If you have painful joints and arthritis, you know the symptoms all too well. Your pet with arthritis has the same experience.
They slow down, have difficulty getting up, or appear to limp (especially after exercise and at night). Your first instinct may be to your senior dog relax and rest as much as they like.
Surprisingly, for both humans and dogs, regular exercise is essential for any dog with arthritis and painful joints! You just must find that perfect and comfy balance.
Exercising an arthritic dog, too much can cause more pain to their joints, and too little will worsen their condition.
Balance is key!
Movement and activity are important. It keeps muscles strong, improves circulation and this brings healing blood flow, oxygen and increases range of motion of those achy joints.
Consistent exercise provides the bonus of keeping your dog at a healthy weight. A healthy weight reduces the stress and strain on their joints.
So how do you exercise your a dog with sore, painful and stiff joints? How do you achieve all these wonderful benefits for your dog, while keeping them safe and pain-free?
Do’s and Don’ts When Exercising Around Painful Joints
Here are the golden rules to keep in mind to safely and effectively exercise a dog who has arthritis, always looking for the amount and type of activity that is suitable for your dog.
DO: Go Low Impact
Think GENTLE swimming (some swimming can be erratic), walking, some resistance work and gentle play.
Low impact activities are great for:
- the cardiovascular system
- increasing muscle strength and girth
- improving range of motion
- helping with weight loss and
- circulating blood to stiff joints.
Gentle and controlled swimming is a good option for sore joints. Water can be soothing to muscles and supports much of your dog’s body weight. Avoid erratic swimming as this may place stress on soft tissues and joints.
DON’T: Encourage Running or Jumping
Try and avoid activities which require your dog to jump, leap, turn quickly, or run, such as Frisbee or long-range games of fetch. Arthritic dogs have joints that are already in a weakened condition and these activities will simply add to the pain in their joints and increase injury.
DO: Warm Up and Cool Down
Most pets with arthritis will be stiff right when they get up, but a simple 1 – 2 minute warm-up such as gentle walking around the house will do the trick. Starting an exercise process gradually helps reduce the risk of muscle injuries, sprains and cramps while easing the joints into movement.
If your dog needs a little incentive to get moving, try spurring them on with a treat or toy.
Cooling down is equally as important. Gentle cooling down movements helps to remove lactic acids that build up in the muscle which may increase muscle stiffness or soreness after exercise.
DON’T: Overdo It
Watch your dog closely for signs of overexertion and fatigue. Some signs are heavy panting, pain, or discomfort. When you see these, adjust your activity level accordingly and slow down. Pushing forward will only increase injury risk, particularly if exercising is new for your pet.
This is why it is important to introduce new exercises slowly and gradually while closely watching how your dog reacts.
DO: Be Consistent
Do your best to create an exercise program for your dog that can be done daily or every other day. A consistent routine will keep their joints and muscles in proper condition to avoid injury.
Get creative! It may not be realistic for you to take your dog swimming every day, but a short ten-minute walk or gentle indoor play session before and after you go to work may be much more doable and still extremely beneficial.
DON’T: Go for Intensity
If your dog (and/or you) has been mostly sedentary during your 9 to 5 workweek, it can be tempting to cram in marathon exercise sessions on the weekends to make up for lost time. This “Weekend Warrior Syndrome” is in fact dangerous for you both, especially for your arthritic dog. Without the proper conditioning, your dog’s joints are more prone to injury during these marathon activity sessions.
One last final things to keep in mind:
something is always better than nothing.
When you come from home a long day of work and collapse on the couch, or it’s bitterly cold outside, or the kids are all sick with the flu and you can’t possibly imagine mustering the energy to take your dog out for some exercise, remember: something is better than nothing. Simply 5 to 10 minutes of walking or playing, even just around the house.
It adds up and makes a huge difference day after day. So, grab your dog and get moving (following our do’s and don’ts, of course).
Dogs with arthritis do exceptionally well when on an exercise program that is designed especially for their condition.