To exercise or not to exercise, an arthritic dog.
Actually, the answer is a definite 'Yes', but for the stiff-jointed senior it has to be the right type of exercise.
Think of it this way. Rest is all very well (and has its place) but lying around all day leads to muscle wastage and weight gain. Guess what? Both of these hinder long term mobility. However, the right type of activity conditions the muscles which support the joints, and helps keep Fido fitter for longer.
But if you over stretch the dog, it makes matters worse. The 'weekend warrior' is the classic example. You have more time at the weekend and to make up for five days of a shuffle round the block, you take Fido on a five-mile hike in the countryside. The payback is on Monday, he's stiff as a plank because he doesn't have the physical fitness to cope.
Walking is great for arthritic dogs: it's how you go about it that matters
Consistency is King
Give your dog the same amount of exercise each day. This helps build his muscles to better support the joints. As he gets fitter, you can gradually build up the length of each walk..
Little and Often
For the stiff senior, it's better to walk little and often. For example, three walks of five to ten minute duration are better than a single walk of half-an-hour
Dog Sets the Pace
Keep the pace even and let the dog stop and rest when he needs to.
Experiment walking on different surfaces. You may find the dog prefers the 'give' in a grassy field to the hard concussion of concrete.
No athlete worth their salt would dream of going straight from sofa to running track without first warming up. And the thing is, stretching muscles and getting joint fluid circulating is as important to an arthritic dog as an athlete.
Before each walk, have your dog warm up. Speak to your vet about a specific regime tailored to your dog of massage and passive range of movement exercises.
The idea is to literally warm up the muscles and joints. Massage accomplishes this by promoting blood circulation to the main muscles by the use of rubbing and cupping movements.
Passive exercises are the couch potato’s idea of exercise heaven! The dog literally relaxes, while you gently bend and straighten his knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders (depending on his arthritis) over and over for around 20 repetitions. This mimics the action of walking but in a non-weight bearing way, which is great for getting joint fluid circulating.
And don't forget an athlete warms up and warms down. So do those exercises at the beginning and end of each walk.
A fantastic resource for a tailored regime for your dog is to visit a vet physiotherapist. These are qualified physiotherapists certified to work on animals. They can assess your dog's mobility and create a home exercise protocol that's perfect for them.
For example, a typical exercise to do at home is working with a wobble board. The idea is the dog stands on a tilting platform (the degree of tilt is set to meet your dog's needs) which shifts his weight from side to side, strengthening the supporting muscles in the process.
Your dog can also have a splashtastic time in a supervised hydrotherapy session. This is non-weight-bearing exercise in blissfully warm water that caresses the joints and makes it easier to move. Dogs that have been weighed down by arthritis discover the joy of movement once again and it is a wonder to behold.
Before embarking (see what we did there!) on a new exercise regime, get your dog checked by a vet. They can guide you as to whether medication is needed and how much exercise to give. And if they feel it appropriate, refer your dog onto a vet physiotherapist.
Remember, with the arthritic dog it's important to exercise, but in the correct way. Use it or lose it….so keep Fido fit and moving.