Exercise for Dogs with Arthritis

Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease which typically results in joints which are painful and in discomfort. Damage to joint cartilage causes exposure of the underlying bone, resulting in thickened and inflamed joint structures and a stiff and immobile joint.

Animals suffering from arthritis are often in varying degrees of pain.  In severe cases, animals will be reluctant to exercise at all and will opt for a sedentary lifestyle.  Many owners often misinterpret this as their pets simply slowing down with old age.  In actual fact their pets are suffering from painful joints.  

Some of the cardinal signs that your pet may be suffering from arthritis would be:

  • Stiffness after rest.
  • Reluctance to exercise.
  • Slow or stiff gait.
  • Limb weakness
  • Muscle wastage
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Urinating indoors
  • Reluctance to climb stairs
  • Needing assistance to get into the car
  • Weight gain

Too little vs Too much

Trying to do heavy exercise on arthritic joints can be not only painful but also can cause more damage to the already inflamed joints.

Not doing any exercise on arthritic joints can be just as detrimental since these joints can effectively “seize up” and become even stiffer and more immobile.

The solution is to encourage a gentle and regular exercise regime which takes into account the specific joint condition.  Small amounts of gentle exercise undertaken frequently can help mobility in the joint and delay the onset of the condition. This exercise would preferably be low weight bearing so as not to stress the damaged joints.  Exercise needs to be:

  • Gentle
  • Short duration
  • Frequent
  • Low weight bearing

Swimming

An excellent example of low weight bearing exercise which is great for dogs, would be hydrotherapy or swimming.  In fact this is one of the only non- weight bearing exercises available to our canine companions.  This is particularly effective in dogs that are also obese since exercising these animals puts excessive weight on compromised joints.  Putting the dogs in water lifts this excess weight off the joints and allows a greater and unrestricted range of movement.  Swimming allows the joints to become more mobile and flexible as well as strengthening muscles around them.

Walking

Walking is much more comfortable on soft grass or on the beach than on hard concrete so hit the park instead of the high street when taking your dog out for a walk.

Ensure the walking surface is even without any steep inclines and your dog will have a much more comfortable experience.

Avoid high weight bearing exercise such as:

  • Running on hard surfaces
  • Stairs
  • Playing fetch
  • Any activity causing your dog to jump on its hind legs

Always seek your vet’s advice before starting any exercise regime to establish your dog’s capabilities.  Your vet may even prescribe anti – inflammatories such as Rimadyl® or Metacam® which have pain killing properties for arthritis and may allow your dog to exercise more freely.

Pet owners are increasingly using supplements to help treat arthritis.  Some supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin can actually help rebuild damaged cartilage and reduce further damage to the joint.  Supplements such as Cod Liver oil and Evening Primrose oil have also shown to have some effects.

Building an Exercise Regime

A typical exercise regime for a dog with arthritis would depend on how severe the condition is. Start with a minimum activity level of 10 minutes three times daily, gradually building up by a few minutes a week until you reach about half an hour three times daily.  If your dog can cope with this easily then you might even increase this further.  Try and incorporate a hydrotherapy session into this regime once a week.

  • Start with 10 minutes three times daily
  • Build according to your dogs ability
  • Aim for at least half an hour gentle exercise three times daily
  • Try and incorporate hydrotherapy

The most important thing to remember is that exercise is essential to the management of arthritis but the type and form of exercise is critical.  Choose a gentle low weight bearing exercise and allow your dog to enjoy this regularly and consistently.  As well as exercise you should monitor diet, weight and consider giving dietary supplements.

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