Part of the fun of having a dog is picking out the perfect collar: big, bad spikes for the Rottweiler, delicate pink flowers for the Dachshund, and sophisticated leather tooling for the Labradoodle. Collars are perfect for adding pizzazz and personality, but we need to rethink their use as a method of control and restraint.
The scenario is familiar. You and Fido are having a relatively civilized walk. He is on the leash and trying hard to stay by your side despite alluring distractions. Then it happens. The rabbit dashes right in front of you, taunts Fido and then disappears behind a bush.
It’s too much to take. Fido’s restraint cracks. He takes off like he was shot out of a cannon with exploding exuberance. He lunges after the cottontail, then hits the end of the leash. Hard. Your arm barely stays attached to your body, and his collar swiftly jerks against his neck. He looks like a roped rodeo steer as his front-end is stopped by the collar and his back-end flings past his shoulders, still heading in the direction of the rabbit. Suddenly you are facing each other, and both of you are irritated.
After some harsh words and maybe a couple more jerks on the collar, you both seem to recover and continue the walk. Here is the question: Does his neck truly recover, or are there lasting consequences? I would argue for the latter.
Many aging dogs I see in my practice have some degree of neurologic deficits. I can frequently localize the origin of these degenerative changes in the nervous system to the neck, specifically the caudal (toward the tail) portion of the neck, right around the shoulder. The consequences of these neurologic changes are devastating.
A healthy nervous system is required for healthy muscle function. These dogs not only have pain and restricted mobility in their necks, they have muscle atrophy and weakness everywhere downstream from the neck to the tail. This often first manifests as weakness in their hind limbs, then uncoordinated movements in their hind limbs, then weakness and uncoordinated movements in their front limbs. These changes halt the dogs’ active lifestyles and negatively impact their quality of life.
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It’s no surprise that trauma to the neck could have significant consequences. Major blood vessels course through the neck. Important nerves are vulnerable in this area. Disc protrusion related to trauma in the neck region is not uncommon. The nerves that innervate the front legs exit the spinal cord at the last cervical vertebrae. Arthritis and calcification can impinge on the spinal cord and affect everything downstream.
Integrative therapies—including acupuncture, chiropractic, soft tissue work and laser therapy—can help mitigate pain neurologic dysfunction, but they cannot restore pre-trauma youth.
Collars are great for expressions of fashion and as a place to hang nametags. However, if your leash is not floppy loose, you are pulling too hard. Invest in a harness (and professional dog training help) and you will invest in a longer, pain-free, active life for your best friend.
Dr. Elizabeth Dooher, MS, DVM, of Integrative C.A.R.E. Ltd., is a mobile veterinarian specializing in chiropractic, acupuncture, rehabilitation, and laser therapy. She can be reached at [email protected] or 970-331-9625.