Is Our Environment Killing our Dogs?

So, that is a pretty dramatic introduction to an article but we need to get this message across and if scary titles are required, then so be it!

I have been working with animals all my life and from a Galen Myotherapy perspective for the last 15 years. Having seen literally thousands of dogs during this time, I now feel, that even without a scientific study to support my findings, I can make a claim based on my anecdotal evidence and that is, our environment is detrimental to our dogs’ health and yes, prematurely impacting on their longevity.

So many of the dogs I see are seriously physically damaged, not through illness, conformation or structural issues but through repetitive strain injuries, R.S. I.

A repetitive strain is exactly that, an action that is repeated constantly that becomes damaging to our integral support, both from a muscular (including allied soft tissue, tendons, ligaments, fascia) and skeletal perspective.  An important point, if the muscles are damaged, it will only be time before the joints are compromised. These repetitive strains are caused by both the ‘exercise’ techniques we employ and worryingly, also our home environments.

Dogs bodies were not designed for our homes, they are designed to live on at ground level, not stairs, not with furniture; on a surface where they can maintain good traction, sleep in comfortable positions not restricted by space and can choose the surface and area to live. We require them to compromise on choice and expect them to live within an environment that is designed for our two legs not four.

I am going to cite in this article, just two aspects of our home environment and consider the impact of these on our dogs.

A common obstacle in most homes are stairs. Stairs generally have a hand rail so we, as humans can remain as safe as possible when transporting ourselves up and down; no such safety apparatus for our dogs!

I often hear ‘oh, he comes down the stairs really easily but struggles to go up’. That statement fills me with absolute horror; the reason for that is because if that statement was translated into dog language it would sound something like this ‘going up is sore because my hips and back hurt but I can go slowly, even though my front legs and neck is sore, I can manage it, because I can go at my own pace. Coming down, that is terrifying, because I cannot stop and have to just hope that my legs will keep me upright until I reach the bottom’.


For me if I was a dog and was positioned at the top of a flight of approximately 26 stairs and I did not have ‘brakes’ (the dogs’ hind quarters is their accelerator and their brake) and I had to go down, without any support, it would be like, being at the top of a ‘black’ ski run (with moguls) and told to ski down. In other words, being told to go down a hugely steep hill with no way of stopping.

What we must remember is that a dog walks on their front legs or arms, we don’t. If we have problem in our neck or shoulders we can avoid using our arms with a load, in other words, we can avoid lifting and carrying. A dog, cannot avoid walking on their arms, apart from by just not walking and often, such as the typicalscenario in the stairs story, a dogs fore-quarters are compromised because they must bear the ‘load’ from the weakened, damaged and painful hind quarters.

When my neck pain is bad, the thought of having to take the concussive forces of going down stairs through my arms and shoulders; quite frankly makes me feel sick with pain.

Within this ‘stairs’ scenario, it was mentioned that this dog had a hind quarter problem that initiated and manifested, through a shift of load, in neck and shoulder problem. Within our environment there are so many ‘opportunities’ for hind quarter and back injuries but let’s just look at one, slippery floors.

Slippery flooring does so much damage to dogs and often the damage can happen in a flash and we are not even aware. Typically, they are abduction injuries, these are injuries where the dog’s legs do the ‘splits’ and their legs go out sideways, either one or both. The injury can occur when they are going in a straight line and just slip butmore likely when they are turning a corner, or attempting to turn a corner. Obviously, the faster they are going the more likely the injury. So, if a dog rushes at the door when someone approaches and it is a slippery surface, especially if they are going around a corner or through and around a doorway, this abduction injury could be reoccurring every day, over and over.

When a dog suffers an abduction injury, it damages predominantly the musculature that lies in their inner thigh. These muscles not only are there to draw their legs towards their bodies when moving but also to help stabilise the hind quarters. If these muscles are damaged, then this injury will be more likely to reoccur because their stability and strength to hold their legs together is compromised; leaving their hind quarters vulnerable to further injury.

These two scenarios are sadly not rare but incredibly common. The slippery floor, abduction injury was even featured on a ‘well known’ dog food TV advert. It showed a young boxer puppy trying to gain a grip when running down a corridor. This advert was aired a year or so ago, I wonder how that poor puppy is fairing now?

In most cases, it is not possible to make profound changes to our ‘environment’ but to be aware of what is happening to our dogs because of it, we could perhaps help to prevent these incidences or at least make some changes in our homes. It is our dogs who are making physical compromises living in our homes, I think they deserve us to make some compromises for them!

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