Gunner's wellness journey: An exploration of vet alternatives to ease dog into old age

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
Gunner T Shepherd, goes on a health and wellness journey to help relieve signs of aging.

Many of us have furry family members. Mine just happens to be 85 pounds of fur and love in the form of a white German Shepherd named Gunner that we got from a foster home. Or rather my son did. 

Fast forward 10 years, and this bundle of love is now showing his age. At 11, he suffers some hip dysplasia and arthritis in his spine. He is uncertain climbing stairs and lifting his leg on tires is no longer a possibility. He no longer chooses to chase bunnies and squirrels across the back yard, and has not poked his nose into the wrong end of a skunk as he has done in the past, opting rather for a dog bed next to my recliner so he can collect 'pets' while I watch TV. 

Totally unwilling to relinquish my old friend to the ravages of his canine golden years, Gunner and I have gone on a wellness journey looking for Ponce DeLeon's Fountain of Youth. 

Gunner's regular vet gently reminded me that he is at the segment of a lifespan where he has exceeded many of his breed. Unable to turn back time, we set out together to give Gunner the best old age we can.  

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Laser Therapy

Cold Laser therapy was one of the treatments we utilized early on. A handheld therapeutic laser is moved across the affected area. It is used to help manage pain and inflammation, and stimulate wound healing. It is often used with animals suffering from chronic arthritis, tendon and ligament injuries; hip dysplasia; and 30 surgical and traumatic injuries.  

The laser helps tissue repair by increasing blood flow to the cells, encouraging cellular repair, muscle relaxation, decreasing inflammation and endorphin release. Veterinary staff are trained in the use of this tool to avoid possible misuse, and most vet offices offer this service. This explains Gunner's happy dance when he sees us coming up to the office where his girlfriends will give him the "butt rubs".

Laser therapy administered by a qualified tech offers relief for aged joints and faster healing of wounds or surgical incisions.

Veterinary Chiropractic

Veterinary chiropractic is another treatment we have researched. Animal chiropractic is becoming increasingly more available. Locally, both Geneseo Animal Hospital and Miller Veterinary in Atkinson offer chiropractic treatment for pets.  

Dan Lommell, a Geneseo chiropractor, recounts taking his Samoyed pup to Miller Veterinary, because she had stepped in a rabbit hole and injured her leg. Lommell did some adjustments, but the doctor at the veterinary was able to pinpoint the issue, and according to Lommell, she has been fine since. 

Dr. Shanie Cahill from Noah's Ark Chiropractic in Geneseo recounts that she has worked on all kinds of patients, including pigs, cows, goats, ferrets, birds and hamsters, although dogs and horses are the bulk of her clientele.  

Asked what prompts owners to bring in animals, besides obvious pain, she stated that particularly horse owners would do it regarding performance issues. For example, a barrel racing horse might be slowing up on its' time, and an adjustment can give that horse the renewed agility it required to perform at its peak. Many owners do it as a maintenance treatment.

Cahill is currently treating a dog who was hit by a car, and suffered spinal injuries, causing some paralysis. The chiropractic adjustments she has given the dog have returned the feeling and motion to the affected areas.  Ongoing treatment is now addressing the pain, and in conjunction with the laser therapy, rejuvenation of damaged tissue.

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Your pet is what they eat

Cahill also reminds pet owners that "they are what they eat." She herself doesn't feed her dog kibble, instead she feeds canned fish, or cooked chicken, with a variety of fresh and cooked vegetables. The only veggies she doesn't advocate feeding dogs are onions and avocados, as both of them are toxic to dogs. For those who must feed kibble, she suggests switching it up with other quality foods, or cooking for your pet. 

Cahill advises that pet parents should feed the closest thing to an animal's natural food in the wild, meat. If you must feed kibble, she advises checking brands on to see what an honest rating various foods are given. "Corn is a huge allergen, and any food that contains corn should be avoided."

Dr. Tracey Meyer, a vet with Whitney Veterinary Hospital in Peoria also cites the importance of a pet's diet, with a different focus. She is trained in Chinese food and herbal therapy. "In traditional Chinese veterinary medicine, foods are considered quite differently, meaning the way food is viewed as an extension of herbs and how foods interact with the body. In food medicine, a balanced diet is incorporated but this also includes foods that warm us or cool us off, foods that direct energy or fluids upward or downward, and foods that help certain organ systems to function optimally," explained Meyers. "What we eat makes a huge difference in how we feel, how much energy we have, and our general well being. For example issues such as allergies, stress/anxiety, and cancer can all benefit from adding certain fresh foods to your pets diet." 


Acupuncture needles inserted in the back of a German Shepherd with arthritis issues in his spine.

Dr. Meyers is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist. A practice stretching back thousands of years, it has seen a recent revival in holistic circles. 

"Acupuncture promotes the tissue healing process, pain relief, regulation of gastrointestinal motility, anti-inflammatory effects, immunoregulation, hormone and reproductive regulation. The treatment involves the insertion of very fine sterile needles (almost as thin as a hair) into specific points or trigger points on the body to cause a therapeutic effect," Meyers explained. "Patients receiving acupuncture are placed in a quiet relaxing room with their owner and must remain as still as possible for 20 minutes after the needles have been placed. Due to the relaxation effect some patients will fall asleep during their acupuncture treatment. Once the 20 minutes are up, we simply remove the needles and treatment is finished. The scheduling of treatments are patient specific and based case by case."

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Specialty Veterinary Services

Kiesha, the referral coordinator at Kimberly Crest Hospital & Specialty Services in Davenport spoke with me about the variety of orthopedic surgical and dental services their facility provides. They are a university level animal hospital, treating all aspects of surgical needs from nose to tail. Gunner would not have qualified, due to his age, but total hip and elbow replacements can be done, just as in humans. Repairing ACL tears in active animals are a specialty. 

Dental treatments are available for pets with "bite" issues. Just as in humans, braces to correct an animal's issues can be done using "power chains" or a retainer-like appliance. According to Kiesha, this is because of accidents or developmental defects, causing abnormal alignments. Root canals and crowns are also done in certain instances. They do cosmetic dentistry for show dogs. 

A full list of services are available on the website,

Unfortunately for me, I did not research pet health insurance until after Gunner was diagnosed with the spinal and hip issues.  Owners with breeds that historically have problems should research and purchase insurance to help offset the costs of treatment.