Does exercise make arthritis worse in dogs? Many dog owners are apprehensive about exercising their arthritic pets. Back in the day, it was believed that exercise will aggravate the condition, thus “exercise restriction” was advocated.
While exercising an arthritic pooch might seem counterproductive, a sedentary lifestyle can actually lead to the disease worsening as it contributes to loss of muscle function, joint stiffness, and weight gain, among others.
How Does Exercise Help Arthritic Dogs?
Being diagnosed with canine osteoarthritis may prevent your dog from keeping up with his old exercise routine, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on exercise altogether.
Exercise Prevents Muscle Wasting
Arthritic canines have all the more reasons to exercise, otherwise, they will lose muscle function. Inactivity leads to muscle atrophy while regular exercise helps strengthen not only the muscles but also the ligaments and tendons surrounding your dog’s weakened joints. Strong muscle fibers protect joints from injury and contribute to balance, thus reducing your dog’s risks of slips and falls.
Increased Blood Flow Lubricates Joints
Synovial membranes surround your dog’s joints, providing cushion. Much like how water is wrung from a sponge, these soft vascular tissues secrete fluid that prevents joints from rubbing together but poor circulation starves these membranes from oxygen-rich blood. Therefore, you will want to continue exercising your pooch to promote blood circulation.
Exercise Helps Maintain Healthy Weight
Exercising aids in weight management, which is another vital aspect of managing canine osteoarthritis. Decreased physical activity coupled with muscle atrophy, makes it rather easy for any arthritic dog to gain body fat. Keep in mind that the heavier the dog, the more pressure there is on the joints.
That said, you will want your dog to stay lean, not overweight! Being in shape also boosts your dog’s stamina and endurance, thus affording you and your pooch the opportunity to enjoy more quality time.
What Are the Best Exercises for Arthritic Dogs?
Exercise does not worsen arthritis in dogs, but the type of physical activity your dog is participating in is crucial. The best recommendations for dogs with arthritis are low-impact and controlled.
One such activity that can help your arthritic pooch is walking. This low-impact exercise preserves muscle mass, loosens stiff joints, and promotes healthy weight — all of which are important in managing arthritis.
However, please do note that arthritis leads to changes in the duration, length, location, and speed of walks. You need to consider potential obstructions and hazards, such as long bridges, rocky terrain, and steep slopes. Climbing and walking on gravel, in particular, can exacerbate an unstable gait. Therefore, plan routes and develop novel strategies to make walks safe and pleasant.
Another important thing to remember when walking your furry sidekick is to go at his pace. You will want to avoid using a retractable leash to ensure that your dog isn’t trying to walk too fast or too slow. If you have a senior pet, you may want to equip him with a support harness or have him use a doggie wheelchair to take pressure off his painful joints.
Being diagnosed with canine osteoarthritis doesn’t mean your dog can no longer enjoy fun activities with you. How about you take a dip during the weekends? Swimming is a whole-body aerobic workout perfect for dogs with arthritis.
As a matter of fact, swimming is a lot better than walking because the latter involves limited motion range. Swimming, on the other hand, exercises a wider range of your dog’s muscle groups and burns more calories. When your dog is submerged, the water takes on most of his weight and therefore, those doggie paddles do not strain his joints.
While free swimming in the pool might seem fun, you might also want to try hydrotherapy, especially if you have an overweight pooch that needs to lose weight ASAP.
Can Arthritic Dogs Be Exercised Too Much?
“Short but often” is the best approach when it comes to exercising your arthritic pooch. Your dog should be exercising for 30 minutes daily, even if it is split up into 10-minute increments. Several short walks every day is preferable to a long hike once a week. Infrequent intense exercise will only cause undue stress on the joints and hurt the spine.
Bear in mind that the walk is for your dog’s best interest, not for you. So, be patient and let your pooch rest and always keep an eye out for signs of exhaustion. If your dog is trudging behind you on your way home, you may need to give your dog a good day or two of rest and cover less distance next time.
How Do I Know My Dog Has Arthritis?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, one out of five dogs develop osteoarthritis and while it is commonly diagnosed in geriatric canines, it can occur in young dogs as well. Some dogs, particularly large and giant breeds, are already showing signs of the disease between ages one and three. Based on these statistics, this degenerative illness is something that all pet parents should prepare for because there is an 80% chance that your dog may acquire it, too.
But the thing is, dogs do not express pain the same way we do. Our canine companions do not complain about their discomfort unless the pain has gone severe. That said, you need to be on the lookout for subtle behavioral changes, loss of muscle mass, limping, and reduced movements. All these signs warrant a trip to the vet ASAP.
What Happens to Old Arthritic Dogs?
Leisure walks are still possible for senior dogs with arthritis. Even if your dog can’t walk that far anymore, I can assure you that he will still love being outdoors with his favorite human! Bring some coffee and sit on a bench while your beastfriend takes in a new battery of smells.
As discussed earlier, there is no cure for this long-term condition. You can only help slow down the progression of the disease. If your beloved pet reaches Stage 4, you may want to consider humane euthanasia, especially when all options to reduce pain and distress have been exhausted.
Frequently Asked Questions
Roughhousing with other dogs at the park is an example of uncontrolled exercise. Dogs with mild arthritis may not feel pain when playing with others due to the adrenaline rush but the thing is, the inflammation resulting from arthritis will flare up after playtime. You may find your dog yapping once you get home or the following day.
High-impact exercises, such as jogging, running, jumping, and long-distance hiking, are discouraged for arthritic dogs. Even a simple game of Frisbee is not recommended as it places increased force on the joints.
Canine osteoarthritis is chronic and incurable, but there are ways to manage its symptoms and slow its progression, such as physical therapy, dietary changes, NSAIDs, and pain medications. Early detection and treatment go a long way. Most importantly, you need to keep Sniffer moving! Arthritic canines will benefit from controlled exercises, such as walking and swimming.