Helping Your Dog With Arthritis
If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, your vet will likely recommend 3 therapies: weight management especially if your dog is overweight, medication for joints and pain, and exercise. Exercise might seem counter-intuitive your dog is already in pain and their joints are stiff. Actually, you do want to strongly consider exercise. Here are four things to consider when exercising a dog with arthritis.
1. Exercise Your Dog Regularly
Research shows that for people, exercise is one of the best treatments for arthritis. Exercise improves the mood, increases joint flexibility, improves blood flow, strengthens heart and lung functions, and helps keep a healthy weight. Exercise works the same way for arthritic dogs.
Importantly for dogs with arthritis, exercise can ease the condition a little. Exercise also makes the dog’s muscles stronger. Stronger muscles can support arthritic joints better, putting less pressure on the joint.
Exercise also increases the dogs ability to move the joint normally. Arthritis is a build-up of scar tissue in the joint. Scar tissue is not flexible and limber like thus the dog’s range of motion is limited. This is the stiffness you notice. Gentle and regular exercise will help make this tissue more flexible and keep it more limber. One great exercise for arthritic dogs is using a balance ball. Check out our post here to learn more.
Note, that exercise is good for the body and mind. Dogs love activity in the first place. Exercise makes the body stronger, so the body feels better. Movement releases certain hormones that help the mind and body feel better. And, activity requires some mental engagement and gives the mind something else to think about rather than focusing on pain.
If your dog does not want to exercise, for all the above reasons, you should consider getting your dog moving every day even if only for a few minutes and very gently.
Stretching before exercise is good for humans and it is good for dogs, especially dogs with joint problems. Before going for that walk or hike, safely stretch your dog. It will stretch that scar tissue around the joint and increase range of motion of that limb. In fact, over time the range of motion could get to normal or close. See more about stretching your dog here
3. Modify and Moderate Exercise
Osteoarthritis can be made worse if a dog gets too much or too little exercise. Too little exercise does not allow your dog’s muscles to get stronger and joints remain stiff. On the other hand, too much or too hard exercise can damage the joint’s soft tissues. Sudden movements tear scar tissue or even the healthy tissue that may be overcompensating for the lack of movement of the scar tissue. A dog with arthritis should avoid jumping, twisting, fetch, chase, and roughhousing.
You have to work with your dog to see what works. If you need to start with just a little exercise do that, but do it regularly. If your dog needs to move slowly, move slowly. If your dog has a lot of energy, you may need to re-create low-impact, milder versions of their favorite games.
It is a really really good idea to start and end exercise with slow stretches to warm up and cool down muscles.
And learn to recognize the signs that your pet is exercising too hard or too fast. Generally you may see more wincing and more limping or hear your dog whine or grunt or otherwise vocalize their pain. Know when to stop or slow down to prevent pain injury.
4. Use Pain Reliever
Pain reliever is a common and welcomed part of therapy for dogs with arthritis. But be sure to consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog ANY pain reliever. Many over-the-counter pain relievers for people are harmful to dogs. However, work with your vet to find the right anti-inflammatory medication for your dog. If your dog’s arthritis is bad or you are just starting exercise, have your dog take medication about an hour before exercising to help keep pain at bay.
Exercise is mentally and physically a great idea for dogs with arthritis.