People often avoid exercising their arthritic dogs, thinking that exercise will only serve to make them more sore and to worsen the arthritis. However, exercise offers many benefits to the arthritic dog.
Overweight dogs are more at risk for developing arthritis. Weight loss reverses this risk.
And, research shows that, in dogs that already have arthritis, mobility improves (as measured by ground reaction force as well as subjective gait analysis) with weight loss.
The most common orthopedic injury we see in dogs is cruciate ligament tear. Overweight dogs are more at risk of tearing the cruciate ligament, and this leads to arthritis in the knee.
Joint fluid bathes the joint, providing nutrition and lubrication to the joint. Exercise allows joint fluid to be distributed throughout the joint.
Muscles, ligaments, and tendons become stronger with exercise. All of these structures help stabilize the joint so that further arthritis does not develop.
We often see arthritic dogs that have lost muscle mass. These dogs tend to have difficulty going up stairs, getting into the car, standing on slippery flooring, and standing from a sit. This is because they have lost strength in the muscles and range of motion in the joints. Exercise helps arthritic dogs maintain or regain mobility.
The same chemicals that make you feel good when you exercise are also released when your dog exercises. This is a natural pain reliever.
Exercise and the Arthritic Dog
In general, you will want to choose exercises that are low impact because this will help keep the joints from getting sore. Avoid running on concrete, hard stops, and fast turns.
It’s better to do regular short exercise sessions than a single, more intense exercise session. For example, it’s better to go for three 15 minute walks a day than one 45 minute walk. Avoid being a weekend warrior with your arthritic dog!
Any exercise you do is good. If your dog becomes sore following exercise, give him a rest for a day, give medications as prescribed by your veterinarian, and go easier the next time.