To exercise or not to exercise, an arthritic dog. The answer is a definite 'yes', but for the stiff-jointed canine 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 fit for longer.
But if you overwork your 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 your furry companion on a five-mile hike in the countryside. The payback is, on Monday, your dog is stiff and in pain from the excess activity.
What is the best way to exercise my arthritic dog?
Walking is great for arthritic dogs. It's how you go about it that matters. Give your dog the same amount of exercise each day. This helps build their muscles to better support the joints. As your pooch gets fitter, you can gradually build up the length of each walk.
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. Keep the pace even and let your dog stop and rest when they need to. Experiment walking on different surfaces. You may find your furry buddy prefers the 'give' in a grassy field to the hard concussion of concrete.
Remember the warm-up
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 the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders (depending on the extent of the 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.
How about physio for my dog?
A fantastic resource for a tailored regime for your dog is to visit a vet physiotherapist. These are qualified professionals 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 your dog stands on a tilting platform (the degree of tilt is set to meet your dog's needs) which shifts their weight from side to side, strengthening the supporting muscles in the process.
Your dog can also take part 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. A dog who likes the hydrotherapy treatments will enjoy swimming. Ask your vet for tips on how to give your pet the benefits of water at home or at the beach.
Before embarking on a new exercise regime, get your dog checked by their vet. They can guide you as to whether medication is needed and how much exercise to give. And if they feel it appropriate, they will 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.