STEP BY STEP WITH WES RAU: END OF SEASON ‘CHECK OVER’

I have just come back from an end of the season dog check. Well, that’s what I call it anyway. This is the time of the year when most of us have stopped running, have had a chance to sleep in a little, and actually have had a few full nights of sleep. It’s also a time when a lot of mushers think about what they have planned for the next season and start fantasizing about races that they would love to enter and the fun they plan on having. I would like to suggest that this is the perfect time to review all the injuries you had this season, look at the dogs that didn’t make it to the starting line, and especially examine the dogs with shoulder injuries. I was talking to a kennel owner about the end of the season full dog overhaul and team review, and I realized that these are factors we all need to consider. The owner of the kennel has a 20 to 25 dog kennel that had a series of shoulder and lower back problems, and three leaders with pretty serious injuries that took them out of competition for most of the season. What he had in mind was resting them through the summer and starting them in the fall to see if they were sound or not. My suggestion was to not wait for the fall to evaluate them but instead to start now. It is June 2nd as I write this article, and I suggested that by July 1st he would be able to have most or all of his injuries well on the way to being solved and he would not have to wait until October to find out if he has a team for next year or not. Another kennel owner called with seven dogs that had problems and she was being proactive with the injuries by starting on range of motion and soft tissue work. As she was working on the dogs she noticed that she had several sore backs that were not responding to what she was doing with them and wanted to truck them out to have them worked on. With all that in mind, I decided it was time to review the end of the season dog check and what to do with it. Here is what I hope will be a helpful review of some of the things we have talked about.I like to start at the head of the dog and work down to the tail. This includes the eyes, teeth, cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, pelvis, shoulders, hips, knees, wrists, feet, toes, toe nails, and anything else that you touch on the dog. I hear moans from the readers, “That is going to take me forever, I don’t have the time, and, really, it’s going to be just fine.” I would like to suggest that you can do this in 30 minutes or less, and you can keep a journal that will include everything you found on the dog. A lot of us skip the head unless we see something that is obvious, like an eye that is swollen shut, or an abscess around the jaw. Let’s start by looking at the eyes and eyelids, looking for abrasions, signs of puncture wounds to the eye lids, perhaps from a branch on the trail, or a dog fight. Make sure that there are no signs of infections or injuries. I always keep a tube of ophthalmic ointment and antibiotics in my case and have had the occasion to use them lately. The teeth are another area that we have a tendency to overlook. Look at the gum line for calculus buildup and the teeth for cracks, decay, broken, discolored, or loose teeth.Look for redness in the gums, swelling, excessive drooling, loss of appetite, and bad breath. Periodontal disease and gum disease is very prevalent in dogs and is also something we tend to overlook. I am not suggesting that you go out in a kennel of 100 dogs and brush their teeth. It would be nice though to identify problems that you can catch now and treat easily. I have used a rinse that contains chlorhexedine that is effective for up to 12 hours after application. Also the home formula of baking soda and salt water works and is really cheap and easy to make. I have taken these mixtures, put them in a plastic bottle with a small flushing cap and rinse around the gums with this. It’s simple and easy to do.The next thing I do is to just run my hand over the dog. I go everywhere over the dog, from the head down the back, around the chest and stomach. I am looking for any form of tumors or masses that might be forming that if caught early can be taken care of. I had a lead dog who stopped working and after examining the dog I found a mass on her chest that was being rubbed on by the harness. After the mass was removed and the incision healed she did fine. The tumors you are looking for can either be benign or malignant. Benign tumors can be “well differentiated.” They are slow growing and noninvasive, they don’t spread through the whole body, and they are often delineated by a fibrous tissue capsule surrounding them. They are usually easily removed with surgery most of the time.Malignant tumors in contrast can grow rapidly and can spread like fingers in the tissue making them difficult to remove. Hemorrhage, pain, fever and infection are frequent secondary effects of cancer. A good rule of thumb is that if you feel lumps or abnormal tissue when palpating your dog it is safe to say you need to go to the vet to see what you have.After you have done a quick body scan, it’s time to go to the spine. Palpate along the spine on both sides doing a pinch test to each vertebra looking for a flinch or twitch under your fingers. This is a sign of an injury to that segment or the surrounding tissue. I am looking for signs of inflammation or pain that will direct me to exact location of the problem. I call these areas ’facilitated segments,’ and they indicate joint discomfort that can be caused from facet impingement to bony spurring between the gaps between the vertebrae called spondylosis. (See Step By Step in issue 114 of Mushing to review techniques too use on the spine) I like to do gentle mobilization and distraction to these segments. Also, do range of motion to the neck and back. Remember to do this gently and slowly and without force. Remember that if it hurts the first time, don’t repeat the movement to make sure it really hurts. Make sure the dog’s head can bend to both sides. Its nose should be able to touch the shoulder. The head should be able to look up to the sky, and tuck down to the chest with out pain. The spine should be flexible in side bending, and you should be able to stand the dog up on its hind feet and extend the spine without pain. By the way, don’t over do the extension part; they aren’t gymnasts. Go to the knee and look at the motion of the knee, and check for any swelling or pain. See if the joint is solid. You are checking the cruciate ligaments when you do this. Check for any joint instability or pain. Also check the knee cap. Make sure that it is not painful and that it is in the center of the knee. For some reason I have seen several dislocated patellas that were thought to be ligament injuries. If you do have a lax knee, take it to the vet and see if you have a torn ligament. I have seen several dogs continue their careers if caught early before arthritic changes take place. Like many human athletes, just because you have a cruciate tear does not mean it is over for your career. It means you have some surgery and rehab to do to get back onto the football field or into a harness.Look at the feet and toes. We often look at pads and webs to see if we have cracks or tissue damage in the webs, but we also need to look at the individual joints in the foot and toes. Make sure that the toes flex and extend in a pain-free manner. Feel the tendons in the foot and wrist to see if there is any pain or swelling. Distraction and oscillation work really well in the toe joints. You can also find stress fractures that need to be rested. Trim the toe nails and keep them from getting too long. That will keep from having splitting or torn nails that go into the nail bed and can cause infection and lameness.Looking at the dogs’ coat is a general indication of their health; so too is looking at their stools. I really pay a lot of attention to the coat of the dog as an indication of parasites, malnutrition, and bacterial skin disease. Healthy skin can fight off infectious organisms by a dry outer layer of keratin, combined with periodic shedding of dead cells. Sebum, produced by sebaceous glands of the skin is antibacterial at normal concentrations. There is also a normal population of bacteria that lives on the skin surface that inhibits the growth of disease causing bacteria. Bacterial skin disease seldom occurs unless there is a reason such as trauma, malnutrition, parasites, hormonal abnormalities, and immune disorders. It is also a great time to take in stool samples to have analyzed and make sure your kennel is parasite free. Last but most important in my book is the shoulder joint. You should be able to raise the front leg up to the head, going very gently and slowly and back along the body. I look for joint restriction and pain. If I have joint restriction and no pain I go to work on the joint to increase range of motion in a pain free manner. I don’t try to stretch it hard thinking that more is better. If you have ever had a stiff shoulder you know what I mean. If it is painful with motion you really need to look at the joint capsule and the rotator cuff muscles to make sure everything is intact. Also, look for repetitive clicking and popping with the motion. This can represent a hypermobile shoulder or a tendon popping over a bony prominence. Palpate all the tissue around the shoulder and see if you find flinching, swelling or pain around them. Use ice and heat, gentle distraction and massage. Don’t take for granted that rest is going to solve the problem. This is the area that you really need to pay attention to or next year your favorite leader will come up lame from an unseen injury that happened this year without your knowledge. Remember: good dog care starts in the kennel before you ever hook up.Wes Rau is a physical therapist living in Powell Butte, Oregon. He has earned his Bachelor’s degree at Loma Linda University and holds certification in manual therapy. Wes is a past Oregon Veterinary Physical Therapist Liaison. He is currently in private practice in Redmond, Oregon. Wes has been running dogs since 1992 and enjoys stage racing. He claims that he is “a better physical therapist than musher!”

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