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 their stiffness, manage swelling and improve overall mobility.
Exercising a dog with arthritis can be difficult, though. You must use caution when selecting the types of exercises you have your dog do and how much movement your dog does at a time. If you push your dog too hard, they could end up getting even 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. Over time, thinning cartilage can lead to limited mobility and painful 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, their condition is probably pretty far along. Arthritis in dogs usually begins during their middle years, which is why symptoms are most prevalent among senior dogs.
Symptoms of canine arthritis may include a reluctance to exercise, difficulty moving or looking like they are in pain while they move. Pet parents have also reported limping, stiffness, lethargy and changes in behavior. Arthritis most often affects a dog’s hips, knees, legs and lower back.
Once symptoms begin to appear, vets can easily diagnose arthritis in dogs. An X-ray is typically required for a vet to diagnose arthritis, so be sure to take your dog in as soon as they start showing these signs. The vet might also conduct a physical exam and test the range of mobility in each of your dog’s joints.
Natural remedies are available to help support your dog’s joint health. For instance, anti-inflammatory supplements like fish oil can minimize swelling in the joints. Other natural supplements contain nutrients that help lubricate the joints and support cartilage regeneration.
The importance of exercise
Aside from joint-supportive supplements, one all-natural and very important aspect of arthritis treatment in dogs is regular exercise. Although you’d think that extra movement would make joint pain worse, it is actually the opposite.
Allowing arthritic dogs to remain sedentary can cause joints to stiffen further, making mobility even worse. A sedentary lifestyle can also lead to the weakening of muscles, which makes joints less stable and more susceptible to injury.
When an arthritic dog exercises, they’re actively building muscle to support the joints. Exercise also keeps joints mobile and flexible so they don’t stiffen too much. Maintaining this mobility is 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 they don’t endure more pain. Jumping, running and hiking are tough on the joints, so it’s best to swap these activities for gentler alternatives. When in doubt, your vet can recommend exercises that are safe for arthritic pups.
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. Increased blood flow delivers more nutrients to swollen joints and helps your dog rebuild the weakened cartilage.
However, you don’t always need a professional to get your dog moving. Here are some of the best exercises for keeping your arthritic dog agile well into their later years.
- Swimming: Swimming is one of the best possible exercises for dogs with arthritis because it causes zero impact on the joints. Moving is easier and less painful because the water helps support your dog’s body weight. However, your dog will still need to move in the water so they can stretch and work their muscles and joints. Swimming is also one of the best exercises for improving your dog’s range of motion.
- Light walks: Your arthritic dog probably won’t be able to tough it out through hour-long walks, but shorter, gentle walks are a great way to help them stay active. Keep the walk to around 15 minutes maximum and let your dog go at their own pace. Your dog may move slowly, but at least they will be moving!
- Gentle indoor play: Playing with your dog inside helps limit their available movement, so they won’t be tempted to overdo it. Short-distance fetch, tug-of-war and hide and seek are great activities that your dog can do at their 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 exercises that may be suitable for dogs with earlier signs of arthritis. Be sure to discuss exercise routines with your vet before implementing them to avoid injuring 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 they’re capable of. It’s possible to overdo it on low-impact exercises, too, so divide their total exercise time into shorter sessions.
Your arthritic dog might be reluctant to exercise at first. Start them off slow with simple exercises that cause very minimal discomfort. Over time, exercise can reduce your dog’s symptoms and make it easier to stay active. The more your dog exercises, the more they’ll benefit from it.
Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in May 2019. It has been updated to include more relevant and comprehensive information.