Should you exercise an arthritic dog?
An arthritic dog needs to remain moderately active with regular daily exercise to keep joints from becoming even more stiff and painful. Exercise is also beneficial for arthritic dogs for rebuilding and maintaining muscles and for weight management. In addition, exercise and activity improve circulation to those affected joints. Exercising with arthritis is a balancing act; too much can cause pain and too little makes the condition worse. 65% of dogs will suffer from arthritis at some time during their lives.
Signs your dog may have arthritis
If you notice your dog losing muscle mass (muscle atrophy), any visible sign of lameness or limping or they are having trouble getting up they may have arthritis.
Dogs with arthritis also tend to lick their affected limbs to sooth them, and some can develop spinal issues that can lead to a hunched posture.
If you suspect your dog does have arthritis, consult with your veterinarian to discuss pain relief. Arthritis cannot be cured and will probably worsen over time but it can be managed.
It is important that a dog with arthritis maintain a good weight as being overweight will put more stress on the sore joints. Exercise will help in losing weight but the most important part of weight loss for a dog is through diet and to control the calories they consume. It takes a lot of exercise to burn a small number of calories and if your dog has arthritis they will be unable to do large amounts of strenuous exercise.
What is the best exercise for arthritic dogs?
The least pain inducing exercise for dogs with arthritis are low impact and high resistance exercise. Low impact exercise lessens the weight that is applied to the joints making it more comfortable for a dog with joint pain. High resistance exercise provides high resistance to the muscles being exercise making them more developed and stronger without stressing the joints.Swimming is the ideal exercise that meets both these conditions.
Consider hydrotherapy for the arthritic dog
Hydrotherapy is when a hydrotherapist swims the dog in a pool or walks them on an underwater treadmill. An underwater treadmill is a treadmill with sides that can be filled up with water to the required level to becoming weight bearing so the dog’s limbs can go through the full range of motion without the added stress of weight on the joints. For more about Hydrotherapy read “Hydrotherapy for dogs. ”
What are the options for pain control?
Your veterinarian will be able to suggest medication for pain relief or anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling in the joints. Other options you may wish to look into may include laser therapy, natural supplements for joint support or acupuncture. I am not aware of any scientific evidence to support acupuncture. However, I have seen some amazing results with arthritic dogs.
Warm up before exercising an arthritic dog
Many arthritic dogs are particularly stiff when they first get up or if the weather is cold. You can help them out by starting any exercise with short, low impact walk to get those joints moving. Most dog will loosen up once they have walked around for a minute or two.
Another way of warming up an arthritic dog is by performing range of motion exercises. Range of motion exercises gently moves the selected joint, like an elbow, hip or knee, through the joint’s full range of motion. This range runs form bent (flexion) to straight (extension).
To perform a range of motion exercise start with your dog laying on their side with the limb you are exercising pointing toward you. Place one hand above or below the joint you are working within a natural position (not flexed or extended) you the dog is without pain. Flex or bend the limb as slowly as possible until it reaches a natural flexed position. Stop if your dog shows any signs of pain.Hold that flex for 3 to 5 seconds.
Then slowly return the limb to the starting position and extend it all the way out until it is straight.
Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 times holding for 3 to 5 seconds each time. Stop if your dog shows any pain or discomfort or simply doesn’t want to do it.
Warm down after exercise
It is just as important to warm down the joints and muscles after exercise or activity This can be achieved in the same way as the warm up by performing the same range of motion exercises. It is also important to get your dog warm after exercise to prevent the muscles and joint stiffening up. Warm temperatures can help increase blood circulation, reducing pain and inflammation.
Cold temperatures can exacerbate the symptoms of arthritis.
In addition, you can do some gentle massage to the joints. Start off by gently rubbing the affected area to keep blood flow to the joints, tendon, and muscles. Then place your hand over the area and start making small circular motions while gently compressing the muscle. Finish by rubbing gently the same way you began the massage.
Other ways to exercise an arthritic dog
In addition to swimming, gentle slow walks on a soft surface such as grass are recommended. This not only helps to keep the joints mobile but provides an opportunity for mental stimulation for your dog by enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells.
It is also important to provide other means of mental enrichment. For more on how to achieve this read “mental enrichment and mind stimulation“. Puzzle toys are also a great way to keep an arthritic dog’s mind sharp. See “Top 7 puzzle toys for dogs”
How to massage a dog with Arthritis
Use massage to help ease your dog’s pain. If your dog is on the older side and suffers from arthritis or hip dysplasia, massage can help. Very gently massage around the area that’s affected, using a kneading motion to help relieve the pain. Do not press too hard, and do not massage directly over the affected area
With your dog laying on their sides start by gently rubbing your dog all over to warm the muscles and to stimulate blood flood throughout the body.
For more information read “How to massage a dog step by step”
Additional things you can do for your dog with arthritis
Provide traction on slippery floors: Dogs with arthritis often have a hard time on slippery floors, so lay carpet down on the floor and stairs if they need to climb stairs. If they need to jump up into the car, a car ramp will make it a lot easier on them. You can also place a heating pad on the affected joint area for 15 minutes twice a day and provide them with a firm orthopedic bed. Keep your dog out of damp and chilly areas.
Providing moderate daily exercise for a dog suffering from arthritis is important to keep joints mobile, strengthen muscles and stop loss of muscle mass, increase blood circulation to the affected areas and help in maintaining a healthy weight. Always warm up prior to exercise or activity and warm down again after to prevent the joints stiffening. Swimming or even hydrotherapy is probably the best exercise for a dog with arthritis as it is low impact and high resistance. Gentle walks on a flat and soft surface and mental enrichment are also beneficial to a dog with arthritis. It is important to consult with your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
You may also be interested in “How to exercise a senior old dog”
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