Exercises for dogs with arthritis
10 Aug, 2017
Dogs with arthritis can benefit from therapeutic exercise that owners can perform at home. Exercise combined with massage, range of motion exercises, joint mobilisation, and stretching can maintain dogs’ mobility and effectively manage their pain. While some manual techniques (like range of motion, stretching and joint mobilisation) are best performed by a qualified therapist, therapeutic exercise can easily be performed at home or incorporated into the dogs’ daily walk.
The goal of therapeutic exercise is to improve muscle control around the affected joint including:
- Strengthening the muscles
Strengthening the muscles that supporting the affected joints helps absorb shock and minimise fatigue related injury.
- Improving fine motor control and proprioception
Maintaining the dog’s perception of the position of their muscles and limbs helps maintain mobility and the dog’s normal gait.
- Improving joint mobility
Maintaining the dog’s joint mobility helps to normalise gait patterns and reduces the likelihood of compensatory muscle tension and potential strain.
Home exercises for dogs with arthritis
Here are some simple exercises that can be performed at home to help dogs with arthritis. Before starting an exercise programme with your dog, check with the vet if there are any contraindications for your dog performing these exercises.
Regular walks to build dog muscles
Dogs with arthritis need to be walked daily – even two short walks is beneficial. Regular walking maintains muscle strength and function. It also stimulates the circulatory and lymphatic systems to assist in lubricating the muscles and joints.
Adding resistance to the dog’s walk aids in building muscle tone. You may consider walking the dog through longer grass or wet sand. The dog needs to work a little harder on these surfaces and this helps strengthen muscle.
Hill walking for muscle strength and co-ordination
Walking up, down and sideways across hills is beneficial for dogs with arthritis as it helps to strengthen muscles and maintain balance and co-ordination. (See blog http://www.fullstride.com.au/blog/exercise-to-build-your-dog-muscles )
Walking uphill activates the dog’s hindquarters, so it is beneficial for dogs with arthritis in their hips or back legs. When the dog walks uphill, they extend their hip joint and activate the gluteals and hamstring group of muscles for propulsion. These muscles support the hip joint. Uphill walking also increases range of motion of the stifle and tarsal joints, thereby also activating the muscles that support them.
Walking downhill is good for dogs with arthritis in the shoulder and front legs. Downhill walking activates the muscles of the shoulder and chest stabiliser muscles to apply braking forces.
Walking across the slope, aids general balance and co-ordination while also providing muscle strengthening benefits.
Walking over unusual surfaces for proprioception
Please avoid slippery surfaces like wet concrete or stones as dogs are not able to get satisfactory friction with the ground which increases the risk of a slip or trip. Use surfaces around the house and yard like pebbles, gravel, grass, bark, concrete, timber (boardwalks), or stones. Walking over unusual surfaces aids co-ordination as the dog needs to adjust their gait and placement of their limbs to accommodate the different surfaces.
Sit to stand exercises to strengthen the dog’s back legs
For dogs with arthritis in the back legs (hip, stifle or tarsus), asking the dog to sit squarely on their hocks and then move into a stand position is beneficial for strengthening the muscles supporting the hind leg.
Walking over obstacles for joint range of motion
Asking the dog to walk over a set of rails, increases the flexion and extension of a number of joints thereby exercising the surrounding muscles. The degree of joint motion and muscle activation depends on the height of the rails.
You can make obstacles at home using the handles of broom or garden tools. (See blog https://www.fullstride.com.au/blog/5-ways-to-use-a-broom-to-improve-your-dog-s-fitness )
You can also purchase cavaletti rails from sporting equipment suppliers. (I use Hart Sports for my supplies https://www.hartsport.com.au/
2-Up exercises to build muscle
For dogs with arthritis in the hips or hind legs, asking the dog to put their front feet on a raised surface helps to strengthen the muscles in the back legs. As the dog’s muscle strength increases, you can increase the intensity of the exercise in a number of ways:
- raise the height of the platform
- use a less stable platform such as a K9FitBone (See https://fitpawsusa.com/ )
- ask dog to shift weight side to side (you can use a food lure)
- ask the dog to lift a front foot which places more weight onto the contralateral hind leg
For dogs with arthritis in the shoulders or front legs, then ask the dog to put their back legs on a raised surface.
Swimming and hydrotherapy for muscle strength
Aquatic exercises like swimming and underwater treadmill walking relieves pressure on the dog’s joints while strengthening muscles and stimulating the circulatory system.
In Brisbane, there are a number of hydrotherapy centres including:
If a hydrotherapy centre is not available to you, then asking the dog to walking through water is also beneficial for building muscle and assisting with maintaining proprioception of the limbs. The water adds resistance to their movement. Increase the depth of the water, to increase the resistance.
How to start home exercises for dogs?
When starting home exercises with a dog with arthritis, remember to start slowly. Work at low resistance to begin and look for signs of the dog become fatigued. Repetitive loading of the joint can stress already damaged cartilage.
Design your exercise regime to incorporate a range of activities. Cross training reduces repetitive actions on the joints and reduces the risk of injury. It also keeps the exercises fun for you and your dog.
What challenges do you face trying to exercise a dog with arthritis? Leave me a comment here or on the Full Stride Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/FullStrideCanineMassageTherapy/ ).
For assistance devising a suitable home exercise plan for your dog, please give me a call or contact me at http://www.fullstride.com.au/contact/
Until next time, enjoy your dogs.
You may also like:
Edge-Hughes, L 2007 “Hip and Sacroiliac Disease: Selected Disorders and Their Management with Physical Therapy” Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice 22:183-194
Millis, D.L, Levine, D & Taylor R.A (ed) (2004) Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy, Elsevier Inc, Missouri USA
Richards, J., Holler, P., Bockstahler, B., Dale, B., Mueller, M., Burston, J., … & Levine, D. 2010. “A comparison of human and canine kinematics during level walking, stair ascent, and stair descent.” Wien Tierarztl Monatsschr, 97, 92-100.