them, I set up an appointment to have Violet come into the office for a full evaluation and session.
Although I did not perform an assessment the day I met her, I took a short video of her so I could study her gait. Knowing that she had had surgery two months prior made me think she was in need of a follow up with her surgeon. I recommended a surgical follow up and the rescue assured me they would do that for Violet at some point.
My concerns that day led me to send the short video clip to a veterinary rehab colleague of mine to confirm my concerns about a possible infection. Again, the rescue organization assured me they would schedule a follow up with the surgeon, but insisted that she was doing better.
I saw Violet two days later and provided a hands-on assessment which confirmed heat and swelling in her left stifle and extreme atrophy in both the left and right pelvic limbs. I performed some bodywork on Violet to help relieve the compensatory loading of muscles in her thoracic limb and trunk muscles; however, my main goal for the session that day was to express the importance of getting Violet into a vet right away.
The degree of my concern led Debbie to agree that an urgent vet visit was needed, and we were fortunate to get in immediately at a neighboring vet who diagnosed the condition as a cranial cruciate ligament tear with an infection. He proceeded to prescribe antibiotics, pain medicine, and a follow up call to the surgeon to ensure that Violet would be seen as soon as possible.
So, why didn’t these well-meaning rescuers seek veterinary attention for Violet sooner? With our scheduled appointment for massage and bodywork only two days away, they may have believed that Violet would get what she needed from me. I often have this experience with new clients. However, the bottom line is that we as massage therapists are not veterinarians. As therapists, we can assess and gather information about a dog, but we cannot and will not diagnose. Diagnosis is not our skill, and it is not within our scope of practice. Through the assessment process, though, we can educate and help pet owners understand when a vet visit is needed. We can teach pet parents about signs of pain and provide information about what to look for in order to keep a dog healthy. When in doubt, a visit to the vet should be the first step.
How do you know if you need to see a vet? How can you recognize when your dog may be experiencing pain? Some of the signs and symptoms of discomfort or pain that may warrant a visit to your veterinarian are as follows:
- Avoiding the use of a limb
- Stiff, rigid movement
- Head bobbing or jerky movements of the head
- No desire to play/exercise
- No desire to be touched, or may even be reactive to touch
- May engage in play and exercise but will crash immediately following
- Whining, whimpering, vocalization
- Reactivity to other dogs in the household
- Withdrawn/shut down
- Inability to go up or down stairs
- Constant licking of a limb/paw
- Will not eat
Although Violet has a long road ahead of her, she is on the mend and out of immediate danger. Her rescuers now know what signs to look for to determine if a visit to the vet is necessary. Goals for Violet’s future care include having the surgeon address her stifle issues and then placing her into a physical rehabilitation program. I would like to acknowledge my colleague Dr. Ridley from Integrative Pet Care for looking at the video I took of Violet and sending advice. I’d also like to thank Dr. Shakir from Melrose Park Animal Hospital for squeezing Violet in for a visit at our request.
For more information about Violet and the fundraising efforts to help her get the care she needs, please contact Recycledruffrescue@hotmail.com or email email@example.com. We are also looking for foster parents or an adopter who can be committed to helping Violet with rehab and enrichment through all of her challenges.