Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Sometimes as a dog owner, we find ourselves in a situation where our beloved fur friend becomes physically disabled either temporarily or for the remainder of his life. This should come as no surprise that this scenario is more common in senior dogs than their younger counterparts, but age does not make a young dog exempt from mobility issues.
Common reasons for canine mobility issues are:
An accident such as being hit by a car
A torn Cruciate ligament
A slipped or herniated disk of the spine.
Although being physically disabled can be a challenge, it's certainly not a death sentence for a dog who otherwise still has quality of life. In fact, with treatments and aids such as pain medication, CBD oil, laser therapy, hydrotherapy, massage, a harness and/or wheel cart, and orthopedic beds, dogs can adapt quite well to life changes, such as not being able to use their body as they once did. Take, for instance, our sanctuary resident senior German Shepherd Jared. He has Degenerative Myelopathy and can't use his back legs, but when he is in his Walkin Wheels wheel cart, he's zooming all over the place and is loving life! Now, we know Jared's disease is progressive, which he will eventually succumb to, but for now, he has the will to live, and we have to means to give him what he needs to be as mobile and as comfortable as possible.
However, as wonderful as it is to see Jared thriving in his wheel cart, we can't have him in it 24/7, so he spends more downtime than he'd like on his Big Barker orthopedic dog bed. Sadly, due to not being able to move as freely as he'd like, Jared is prone to becoming bored due to a lack of mental stimulation. So to ward off any potential boredom, we employ different activities to keep Jared mentally stimulated.
Here are our five tips for keeping your physically disabled dog mentally stimulated:
1) Obedience training
Your physically disabled dog doesn't have to be able to run around to learn to give you his paw or a high five for a cookie. You can teach an old dog new tricks, which can be rewarding for you and, most of all, mentally stimulating for your physically disabled dog. Jared demonstrates giving his paw for turkey.
2) Play ball or with a Tug toy
That's right! Your physically disabled dog does not have to run after a ball to enjoy playing a game of catch. Your dog can lay right on his bed as you roll the ball his way or toss it up in the air for him to catch. You can also switch things up by purchasing a tug toy to play with him. The sanctuary dogs LoVe ribbed squeaky balls and can often be heard squeaking away in some part of the sanctuary! They also prefer the Kong Tug toy. The rubber is durable yet stretchy, which appeals to them, and it's also easy to clean, which appeals to us.
3) Play Search Games
This is one of Jared's favorite games. We line up three cups in front of him and place a treat under one cup without him seeing which cup has the treat under it. We then allow Jared to sniff out which cup has the treat under it. When he finds it, he flips the cup and gets his treat.
4) Treat motivated Boredom Busters
There is a slew of food-motivated boredom busters available online, but our favorites are Kongs for seniors and Licki Mat Soothers. The point is to give your physically disabled dog a treat-related device that makes him work toward reaping the benefits. For instance, with the Licki Mat Soothers, Jared has to constantly lick between the little nubs to get the peanut butter or canned food off the mat's surface. On the other hand, the Kong Senior is designed, so he has to figure out how to get the treats out of the small opening. Either of these boredom busters will occupy your physically disabled dog mentally for quite some time.
5) Interact with your physically disabled dog
Interacting with your physically disabled dog can be overlooked when trying to find ways of keeping him mentally stimulated. This is so basic, but get down on his bed, talk with him, pet him, brush him, play with him, or give him a massage. When you are making eye contact, talking with, and engaging with your physically disabled dog, they are paying attention and engage as well. Here at Woody's Place Senior German Shepherd Sanctuary, we regularly engage with Jared and the other dogs this way, and I can honestly say that they love it.
Keeping your dog moving for as long as possible is essential to your dog's health, but if they have physical limitations, you can use apparatuses such as harnesses and wheel carts to aid them further along in their journey. But remember not to overlook their mental wellbeing, which is just as important to their overall health.
On a final note, when giving your physically disabled dog treats as a boredom buster or for training purposes, aim to use healthy, low calorie treats to keep your pup from gaining weight, which could enhance his mobility issues. Also, know your dog's physical limitations and adjust these tips accordingly.
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