Senior Dog Blog

5 Common Myths About Senior Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

21 March, 2016

Dogger dog strollerBefore I had senior dogs I am sure that I bought into many of the myths you hear about them. Now that I have had several seniors in my life (past and present) and focus on senior dogs with my business, I have a new perspective on dogs during this amazing time of their lives. I am also on a mission to correct many of the misconceptions people have about older dogs so more people can enjoy all that they have to offer.

Here are 5 of the most common myths that exist when it comes to senior dogs:

  1. Older dogs don't play or have fun. Are you sure it's not you that has stopped playing and having fun? Our dogs pick up and respond to our emotions and if we have stopped playing and having fun then regardless of their age they will do the same. Just because your dog is getting older doesn't mean they can't enjoy life. In fact more than ever your senior dog needs activity to stimulate them physically and mentally. Treating them like they are old and unable to be silly or have fun is a sure way to accelerate their aging process. Do the opposite - find new adventures and activities that you can do together and I bet you will discover that they are capable of much more than you originally thought. 

  2. If you adopt an older dog you won't be able to bond with them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of my closest relationships have been with older dogs. Senior dogs needs us more and that creates so many opportunities to bond with them on a deep level. You will find your time so rewarding and I suspect you will end up needing them even more than they need you and you will become inseparable. Getting close with your senior dog will help you see the world through their eyes and it will change your perspective on pretty much everything. I know that I appreciate the little things in life so much more because I have been witness to how my seniors embrace even the little things with such appreciation. A senior dog has so much love to give and so much gratitude to share, your heart will melt.

  3. You can't train them - they are set in their ways. While I will agree that depending on their background some habits may be difficult to break, but not impossible. Dogs love routine and you will be amazed at how quickly even a senior dog will adapt to new circumstances if they have a routine to follow. They will thrive and you will have the chance to show them a new way of life. My senior Milo is better than any alarm clock you could buy. He knows exactly when it's breakfast and when it's dinner. He knows when we should be leaving for work and when it's time to relax on the couch together. 

  4. I won't have much time with them. Life is so unpredictable. I have seen young dogs have their lives cut unfairly short and I have seen older dogs live beyond 20 years old so to assume your time together will be short is to deprive yourself of a incredibly special relationship. It is like the old saying "quality not quantity". I adopted Milo and Lily when they were seniors and within no time it felt like they had been with me all my life even though in reality it had only been a few months. Time is precious, but memories are created in an instant and whether you have a short time or a long time together you will forever be changed for the better.

  5. I can't bring new dogs into our family if I have a senior. I have heard this many times from people and they often believe this out of respect for their aging dog. Older dogs can become anxious more easily and not every senior would welcome a disruption to their comfortable life, but adding another dog to your family can also help inject new energy into the life of your senior dog. I remember when Churchill, my first french bulldog, passed away. He and Mackenzie, my pug, were closer than any two dogs I had ever seen. To see Mackenzie alone was heartbreaking. He was grieving and I wasn't sure he would live long without his best friend. He was 12 at the time. To help both him and myself heal I brought Paige into our lives. At first he rejected her, but she was persistent and before too long I could see the improvement in him and how much he appreciated having Paige around. I believe it was because of Paige that he lived for many years after Churchill's passing.

Take it from me. there is something incredibly special about senior dogs. They not only have so much to offer, but they have this amazing ability to change those around them for the better. Give them a chance and you'll see what I mean.

 Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

The Importance of Connecting with Dog People by Ann-Marie Fleming

10 February, 2016

Today is the one year anniversary of Paige's passing. It is a day I will never forget and I can't believe that one year has passed already - it certainly doesn't feel like it has since not a day goes by without having her on my mind. Thinking back to this heartbreaking moment, amongst the pain, I am also reminded of the amazing network of dog loving people that helped me get through this very difficult time. The interest in knowing how she was doing each and every day, the words of encouragement and the stories of miracles kept me going. And when Paige could fight no more, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who felt the loss with me and by those who understood what I was going through on a very deep level.

Finding other dog lovers

When you love your dogs like family not everyone understands how deep this bond is and the impact on your life when we suffer loss. I have a mix of family and friends, some who truly understand how special my dogs are to me, but many who do not. They still love me and support me, but they really don't understand how I can feel so broken when one of my dogs leaves me.

One of the most special things about social media is the ability it gives us to create a network of like-minded people. Nowhere have I found so many people like me who see their dogs as their children, who would do whatever it takes to ensure they live happy, healthy lives and who truly understand what it is to grieve when we lose one of our four-legged family.

If you are not currently using social media and you love dogs then I strongly recommend joining at least Facebook so you can connect with others who feel like you do. It doesn't matter if you don't know them because you are connected by your shared interest in dogs. Not only do you receive much needed emotional support, but you can learn a great deal from the experiences of others. Being around like-minded people, even if virtually through social media, can not only provide you with comfort during the difficult times, but it can be wonderful also during the good times. 

If you are friends with me on Facebook it is rare to see a post about a human. Mostly I post about my dogs, sharing endless photos and videos. On Facebook, if you are connected to fellow dog lovers, you don't feel like a crazy person who only talks about her dogs, no one gets sick of your endless dog photos and everyone understands your ups and your downs as you care for your dogs. If you have ever seen that facial expression when you tell a story about your dog to someone who is not a dog person then you need to find yourself a dog network on social media. 

I find as my dogs get older having people to share my experiences with becomes even more important because you'll find that your real life network gets smaller and smaller the older your dogs get. The more challenges your dogs go through, the less people seem to understand. I remember telling my co-workers at the time (before I was full-time with Dog Quality) about Mackenzie's (my senior pug at the time) super bug. It created a thick mucous that he often inadvertently wiped on people who visited my home. If you could have seen the look of horror on their faces when I explained this to them, then you would know why I say your network quickly becomes smaller the older your dogs get. But not when you are surrounded by dog people. Only a dog person could see the humor in a story involving mucus.

If you are using social media then I encourage you to find new friends, people you don't know, people that are dog lovers. If you are not using social media then I recommend signing up. Searching out a like-minded network is super simple and once you have a few new friends it becomes even easier to connect with their dog loving friends and so on.  Give it a try - you won't regret it. And don't forget to find me! Click here for my personal Facebook page where we can connect and click here to follow Dog Quality on Facebook.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

My 5 New Year Promises to My Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

14 January, 2016

At the start of a new year it is almost impossible to resist the urge to create a list of all that you would like to improve for the next 12 months. I make new goals for Dog Quality, I make new goals for me personally, but the most important are the goals I make for how I look after my dogs.

So for 2016, here are the 5 promises I am making to my dogs:

New Year Promises to My Dogs
  1. Patience is a virtue - One interpretation of this saying is that the ability to wait for something without getting angry or upset is a desirable trait. I remind myself of this on a daily basis but it is something worthy of being a 2016 goal since I can always improve in this area. Some days I have more patience than I ever thought possible and then other days I feel quite the opposite. So Winnie, when everyone is downstairs ready to go out and you are watching me from the top of the stairs, I will wait for you. Milo, should you wish to urinate on every blade of grass on our walks, I will support you and appreciate the slower side of life and Lily, when it is snowing and you choose to hide instead of leaving for work with me, I will not take it personally, but I will still make you go ;)
  2. Dental work for everyone - As many of you know I am a big believer in dental health and while I have been so focused on Milo's teeth since he is my oldest and has had needed help every year, I have not given Lily and Winnie the dental love they need. This year everyone is getting their teeth cleaned and if needed we will have to also endure some unpleasant but necessary extractions. Last year I took Milo and had his teeth cleaned through a company that does it without anesthetic and it worked very well, but he has a couple teeth that require surgery despite our efforts at avoiding this. Lily and Winnie? Well we will see what they need. It is a challenge getting a clear look inside, but I suspect we will be saying good-bye to a few teeth this year. Once everyone is looking great again orally I plan on continuing to clean without anesthetic in hopes that we can avoid dental surgery moving forward.
  3. Better food - The more I read about diet for our dogs, the more paranoid I have become about my choice of dog food. For years my dogs have been on Natural Balance Fish & Sweet Potato, which is a good food, but after reading about the lack of disclosure in the additive pet foods list as "Natural Flavors", where companies are not required to list out exactly what is being used, I have decided to avoid companies using this in their foods. Unfortunately Natural Balance Fish & Sweet Potato is one of those foods so I began looking for an alternative. At the same time I have been reading a lot about the benefits of Vitamin D3 and wanted a food that gave my dogs the appropriate amount. As a result I am now trying them with Orijen Six Fish dog food which is jammed packed with amazing and understandable ingredients and supplements so we are well on our way to better eating. I was concerned that this would be too rich for them, but so far so good.
  4. Natural remedies - I have become very interested in natural healing options for my dogs ever since losing Paige to cancer. I am not saying I could have prevented what happened, but the feeling of powerlessness changed me forever and I would like to understand what can be done at home using natural plants, oils, methods etc to treat and possibly prevent certain conditions and to even just help make life a bit more comfortable for my dogs as they face the challenges of senior years. I am currently taking a course on Aromatherapy as part of my desire to become a certified aromatherapist so that I can safely and effectively use therapeutic essential oils, healing butters and other natural ingredients to create products that will help address some of the challenges senior dogs face. A few areas I would like to focus on include muscle and joint issues which Milo, Lily and even Winnie have for various reasons that can impact mobility and cause discomfort; anxiety issues which can come as our senior dogs lose sight, hearing and face dementia and I also see a need to help with skin conditions that senior dogs often struggle with. 
  5. Quality time - My life tends to be quite hectic and even though I am extremely fortunate that I am able to have my dogs with me 24/7, it is not always quality time, so my promise is to make time each and every day to simply appreciate what I have. Life is so fragile and so short and I always want to make sure I take the time to soak all that I have in by having some relaxed time with my dogs. Whether it's a walk, a cuddle or just hanging out together I vow to always make time.

I am so excited about 2016 on both a professional and personal level and I wish you and your family (two-legged and four-legged) the very best for this year. May it bring health, happiness and quality time together as you make memories to last a lifetime. Happy New Year!

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Christmas Has Gone to the Dogs and I Love It! by Ann-Marie Fleming

18 December, 2015

Christmas is my favourite time of year because of my dogs. My dogs are my kids and I absolutely love spoiling them at Christmas. If your family is like mine then there are probably more gifts under the tree for your dogs than for any humans and isn't that the fun of it? I love the excitement, I love the chaos and I love the overall energy that is created during the frenzy of revealing all of their gifts. I love watching them stealing each other's toys and gobbling up their treats like it is the last food they will ever see.Christmas has gone to the dogs

But it is about so much more than presents, it is about the quality time and special moments we create. Christmas is the most time I have away from work where I can just enjoy being with my dogs. They also look forward to having family over which means even more love and attention for them. 

The holidays is a great time to reflect on our life with our dogs. This Christmas will be the first one without my Paige. She gave me so much joy and truly enjoyed the holidays; she will be missed deeply.This time of year reminds us to soak life in and appreciate quality time like the holidays, especially when life is so short and fragile as Paige has taught me. We need to always embrace what we have and who we share it with, so I will be doing a lot of thanking, hugging, and kissing of Milo, Lily and Winnie as well as my human family :)

When you have senior dogs it is very easy to become sad when they start showing signs of age as they face the challenges that come with this stage of life. Christmas reminds us to look at the positive, to find fun and humor where possible and to better understand this time in their lives as incredibly special, despite the changes. This is why when we make our videos we often try to make you laugh and smile because there is a lot of joy left to experience with them regardless of their age.

Our goal should always be to expand that warm and fuzzy feeling we experience during the holidays to the entire year, making every day special, every day a reflection on all the amazing gifts we have in our lives. I know we all try, but at times it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life which fortunately (after the frenzy subsides) seems to slow right down when sitting around the Christmas tree.

So my wish for everyone this Christmas is to take a deep breath and soak everything in and give those special four-legged and two-legged family your full attention, your appreciation and most of all your love. Enjoy this time together, laugh and cherish every moment because each moment gives you one more special memory that will stay with you forever.

Merry Christmas everyone, from all of us here at Dog Quality!

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

It May Be Business but it's Personal by Ann-Marie Fleming

18 December, 2015

I truly feel that I was born to create and grow Dog Quality to help as many dogs around the world as possible. It gives me purpose, focus and a warm fuzzy feeling each and every day. While I love all animals my main focus with Dog Quality is to help those dogs in need of ways to improve their quality of life. This is why our products are designed to make life easier for older dogs and physically challenged dogs. Our products also benefit younger dogs, but when we make product decisions they are made thinking of an older dog's needs.

As many of you know I started Dog Quality because my dogs at the time (Churchill and Mackenzie) were struggling seniors and I found it difficult to find products that made enough of a difference in their lives. I knew that I could not be the only one looking to make life easier for their seniors and Dog Quality was born.Business is Personal for Us

I pour everything I have, heart and soul, into making great products and helping as many dogs as possible. My team, the people behind the emails, products and packages, are some of the most caring, hard working people I know and they love knowing that their efforts make such a difference in the lives of dogs and their families.

I feel that 99% of people that come to our site, watch our videos or interact with us on social media, by phone or email, learn quickly that we put the needs of their dogs well ahead of making a dollar. In fact we often lose money on an order because we are willing to go the extra mile to ensure a customer's dog has what they need to live a higher quality of life.

1% of the people remain uncertain, guarded and often skeptical and may begin the relationship on the defensive. I don't blame the customer, I blame other businesses. When people expect the worst it's only because other companies have shown them the worst and when trust is broken it is difficult to restore. The reason I wanted to write this post is to give you a glimpse of what happens on our end.

We are so fortunate to have the most amazing customers in the world and our days are filled with many feel good moments when we hear and often see the difference our products are making in the lives of older dogs. When we do interact with the 1% of people, who are simply not sure about us, most times we can show them that we truly do care, but for those that do not give us a chance, it upsets us because we take it personally. Sometimes I lay awake at night thinking of something a customer said and working out in my mind how to make things better. I also think to myself "if they only knew how much their words affected me," because I think if they did, the conversation would be very different. I also talk to my dogs a lot! But that is a topic for another post. :)

I have been told so many times that in business you can't please everyone and you need to not take things personally. For a little while there I tried to put this advice into action, but I failed miserably and then I realized why. It is personal, very personal and maybe I can't please everyone, but I am certainly going to try. If a mistake happens or a product doesn't provide the benefits we had hoped for a dog, I obsess about it and if a customer will allow us, we will go to great lengths to find a way - a new size, different product etc to make it work.

I am truly saddened if we are unable to help and I am truly hurt if we upset a customer. And I hope that as we grow the business that this never goes away. I always want us to feel something when it comes to our customers, not just when things go right, but also when things go wrong. It is what keeps pushing us to constantly improve.

Every email or post we read, every phone call we take matters. If you are upset we are upset; if you are happy we are happy, so please know this whenever you reach out to us. We will always be a company that puts your dog first. Making a difference is the fuel that drives us to keep being better, to keep doing more and to keep putting ourselves out there even if at times we get beat up a little.

If we ever do something that is not to your liking please talk to us and know that you can trust us. I say this with all my heart. We will never do anything but try and help. On the flipside, if we have helped please also talk to us because it motivates us more than you will ever know.

So if you ever feel that today's world is only about the mighty dollar, at least with us you now know that we are only about the mighty dog! :)

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Healing Dogs Naturally by Ann-Marie Fleming

07 October, 2015

Over the past several months I have become increasingly interested in natural treatments for our dogs. A lot of this interest stems from the powerlessness I felt losing Paige to cancer and it is also motivated by my desire to prevent future problems in Lily, Milo and Winnie. I will be exploring various 'natural' treatment methods over the coming months, but first let's start by better understanding what is meant by natural healing. 

It can be a bit overwhelming when trying to wrap your head around the various ways we can care for our dogs without using conventional medicine (conventional medicine referring to the treatment of patients using drugs and/or surgery). After all you see terms such as holistic care, homeopathic remedies, naturopathy, herbology, alternative medicine and the list goes on and on. Healing Dogs Naturally

It's not that I don't believe in conventional veterinarian care, because it has saved many lives, but I'd like to better understand if more can be done for our dogs and if we can avoid using treatments that harm our dogs in the process of trying to heal them.

In my mind naturopathic and holistic are interchangeable terms under which all other terminology tends to fall. In a nutshell, holistic care considers the whole dog physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually. It encompasses the belief that a dog's wellness goes beyond what is happening physically within the body in terms of illness or disease, to include the relationship of these physical conditions with our psychological, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental state. There are numerous treatment methods that fall under the umbrella of holistic care and can include acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, herbology, homeopathy, aromatherapy, nutrition and the list goes on.

I love the notion of considering the whole dog (mind, body & spirit) when assessing and treating a dog holistically because I have always felt that there is more to recovery than what is shown in black and white. For the same reason a vet can tell you that your dog has a month to live and they end up living for years, there is an element of their being that you can't simply quantify or predict. This unknown element is what makes miracles possible and perhaps if we look to heal our dogs using this multi-dimensional approach then we can help strengthen them in ways we never considered possible.

In addition, holistic medicine  treats every dog as an individual, catering treatment plans to suit their specific needs rather than an approach that treats the symptoms without consideration of a dog as a unique being. Having senior dogs typically means a lot of veterinarian interaction and I can't tell you how many times I have said "well you don't know my dog" when getting bad news. Using a holistic approach, knowing my dog matters.

I believe that we can all use elements of the holistic approach ourselves with our dogs which we will discuss in future posts, but you can also take your dog to a holistic veterinarian who has in-depth expertise and can map out a treatment plan encompassing a variety of natural methods based on your dog's needs. There are also many clinics that offer both conventional and holistic veterinarian care which would give you the best of both worlds.

One of the best things we can do is expand our knowledge and keep an open mind to alternative options. I will continue to do my homework and share my findings along the way. There is so much information and so many different ways to treat our dogs, it gives me great hope that longer, healthier lives are possible for our four-legged family.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Be more dog - what every person should strive to become by Ann-Marie Fleming

06 October, 2015

I recently came across a brilliant video entitled 'Be more dog' and it was a great reminder of why we truly need to learn from and become more like our dogs. It is so easy to become bogged down by life. To let the daily stresses consume us and to become almost robotic in our routines, but not our dogs. They take everything in stride and to watch a dog explore, even an area they have been to a million times, is like watching a child discovering the joys of life. Their curiosity is endless, their appreciation of every little detail around them and their enjoyment of just being with us, is truly inspiring.

Probably the biggest lesson I learn from my dogs is to live in the present. Enjoy each and every moment of each and every day. They show me, yes show me, that life is filled with amazing things if we would only open our eyes a little wider. 

Here are 10 steps to help you become more dog:

  1. If you see something bright and shiny - follow it.
  2. When you see a broom, a shoe or a stick play with it.
  3. Every time you step outside take deep breaths and soak it all in.
  4. As you drive in your car wind down the window and let the air blow in your face.
  5. When life knocks you down - get up!
  6. Don't waste a single moment being angry - forgive and forget.
  7. Be grateful for every day and take a moment to appreciate all that is around you.
  8. Take a moment to snuggle with your dogs every day.
  9. Look for something new everywhere you go.
  10. Be as excited to see your dogs and they are to see you.

So every time I feel stressed or tired I remember to be more dog. To not sweat the small stuff and be happy in the moment. No regrets, no taking things for granted, no letting life pass me by because from now on, I am dog! 

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

How My Dogs Have Changed Me by Ann-Marie Fleming

31 August, 2015

Lately I have been evaluating my evolution as a dog parent and when I compare my current self with my past self I am blown away by the difference. I remember in detail that moment when I first made the decision to have dogs of my own. I was finishing up University and wanted my own four-legged family. Having had family pets growing up there was no shortage of love for animals and I laugh at how I thought love was all you needed to be a good parent. Don't get me wrong, love is a major part of being a good parent, but it is definitely not all there is to it.

Looking back, I understand that there really is no substitute for experience. As a dog parent, everyday is a learning experience and I personally have come such a long way on many fronts thanks to my dogs and the lessons they taught me.

In the beginning I did so much wrong. In fact I cringe at some of the things I used to do such as leave my dogs outside while I did my grocery shopping. I'd attach their leashes to bike rack while I went inside and thought nothing about the risk of dog theft. I was completely naive about dental care, fed them food I would never touch today, never heard of cancer in dogs and had no idea of what to expect as they got older. Fortunately, I'm a quick learner and over the years as I became more mature, more responsible and more educated in caring for my dogs, I became a better and better parent.How my dogs have changed me

What I am most proud of is how I learned to care for my dogs in their senior years and how I changed during this phase of their life more so than at any other stage. As my dogs were growing up I felt an undeniable bond with them like nothing I had ever experienced before. That bond strengthened even more during their golden years and I was forever changed because of it.

My dogs started to struggle when they reached about 10 years old. It was gradual at first, but by the time 12 came around Churchill, my french bulldog, was having some serious mobility issues that was causing incontinence and was diagnosed with a heart tumor. Mackenzie, my pug, was becoming challenged by arthritis making walking difficult. Despite the obstacles age was throwing at them, there is something remarkable that happens during this stage of life. Yes, their dependence on me grew as they needed more assistance with their mobility and overall care, but something changed in me as well. 

The more I cared for them, the more I loved them and the closer we became. I learned that I am really good at helping them continue to enjoy their golden years which we did to the fullest. I found a side to me that I never even knew existed. A me that put aside my own needs to make sure they had everything they needed to be happy and healthy, a me that saw the importance of every moment together which I treasured and a me that discovered a greater purpose in life making all the regular stresses so insignificant next to their needs. Life became about so much more than myself. And seeing how my efforts made such a positive impact on their lives changed who I was as a person. I loved who I was because of them.

Mackenzie and Churchill were also the inspiration behind Dog Quality. Their challenges and all the lessons we learned together gave birth to a business that has become my passion, allowing me and my team to help older dogs all over the world. And now through Dog Quality, and as I continue to bring senior dogs into my life, the learning and evolving never stops.

How my dogs have changed me

After Churchill passed away Paige, also a french bulldog, entered my life and I grew even more as she became a part of me. Being with her as she fought and eventually lost her battle with cancer earlier this year was one of the hardest times in my life, but I have never felt closer to another dog as I felt to her during this time. My current family, Lily (10 yrs), Milo (12 yrs) and Winnie (4 yrs) continue to shape me and teach me and I can honestly tell you that I learn something new about myself and about my dogs each and every day. My dogs, past and present, have not only taught me how to be a better parent, but they have taught me how to be a better human being.

As a result of my experiences I now know that I will always have senior dogs in my life. I like who I am when I am taking care of them. It is because of this that I see their golden years as an incredibly special time when you are most connected to your dog. I'm not saying that it's easy because growing older is challenging, but I am saying that it is unbelievably special and a time with your dog that will fundamentally change who you are as a person. Embrace this time together, learn from it and grow - you'll love the person you become. 

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Prosthetics - Improving Mobility for Dog Amputees by Ann-Marie Fleming

31 August, 2015

Prosthetic devices for people have been around for many years, but it is still a relatively new field in the pet world. And just as prosthetic leg devices have helped people get back their mobility, it is now doing the same for our dogs which I happen to think is amazing. Recently I had the privilege of speaking with some experts within the world of dog prosthesis and learned a great deal about the importance of having this option available to improve mobility for dog amputees.

Not all dogs are candidates for a prosthetic unfortunately and a lot has to do with how much of the limb remains and the expectations the owner and doctor have for the dog.

Dog Prosthetics

"There are a few factors involved in a patient being a "good candidate." The first question is if the referring veterinarian's and client's goals for the patient are achievable goals. Next, there are residual limb requirements to be able to attach a functional prosthetic. There needs to be at least 30-40% of the radius/ulna remaining for a forelimb prosthetic device and at least 50% of the tibia/fibula remaining for a hindlimb prosthetic device, although, having the entire tibia/fibula remaining is ideal," explains Shawna Anderson, Registered Veterinarian Technician and Case Manager with industry founder Orthopets based in Denver, Colorado.

The residual limb requirements had me thinking back to all the dogs I have seen with amputations and I cannot recall any of those dogs having any portion of their limbs remaining. This I have learned has a lot to do with how these surgeries are conducted. In the human world they preserve as much of the limb as is possible, but in the animal world there is a tendency to remove the entire limb even when this is not necessary. 

 "Some veterinarians are still unaware of the prosthetic devices available. If a surgeon consults with a prosthesis professional then they can tailor their surgical procedure to ensure that the dog has the right type of amputation for the prosthesis needed. It's a much easier transition for the patient if we can adjust the amputation to the prosthetic," describes Jeff Collins, CEO & President of K-9 Orthotics & Prosthetics based in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The level of awareness, however, does appear to be improving because the number of dogs being helped by prosthetics is increasing indicating that surgical methods are beginning to evolve.

There are of course numerous medical reasons why a full limb amputation may be necessary, but when this is not the case then we as dog parents should speak with our veterinarians prior to the amputation so the surgery can be handled in a way that gives our dogs the best chance of success with a prosthetic device. 

Dog ProstheticsI have personally seen dog amputees and they can do quite well on 3 legs, but long term the impact of compensating for this missing limb can take its toll. Just as humans do when we have an injury, dogs will also compensate with their healthy limbs, but as they get older those healthy limbs can suffer as a result of taking on the weight no longer supported by the missing limb. Prosthetics can be a preventative measure so that when dogs do reach their senior years they are not dealing with joint problems caused from overcompensating.

According to Jeff Collins, "Getting a prosthetic onto a younger dog can allow it to act as a prophylactic. While the prosthetic has a functional purpose, it is also a prophylactic preventing further damage to the contralateral limb."

In the case of dogs that have a full amputation which excludes them as a candidate for a prosthetic device, Mr. Collins recommends using an orthotic on the opposite leg to prevent that joint from breaking down and creating hyperextension problems as they get older.

A prosthetic is not an off-the-shelf product. Each device is custom fit for the dog and requires a team approach involving patient, vet and prosthetist.

"All devices require a "break in period" to allow the patient to acclimate to the device. We understand why we are putting this device on their limb, but dogs do not. So, we need to take time to introduce it to them and ensure they are identifying the device with something positive, such as going on walks or getting a treat. Adjustments are also a normal part of the process and should be expected by all parties involved. Even though the device is custom fabricated to each patient's limb, we are still placing a foreign object on them and we will need to make minor adjustments to get that perfect fit. Once we have a well fitting device, we are able to slowly work them up to a full-time schedule which is considered AM-PM; off at night like a pair of shoes. This is when the real fun begins for them! This is when off-leash activity can typically occur and they can get back to what they loved to do pre-injury," states Shawna Anderson.Dog Prosthetics

While being able to physically bring your dog in to get fitted is very effective, prosthetics can also be fitted at a distance by obtaining an intricate mold of the amputated leg and measurements to understand the portion of the leg now missing, which the device needs to replace. The greater the height required of the device, the more complicated the process can be.

But what about senior dogs that have amputations late in life? Good news - they too can benefit from a prosthetic limb. As Shawna describes, "We definitely do not see age as a disability. We have many geriatric patients in orthotic and prosthetic devices and they do very well. Their learning curve may be a little longer, but they recognize their improved mobility in their devices and learn to love their devices." 

The future for prosthetics is very bright. Not only are veterinarians becoming more aware of what is available for their patients, but the technology to create the artificial limbs is accelerating. One of the most promising areas surrounds 3D printing which could conceivably one day be used to create device components and possibly entire limbs, but it still has a ways to go before that will happen.

According to Orthopets owner and founder Martin Kaufmann, "Currently, the state of the art material to use in the fabrication of an orthosis or prosthesis is polypropylene and laminating carbon-fiber. The polypropylene is extruded in sheets creating a strength and molecular alignment superior to 3D printing capabilities. Carbon-Fiber lamination exceeds all other materials for the ability to create complex shapes with the least amount of strength - to - weight characteristics. No 3D printed materials to date can match these characteristics. Above and beyond this, having the choice to match the most appropriate material selection to the individual patient is critical and not obtainable when considering a 3D printer solution." 

At the rate that technology advances, the evolution of prosthetics will continue to move forward creating more opportunities for improving the quality of life for our dog amputees. What also gives me great confidence in this field is understanding the people behind it, many of which are involved because of personal experiences and a genuine love of dogs. They strive to improve not only the devices, but also the awareness within the veterinarian community to ultimately help more and more dogs in need. I for one will be keeping an eye on this industry and should the situation ever call for it, I will be sure to discuss the option of a prosthesis with my veterinarian. 

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs. 

Knowing when it's time to say goodbye by Ann-Marie Fleming

30 July, 2015

As dog parents one of the most difficult things we face is making the heart breaking decision to say goodbye to our dogs. I get asked quite often "How do I know when it's time?" - this is such a difficult question to answer so I will attempt to do so drawing from my own experiences.

One of the reasons I wanted to be a provider of dog incontinence and mobility products is to help prevent unnecessary euthanizing of dogs. Too often people would assume that if their dog started having accidents or if they were having trouble walking that it meant it was time to put them down. Over time and as we increase awareness, people are now seeing that these conditions can be be managed and in some cases even treated; allowing dogs to live wonderful, happy lives. I believe that pet parents are becoming much more informed these days and my hope is that the percentage of euthanized dogs for these reasons has been dramatically reduced. So it goes without saying that I will never ever say goodbye to my dog because they may need help with incontinence or their mobility. 

I strongly believe that our dogs tell us when it's time. One of the most difficult times in my life happened when Paige, my French Bulldog, became deathly sick and was in ICU for a week being treated for a rare form of lymphoma that was causing her liver to fail. The majority of the week we were not seeing any improvement and I remember thinking that any minute one of the specialists was going to sit me down and tell me to let her go. I feared this so much because Paige still had such a light in her eyes and every time I saw her she looked at me as if to say "I want to go home". There was nothing in her that was saying that her fight was over and it was time to say goodbye. She was not ready to leave and I was so scared that they were going to make me decide against what my heart felt.

Fortunately I didn't have to make this decision since Paige bounced back enough to come home.She was only home for a few weeks before the cancer became too much for her little body and when it started to fail I no longer saw that light in her eyes and I knew 100% what she was telling me. She could not fight anymore and now it was time for her to be at peace. While I am still heart broken I am grateful that I let her go when she was ready.

Mackenzie was my first Pug and lived until he was almost 16 and had a long list of medical conditions including a stroke and a long term infection. Since Mackenzie was the biggest food monster I have ever known, I told myself that when he stops eating I will know. When he did not fully recover from his stroke, which left him unable to walk or stand on his own, my vet gave me the "talk" about putting him down, but he was still eating like a horse, enjoying his long drinks of water and wagging his tail so I knew it was not time. With some support from me to help him with his mobility we were able to still enjoy our time together.

Eventually his infection became untreatable since it had mutated into a super bug and he stopped doing what he loved to do which was eat. I hung on for a miracle but it quickly became came clear that to hang on any longer was for purely selfish reasons because Mackenzie was telling me it was his time. Again I knew.

Churchill was my first French Bulldog, my little protector and as I have always said, the love of my life. He had back problems and when I had him tested to see if he could handle an MRI in hopes that we could find a way to improve his mobility, they discovered a tumor in his heart. Inoperable, we chose to live life to its fullest knowing that our time together was limited. He like Paige had such a zest for life that he fought so hard to stay with me and when he could fight no longer, he died in my arms at home before I could even bring him to my vet. Knowing who he was I think he was right where he needed to be when it happened.

Every loss is absolutely heart breaking, but there is some degree of comfort when you feel certain your decision to say goodbye is the right decision for your four-legged family member. We always need to find the balance between not giving up too soon and not holding on too long, which is not always easy because we want nothing more than to have more time together. We can only do our best to look out for them and read the messages they are sending us. Don't be influenced by those who do not know your dog like you do. You know your dog best and may be the only one that can truly understand when they are telling you it's time. Trust yourself and you will make the right decision.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs. 

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