For the past week, Hilda, my 10-year-old Labrador, has been grunting as she lands on the ground after jumping from the boot of my car. She seems fine otherwise, although last night she was hesitant about going up the stairs in the house. I have been taking her out for walks because she’s not lame and is still keen to go, but I am a little concerned.

Alison Logan advises…

From what you describe, I would be highly suspicious of a back problem. This would mean Hilda wouldn’t be lame when exercising, but she would experience pain when landing on the ground from the boot of your car, or when negotiating stairs. Another time that owners notice back pain, particularly in smaller dogs, is when they go over a threshold and down a step, perhaps to go outside.

There may not have been a particular injury of note, as it can be a reflection of long-term wear and tear, resulting in arthritis. Ideally, Hilda should not be jumping into and out of your car, but it is probably not practical to lift her in and out, given that she is a Labrador. There are ramps available that fold up small enough to readily transport in the car, which Hilda could use whenever she goes in your vehicle, although some dogs find them scary and will not use them! Avoiding the movement that causes her pain is important, and also resting her back, so ideally you need to prevent her from going up and down stairs. Shorter walks may also help.

If she doesn’t improve, then a visit to your vet would be advisable, as there can be other causes for back pain, or at the very least for some anti-inflammatory pain relief to be prescribed.

As a separate thought, I wonder what Hilda’s body condition score is. This is the number on a scale of one to nine that describes how Hilda looks. She should ideally be a four or five, but it may be that she has gained a little weight during these darker months of reduced activity. Carrying extra weight will not be helping a sore back.

Many veterinary practices offer weight clinics with a vet nurse who can weigh Hilda and assess her body condition score, comparing these parameters with those logged at previous visits. If she has indeed gained weight, then help and advice will be offered to help her regain a better body condition, which will certainly help not only her back, but her health in general.

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