Just like in humans, our four-legged friends can develop the painful condition that is arthritis. Inflamed, painful joints force our pups to slow down and move with caution. Arthritis may even make them reluctant to exercise at all.
However, exercise is a crucial component of effectively managing canine arthritis. You should encourage your dog to move to reduce its stiffness, manage swelling and improve overall mobility.
Exercising a dog with arthritis can be difficult, though, and you must use caution when selecting the types of exercises you have your dog do and how much movement your dog does at a given time. If you push your dog too hard, it could end up getting more hurt.
About canine arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs and is caused by the gradual degeneration of the joints. This causes the cartilage in joints to thin, reducing the amount of cushion it provides between the bones, limiting mobility and causing inflammation.
Pet parents usually don’t notice the initial signs of arthritis because they are hard to spot. When your dog begins displaying more noticeable symptoms, its condition is probably pretty far along.
Symptoms may include a reluctance to exercise, difficulty moving or looking like it’s in pain while moving, limping, stiffness, lethargy and changes in behavior. Arthritis tends to affect a dog’s hips, knees, legs and lower back the most.
An X-ray is typically required for a vet to diagnose arthritis, so be sure to take your pet in as soon as you see it showing these signs.
Natural treatments for arthritis may include anti-inflammatory supplements like fish oil to relieve inflammation in the joints and supplements containing nutrients that help lubricate the joints and support cartilage.
The importance of exercise
Aside from joint-supportive supplements, one natural and very important aspect of arthritis treatment in dogs is regular exercise. Although you’d think that making dogs with joint pain move more would hurt them, it’s actually the opposite.
Allowing arthritic dogs to remain sedentary can cause joints to stiffen further, making mobility worse. It can also lead to the weakening of muscles.
When an arthritic dog exercises, it actively builds muscle to support the joints and keeps joints mobile and flexible so they don’t stiffen too much. Maintaining this mobility will be key to preserving your pup’s ability to move, albeit slowly and carefully.
Top exercises for arthritic dogs
Although exercising is a good idea for arthritic dogs, you should be careful about which exercises and how much movement your dog does so it does not endure more pain.
Physical therapy programs are great for arthritic dogs, since professionals can help your dog stretch and move to target certain stiff areas. Additionally, massages are good for relieving tension and improving blood flow to the affected joints.
However, you don’t always need a pro to get your dog moving. Here are some of the best exercises you can help your dog do to keep it agile even into its later years.
- Swimming: Swimming is one of the best possible exercises for dogs with arthritis because it requires no impact on the joints. The water helps support your dog’s body weight, so movement is easier. However, your dog will still need to move in the water, helping it stretch and work its muscles and joints. It also is one of the best exercises for improved range of motion.
- Light walks: Your dog probably won’t be able to tough it out through hour-long walks, but shorter, gentle walks are great exercise for it. Keep the walk to around 15 minutes max and let your dog go at its own pace. It may move slowly, but it will be moving.
- Gentle indoor play: Playing with your dog inside helps limit its available movement, so it won’t be tempted to overdo it. Short-distance fetch inside, tug-of-war and hide and seek are great activities that your dog can do at its own pace without getting too excited or potentially hurt from overexertion.
If your dog’s arthritis is severe, your vet may caution against certain types of exercise that may be suitable for dogs with early signs of arthritis. Be sure to discuss exercise routines with your vet before implementing them to avoid injury to your pup.
Additionally, avoid any exercises that require high impact to the joints and long durations. Hiking on uneven terrain, jumping to catch a frisbee or chasing a ball across a field are sure to cause your dog more pain than benefit, so don’t push your pup to do more than it is capable of.