Dear Dr. Chris,
I have a senior border collie I rescued at the age of 10. To my best knowledge she is now 16. Her back legs will not support her well enough to poop. I have been trying to hold her for support but she will not let me yet. I work and have to leave her alone during the day, I want her to be comfortable and know she can use the pads I’m providing but i don’t know how to teach her. What do you suggest?
Debbie, New Jersey
Thank you for your question Debbie. It’s always difficult to see our dear friends struggle as they age. We all know how active Border Collies love to be. Since this is a fairly common problem, I’m glad you brought it up and I hope I can help you with your sweet girl. I always admire and respect people who are willing to rescue an older dog and give them the love they deserve. There are millions of senior dogs out there that need homes!
First of all, our most important consideration is improving her quality of life.
Providing a surface to give her better footing is a great idea. If the pads slip or slide, area rugs may be a better choice. The best way to handle this is to carry her over to the pads and place her on them. Loop a towel under her abdomen as a sling and help support her weight and have another person with her favorite treat encourage her to walk forward on the pads. Use lots of encouragement and praise and build up her stamina and steps over time. Even two steps initially is progress.
Although the pads may be helpful, we need to figure out the cause of her trouble and see if we can improve her quality of life and mobility. I suspect she either has weakness due to nerve dysfunction or pain. Being unable to posture to have a bowel movement can be a sign of hip, knee or spinal disease. Since we can’t ask her if she hurts or if her feet tingle or if she can’t feel her feet, we have to work through this problem in a systematic way.
Neurologic weakness occurs in some dogs as they age from a degeneration of the nerve-muscle connection. This can be caused by spinal issues such as pressure on the spinal cord or a breakdown of the nerve-muscle connection in the muscle of the back legs. This is a difficult problem to deal with as it is often not reversible and doesn’t respond to supplements or medication. Sometimes surgery can be used to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord. Diabetes can sometimes cause this type of weakness as well.
The other possible cause of your Border Collie’s trouble is pain. Dogs that are in chronic pain don’t cry, whimper, yelp or moan most of the time. They just decrease their normal activity. This is a survival instinct as weak animals are preyed upon. Us humans are big babies compared to dogs.
It is important to figure out the underlying cause of her trouble so we can help her.
Recently, I saw an older Golden Retriever that came into the hospital, unable to stand in the hind legs. The owner told me that this has been a problem that had been developing slowly but got much worse that morning. They had been giving a glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate supplement for possible arthritis. The interesting thing is that the owner said “she isn’t in pain, she just won’t get up”. I did my exam and found that she had torn cruciate ligaments in both knees and cried when I manipulated the knees. After further testing with x-rays and blood work, we admitted her to the hospital so we could get her pain under control. The next day she was up and walking, although with some trouble due to the torn ligaments in her knees. Her mom cried when she saw her because she thought she would never be able to walk again.
We sent her home with a plan to give a prescription dog food for arthritis, a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug and 2 other pain relievers that work in different ways. She had surgery the following week and went through physical therapy and was walking with minimal symptoms within 6 weeks.
Your baby needs a helping hand
Your baby may not need or be a candidate for surgery but may benefit from a pain management program and physical therapy. We use several different medications and approaches to improve results and reduce the risk of side effects. Laser therapy, stem cell therapy and acupuncture also help some dogs.
I would recommend taking her to your veterinarian and having an exam, x rays and blood tests done. Make sure she doesn’t have diabetes and put together a plan to include nutritional supplementation, pain medication and physical therapy to improve her quality of life.
You and your veterinarian can work together to help your sweet girl. You rescued her once 6 years ago. Let’s see if we can rescue her again with a team approach between you and your vet.
Dr. Chris Smith
Your Dog’s Favorite Veterinarian