The Squash Project

Season 1 Episode 5

The look of limber. Dog spinal movement health, part two

This is the second part of a discussion about dog spinal movement health. In this web series we follow the progress of Squash, a dog that is half beagle and half corgi, who started RenuVite about a month before his 15th birthday.

RenuVite ™ was formulated to improve an adult dog’s energy, mobility, cognition and immunity. RenuVite is the only antiaging supplement for dogs that contains both DHEA, an important repair protein for dogs and humans, and Univestin™, a plant-based anti-inflammatory.

In the last episode, we discussed how RenuVite has visibly improved Squash’s mobility with better spinal movement. His circular butt movements are a combination of lateral (moving side-to-side)  and sagittal ( up and down) movements from his Lumbar spine.

This is The Squash Project!

Let’s talk about how important spinal health is for any dog!

An international multi-center diagnostic imaging study with 677,000 dogs found the overall prevalence of all intervertebral disc degeneration-related diseases is almost 28%. That’s more than 1 out of every 4 dogs!

The most common of these diseases is intervertebral disc herniation. This can cause the dog to suffer from spinal pain, poor motor function and partial to full paralysis. The herniation happens when a portion of the disc between 2 spinal bones oozes out of its space and pushes against other structures, like the spinal cord or spinal nerves.

Life can be quite miserable for these dogs. It’s sobering to realize that Squash or any dog has a one in 4 chance of having spinal disc problems. So, maintaining or regaining good body movement is important for all aging dogs, but especially for Squash.

Squash got his name because of his orange coloring.

Also this little runt of the litter was “squashed” in the back side of his mama’s uterus.

As this video clip from National Geographic points out, it’s important for the fetus pup to move his limbs or else they get “frozen” or very stiff. So, since birth, Squash’s left hip range of motion has been mildly compromised.

But despite this, Squash has always been destined for greatness, being the son of a show-class Corgi mother and an irresistible Beagle father.

He clearly has improved spinal movement by the way he more easily swings his butt in a circular motion during trotting or dog-jogging. He seems so joyful!

This got us thinking about his lumbar spine and how he has less back stiffness. Better spine health means better movement overall.

Squash has a young friend, Bell, a six-month old beautiful German Shepherd. She has a level of energy that Squash hasn’t felt for over a decade! Watching Bell walk, run, jog and frolic, we see the true look of being limber! We spent a day with Bell, 5 days after she was neutered.

Despite being on calming medicine to allow her stitches to heal, she still had boundless energy, strength and wonderment for life!

Her joyful enthusiasm made it difficult to believe that she recently had surgery.

We appreciate that her pet parents think responsibly about her reproductive health.

It’s important to remember that DHEA declines sooner in large breeds and neutered dogs, compared to small breeds and intact dogs.

So when she’s an aging adult dog, Bell will start RenuVite in 4 years to maintain her energy, mobility, cognition and immunity.

But let’s talk about Bell’s current healthy spinal movement.

She is limber!

In this episode, we look at real time and slow-motion video of her movement.

We’re not alone in thinking about how the spines of these 2 dogs move differently because of their breeds, body shapes, ages and individual challenges.

Formal studies of non-invasive 3-dimensional canine spinal movement health is still evolving. Different breeds and different individual dogs have slightly different movement patterns even from step to step.

This makes collecting data and creating a “reference range” for healthy joints challenging.

As you watch the slow-motion gaits of Squash and Bell, you’ll see how varied their movements are.

This is a dog-skeleton spine.  For all dog breeds, the shoulder blades align with the pelvis.

The one exception is German Shepherds, whose lower set pelvis allows them to take longer strides. The area of the spine with greatest movement has more risk for degenerative disease. That’s Lumbar 6 to 7 or L6-L7, back here near the pelvis and tail.

Researchers use CT scans and MRI “movies” to capture how a dog’s joints move while he’s walking.  In his 2017 Dogs in Motion KYON symposium Boston video, Dr Martin S. Fischer explains this advanced technique to get such accurate data. He was a key participant in the 2 studies we’ll discuss that focus on the spinal movement of L6-L7 for Beagles and German Shepherds.

I highly encourage you to watch his full 40 minute youtube video.

The link is provided in the description below.

We didn’t find any specific L6-L7 CT “movies” studies for Corgis, but the work of K. Wachs, M.S. Fischer, and N. Schilling from the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena, Germany used x-ray and CT scan videos to study the movements of the pelvis and lumbar spine in 3 sound Beagles.

They didn’t have any orthopedic problems, unlike Squash with his mildly stiff left hip.

They found that although lumbar intervertebral joint motions in walking or trotting Beagles was small at less than 6 degrees, the greatest movement was at L6-L7 or L7 to sacral 1.

L5-L6 was 3 degrees, but Lumbar joints from L1 to L5 moved less than 1.5 degrees.

Of note, the pelvic roll was monophasic, averaging a movement of 13 degrees while walking and 11 degrees while trotting.  Pelvic yaw averaged 5 degrees while walking and 6 degrees while trotting.  The pelvic pitch was biphasic and averaged 8 degrees of motion. This was published in 2016.

Now let’s look at German Shepherds, a breed whose stance is unique as the pelvis sits much lower to the shoulder blades than any other dog breed.

Dr Martin S Fischer brought his expertise from the first study to join Katharina I Schaub,  at Justus-Liebig University. The imaging used before was enhanced with more detail to study the pelvic and L6-L7 movement in German Shepherds. Their extensive analysis was published in 2021.

They used the 3-dimensional imaging CT scan movies of the pelvis and the L6-7 vertebral joints  during walking and running.

But this time, they also used animation software that’s used to create movement for cartoons and the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Movie animators use it to create imaginary creature movement, but this research team used it to DESCRIBE real dog spinal movement.

Among the four adult German Shepherds studied, there was a wide variation in the gait patterns between the dogs and their individual steps. But they got important findings.

The pelvis rolled in an axial motion during walking, but shifted more side to side during trotting.

L6-L7 movements were not coordinated in time except on the side view. When walking, the movement between these bones was only 3 degrees and rotated or slid side-to-side (also called translated) only 2 mm.

Trotting caused much more side view movement of up to 5.1 degrees. But with trotting, L6 moved side-to-side 2.3 degrees.

The pelvic motion also showed coupled relationships of L7 responding with more or less axial rotation and side-to-side movement.

It’s too general to ask the question, “How does a dog’s spine move?”

Instead, each joint of the spine has its own 3-dimensional dance.  And L7 has the most interesting choreography in how it partners with L6 and the pelvis.

The scientists in both studies chose this tail end of the spine (lumbar region) because there’s an increased risk for degenerative diseases.

In the abstract for the published study of German Shepherds the authors begin with “Lumbosacral vertebral motion is thought to be a factor in the development of degenerative lumbosacral stenosis in German Shepherd dogs.” The key word in this statement is DEGENERATIVE. In other words, these Spinal diseases are a risk for OLD DOGS.

Puppies twist, turn, wiggle and sometimes try to spring into flight. They put their spines, and sometimes their owners, through great contortions.

This is another valuable reason we MUST have Anti-aging for dogs: to optimize their ability to repair so they have healthy spines and healthy movement. Part of this relies on providing the specific nutrients that contribute to maintaining the tensile strength of tendons, ligaments, muscle and joints. Chief among these is hydrolyzed collagen, but remember that raw materials do little unless directed by repair signals, like DHEA.

Think of a major home remodel. Truckloads of materials are delivered to the site. Does the job get done? No; you need a contractor. That’s DHEA.