Working together

by Hannah Ashton, Animal Physiotherapist, BSc, DipAPhys, MIAAT

I swear, sometimes in life, animals choose us rather than us choosing them, and this cannot be truer in the home of Frouwina and Ben.

Meet Beau, Kez and Blix, just 3 of their pack, but these guys have had their fair share of challenges.


Beau is an 9 year old Bassett Hound, with eyes that frequently win over the judges at local dogs shows.

He was born into the hunt as part of a working litter but it was soon discovered he had a large over bite of his upper jaw and he was deemed unsuitable for the working environment. At 6 weeks old he was rehomed to Frou and Ben and despite his uncertain start in life, he had great character, resilience and a lot of naughtiness!

At 5 months old he began to show regular bouts of severe lameness and after several trips to the vets and x-rays he was referred to Willows for MRI and CT scans. These revealed that the bones in his right fore hadn’t developed properly leaving with what is known as ‘ununited anconeal process’. A condition seen mainly in German Shepherds and Bassett Hounds. This is where a bony protuberance within the elbow joint becomes detached from the ulna. It causes a lot of pain! Early surgical intervention is essential to achieve the best results and this involves lengthening the shortened bone and reattaching via pinning and plating.

The surgery and recovery went well, however as a result, Beau did not have a ‘normal’ puppy life. He had to spend 8 weeks in a cast with limited movement and then slow and steady rehabilitation.

All was well until he reached 2 years old when his eagle eyed owner noticed some changes in his gait. The lameness returned and he often looked stiff through his shoulders. He was diagnosed with early onset arthritis and more treatment began.

Their vet at the time was not only a great vet, but also a talented acupuncturist, so Beau started a course of acupuncture (NB - acupuncture on animals can only, by law, be performed by a veterinary surgeon). Shortly after this he was referred for physiotherapy as these two therapies work well hand in hand. Sadly, their great vet decided to emigrate to Canada so acupuncture ceased, but he continues to have regular physiotherapy which generally keeps him happy, active and mischievous.

Physiotherapy started with an intensive course of home visits. Whilst the right fore was the primary issue, over time and through gait and balance compensation it was discovered that Beau also suffered from muscle strain through his triceps, shoulder muscles and trapezius. Being a long backed, short legged dog, he had also developed muscular imbalance throughout his back and there was also slight imbalance through hind leg muscles. Beau’s treatment involved laser therapy, soft tissue work to reduce tension, spasm, scar tissue and adhesions and improve suppleness and elasticity. His range of movement, strength and gait were also worked on to eliminate bad habits and improve his posture. Exercises were then left with the owner to carry on with between treatments.

All was going well until . . .

Early last year Beau suddenly started showing signs of pain and ataxia in his back end. He suddenly slowed down and became reluctant to go up and down stairs and play with the rest of the pack. Veterinary investigation suspected a mild spinal disc issue and so for the first time, medication was administered. This was however, short lived, as Beau reacted very badly to the medication, developing severe stomach ulcers. All of this set him back significantly but thankfully he is all well again. His physiotherapy treatment now incorporates work through his back to release any spasms and keep his supporting muscles strong and supple. Beau has also started hydrotherapy, and despite some initial reservations, he is now swimming well, providing he is bribed with sausages!

Keeping Beau as fit and healthy as possible, both in exercise and diet, is essential. Should he gain weight or miss out on vital muscular and skeletal nutrition, this can have a significant effect on his existing issues, therefore, alongside his well balanced food, he also receives nutraquin+, a supplement that the owners saw almost immediate improvement. Following his episode with stomach ulcers, nutrabio is kept on standby in case he has any upsets.


Kez is a 12 year old German Shepherd bitch. She has had a successful 6 year career in the prison service and was retired just short of 7 years old. She patrolled the perimeter fence for 8 hour shifts at a time and was at hand to help defuse security issues. It is fair to say she loved her job and I have never met a dog more loyal to her owner. Where suspicious noises send the pack barking at the door or back gate, Kez rushes to her owners side to make sure she is safe.

Frou and Ben adopted Kez on the day of her retirement. It was soon apparent that the hours and miles of patrolling had taken their toll on her joints and she began to show signs of discomfort through her joints.

Being a young dog, Frou was keen to see if she could be managed on a more natural route so she was immediately put on nutraquin+ and almost immediately began physiotherapy. She became a different dog, happy, active and no longer showed signs of lameness or pain unless she injured herself in her exuberance, which was rare, as she is a tough cookie.

In 2014 Kez began hydrotherapy and absolutely loved it, she is a lunatic in the pool but it was great to see.

Out of the blue, in January 2016, Kez suffered from 3 vestibular attacks within 18 days, each one more severe than the last. Vestibular disease is a condition affecting a receptor located close to the inner ear and controls balance, posture and orientation. Dogs suffering from Vestibular disease often have a head tilt, can appear drunk (assymetric ataxia), circle and become nauseous or vomit.

Kez’s vestibular disease was brought on by hypertension and after some very worrying times, this is now under control with medication and regular BP checks. Her lack of balance meant that she not only suffered from falls, knocks and muscular issues from postural changes, but she also became stiff and the arthritic lameness returned.

During her veterinary investigations, all therapies were halted to ensure the medication was under control, everything has since resumed and has also restarted her hydrotherapy, however, for now, she is working on the water treadmill as her co-ordination and balance in not good enough for the pool.

All in all, Kez is doing really well. Recent x-rays have indicated signs of spondylosis in her spine, however, Kez this isn’t unusual in the older dog and everything she currently has will hopefully manage this well enough. She can no longer go on long walks as this is just too much for her, although if she could talk she would argue that she can!


Blix is a 4 year old, very large, German Shepherd dog. He was paired up with Frou as her prison patrol partner and began his training when he was 11 months old. He already weighed 34kgs! All was going well and although sometimes he was slow to pick things up, he showed very promising signs and qualified as a patrol dog a few months later.

Less than a year into his career it became clear that Blix was not coping with the work. Despite loving and excelling in the training, he struggled with the daily shifts. He started showing signs of lameness, dropping through his shoulders and dragging his toes. His hind end also started showing mild signs of ataxia. He firstly started on a course of pain relief, which made positive improvements.

Unfortunately, during a training exercise, Frou slipped and broke her wrist. She had to have 12 weeks off work, and so did Blix. He became a different dog in this time off, very happy, did ‘normal’ dog stuff and no longer needed the pain killers.

When he returned to work, all was well. He competed in local trials and got reserve champion, he loved it, however, 1 month in, the lameness returned so the investigations resumed.

Blix had previously had x-rays which showed his hips and elbows were good so further investigation in the form of an MRI scan was needed.

The MRI scan generally showed good disc morphology, however, his lumbar sacral disc showed signs of degeneration and protrusion with irregular end plates. The side view showed entrapment of the cauda equina (nerves within the spinal canal), inflammation of the compressed and surrounding nerves especially of the left outflow tract, which in turn blocked messages to the hind limb. This would have also been causing chronic pain, exacerbated by the type of work he does.

Here Blix is wearing a Back on Track therapeutic mesh rug which aids recovery. This is another tool in their rehabilitation box and his owners have seen positive results and less stiffness after wearing the rug.

Blix underwent corrective surgery which was a great success and with the addition of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy his recovery has been beyond every ones expectations. Blix continues with regular hydrotherapy to ensure he keeps his strength up and has physiotherapy checks to make sure all is well. He also has a daily dose of nutraquin+ to keep him healthy from the inside.

It was however decided that continuing with his career as a prison patrol dog wasn’t in his best interest and so you now generally find him residing on the sofa between his walks and playing with his fellow (past and present) security comrades!

To add to Blix’s already delicate recovery, he also suffers from several allergies and very sensitive skin. Alongside diet adjustments, he has a very limited pallet, Blix has a daily dose of nutramega which keeps his irritations at bay and Nutrabio for his sensitive stomach.

It is fair to say, Frouwina and Ben have had a fairly testing couple of years, however, all dogs are doing well, are happy and active. Despite losing one great vet to Canada, they thankfully found huge support through their current Vet Becky O’Dowd of SPA Vets and the Canine Hydrotherapy Team, Cotswold Dog Spa based at Hartpury College. I, as their physiotherapist, am also always at the end of the phone to help put their mind at rest or offer advice when needed.

Physiotherapy serves to aid and regain joint range of movement, release compensatory muscle spasm, regain strength and muscle bulk correcting any imbalances, and retrain movement. Whether prey or preditor, animals will generally adopt compensatory gaits to ensure they can either run away or catch their prey. Left uncorrected, degeneration of over used joints and muscles, and wastage of underused muscles and joints will occur, leading to secondary issues.

Hydrotherapy is a non-weight bearing form of cardiac and strengthening exercise, giving muscles and joints a break from the concussive forces of ground impact. Over the years it has become a recognised and popular modality for rehabilitation and treatment of musculoskeletal and neurological conditions. It also plays an important role in general fitness and weight control and is now recommended by veterinary surgeons and other professionals.


When recovering from surgery, or managing degenerative conditions, there are many options available to owners, it can get quite confusing, so the best advice is to work closely with your Vet and follow their advice. Like many therapies, a multi-disciplinary approach gives the animals the best of everything.

Alongside Veterinary treatment and medication, many owners like to explore a more therapeutic approach and today, there are many available to owners. Physiotherapy, Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Hydrotherapy and Massage Therapy all have their place and will make significant improvements to your animals recovery. In many cases, combining therapies will give the best result providing the therapists and vet work together.

Regardless who you choose, please check that:

  • Veterinary approval has been acquired.
  • Should you want to claim the treatments back on your insurance make sure your therapist is affiliated to a body recognised by your insurance company. Not all are!
  • Your therapist is fully insured

Nutraceuticals / Supplements

Supplements have become

increasingly popular, with the market growing significantly over the years.

There is so much choice, probably a bit too much, all of which claim to do similar things, but how many actually make a difference.

Looking online can be overwhelming. There are literally hundreds to choose from but not all give you all the information you need. In the case of joint supplements, they pretty much all claim to offer joint support or joint flexibility and most have Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM, but which actually contain levels that will make a difference to your pet?

Cost obviously plays an important role in decisions, however, from experience, you get what you pay for and generally, the effective ones are in the higher price bracket. However, those supplements worth buying are generally known and recommended by your vet and can usually be claimed on insurance, so don’t give up yet!

I once sat with a client and went through joint supplements available on the internet. Using a product I know well and have seen great results, as a guide, we compared the offerings. Firstly we looked at price, there were products miles cheaper, but would they be as good. Probably not! We then looked into their ingredients and the levels per tablet the animals would receive based on one a day. After a bit of maths and head scratching, we worked out that for the animal to receive the same amount of key ingredients you would need to feed four times the advised dose of the cheaper version making the once thought cheaper variety either ineffective or actually more expensive!