Preconceptions to pre-race prep

WHEN I moved up to Northumberland from Hampshire seven years ago, I had a few pre-formed impressions of life in the North East.

TV programmes were of course a strong influence, with the (in)famous Byker Grove being the most obvious. But before that I, along with no doubt many hundreds of other primary school children, watched a late 1980’s BBC educational programme called Geordie Racer.

The story-line, somewhat bizarrely, centred around pigeon racing (a famous local passion) and the Great North Run. This is at least one of the things that inspired me to enter the run this year — actually, I’ve been meaning to for the last seven years and finally I’ve stopped procrastinating and got on with it.

Training seems to be going pretty well and I think I’m on course to finish ahead of the chap carrying a fridge at the very least. I’ve had my fair share of post-training run aches and pains though, and this is something that we see very commonly in athletic animals, especially as they get older.

There is of course a big difference between sore and aching muscles after exercise and the chronic pain that comes with arthritis in many older dogs, but the treatments can be quite similar. While anti-inflammatory or pain-killing medication is the mainstay of treatment, there are a couple of alternatives that are well worthy of some attention.

There will almost certainly be some readers that are strong advocates of the benefits of acupuncture. Its use in a whole variety of medical fields is fairly well documented, but it is for the treatment of chronic pain that it is most widely known. Acupuncture can work extremely well in animals too.

It has evolved from the ancient art of placing needles into special locations on the body to alleviate pain, improve recovery rates and increase resistance to disease. Scientific research into acupuncture has made enormous progress over the past 40 years and now explains much of acupuncture’s actions, which had previously only been understood in the ancient concepts of health described in tradition Chinese medicine.

We are very fortunate to have Emma Pearson, a trained veterinary acupuncturist, at the Whorral Bank surgery. Over the last few years Emma has treated many dogs, and even some cats, with a great deal of success. Her skills also stretch to equine acupuncture, and last year she was even called upon to treat an arthritic bull.

Hydrotherapy is an excellent form of exercise because most of the muscles normally used in movement are involved, without the stresses caused by motion on hard ground. Our new surgery affords us a great deal more space than we had before and this includes a hydrotherapy pool, and Nikki Wilson, a qualified hydrotherapist, to go with it.

The pool has heated water and a treadmill so that dogs, and even cats with very brave owners, can exercise while their weight is supported by the water. Hydrotherapy can be used in the treatment of many conditions, including arthritis, muscle pain and spinal conditions, and is especially useful to aid recovery after orthopaedic surgery. It can also help with general convalescence and fitness — it’s brilliant for podgy pets.

To come full circle, and for the sake of a small plug, I’m doing the Great North Run in aid of Guide Dogs, a great charity whose virtues hardly need explaining, and PAWS, a local veterinary charity that provides essential care to pets whose owners are on very low incomes.

CHRIS GREEN, Director and Senior Vet