Exercise Will Help Your Arthritic Dog
If you are working with a vet, you should have a plan of treatment that includes medication, special nutrients, and exercise. Exercise? The dog is having an even harder time walking now. Why make it worse with exercise? Actually, exercise will help a dog with arthritis feel better in the short and long run.
Signs of Arthritis in Pets
Arthritis is fairly common among older dog. Veterinary researchers estimate that the occurrence of arthritis in dogs increased 38 percent. This puts estimates at 20% of adult dogs that suffer from some form of arthritis. As with in humans, arthritis is a condition of the joints (where 2 or more bones meet and work together). Bones don’t actually connect or touch but are connected attached together with ligaments and tendons, and cartilage lies between the bones so the hard bones don’t touch or rub together. When that cartilage wears away, as it does over time for many dogs and humans, then the bones rub together, and the pain is anywhere from annoying to grating to painful. This condition where the cartilage lining and fluid between bones starts to deteriorate is arthritis.
If you have a pet diagnosed with arthritis, you already know the difficult he or she has moving around.
(If you suspect your dog has arthritis, but have not had him or her diagnosed, you should. Stiffness and difficulty walking could be a number of things from old age to sprains to hip dysplasia, as well as arthritis.)
You may notice that arthritis makes your dog favor one limb. You may see that he or she has difficulty sitting, standing, getting up, stepping up or walking or some combination. Mornings or cold weather may make movement worse. And you may notice your dog is less or unwilling to do the things your dog would have normally do like walk up stairs. So how does exercise help?
Arthritis and Exercise
Exercise physically helps a dog with arthritis in the following ways:
- Makes muscles surrounding the joints stronger and less pressure on joints.
- Encourages weight loss and thus less weight on weakened joints.
- Improves balance and better balance is easier on joints.
- Helps remaining tissue between joints remain flexible.
But First, Warm Up
Even dogs need to warm up. Stretching is very good. It makes muscles more supple and ready for work. It also makes the ligaments and tendons more elastic and less likely to be overtaxed or sprained. You can help your dog warm up by
- Massaging his muscles
- Stretching your dog, specifically the hip, knee and elbow joints. See our other articles on stretching.
- Walking slowly for 5 minutes, slower than your normal walk.
Spend 5 – 10 minutes warming up. Spend the same amount of time cooling down too–you can use the same activities that you did for warming up. This will help prevent the joints from tightening and being sore or stiff later.
But not all exercises are good for a dog with arthritis. Running, sprint/stop, and jumping activities can do more damage than good and really cause pain. Exercises should be geared at low impact and endurance rather than fast sprints.
Walking is almost always one of the best exercises you can do with your dog.
- Be sure to stretch first.
- Start the walk slow, slower than your normal pace.
- Keep walks short if your dog has trouble, but do continue to walk daily. A little bit every day will do wonders on making his condition bearable. Doing a lot of walking just a few days a week will do the opposite, cause more wear and tear on this joints and make the walk a painful exercise.
If walking on more challenging terrain, hiking in woods or on the beach, be sure to take your time and make sure your dog doesn’t extend him or herself with running in sand or aggressive hill climbing.
Another low impact activity you can do with your dog is actually dancing. As you would think, have your dog place his or her front paws on your torso and slowly walk around or two-step with your dog. Don’t make your dog take big steps, just medium to small steps. Go for 10 to 15 minutes, but you could do this a couple times each day.
This activity, besides being a great way to spend time with you, is not as hard on the joints as running or jumping. Furthermore, this posture helps your dog gently stretch hip, knee and elbow joints at the same time. Stretching is a good way to strengthen joints as well.
Games that are easier on the joints include
- Hide and seek.
- Fetch with a toy or ball that stays on the ground or floor.
- Games that involve more thinking and strategy like Find the toy in the box, or find the treat.
- Tricks, like walk and weave around your legs, shake paw, bowing.
Games that you play indoors will often be lower impact since you generally have less space for jumping and sprinting anyway.
Games that involve rough-housing, stairs, jumping on/off furniture can be a recipe for aching arthritic joints or pulling the surrounding muscles and ligaments that support the joints. You should avoid this type of play
Therapies to Look Into
If you feel the arthritis is causing your dog a great deal of pain even with a couple weeks of regular gentle exercise, ask your vet about therapies such as:
- Water therapies. Many cities offer canine water therapy for dogs to walk on an underwater treadmill or gentle swimming. These allow a dog to work out without the weight on the joints
- Massage therapy
Remember to consult with your veterinarian but consistent activity is most important here in dealing with your dog’s arthritis – a few minutes of exercise every day will show much many more benefits than long sessions one or 2 days a week.