Exercise for arthritic pets
Exercise is a very important part of treating pets with arthritis. Exercise helps maintain muscle strength and increases comfort and flexibility of the joints. Exercise also aids in weight loss, another important aspect of managing arthritis. Exercising the arthritic pet can be very challenging because they are already in pain to some degree. Therefore we recommend specific ways of exercising your pet.
First, before you start any exercises, help your pet “warm up” by applying warm compresses to the affected joint(s). This can be achieved by using a warm wash cloth or towel and holding it in place for a minute or two. During this warm up period, passive range of motion exercises should be performed for an additional five minutes to help relax the joints and promote blood flow to the muscles. Start at the foot and work your way up the leg, gently flexing and extending each joint. It is important not to go further than your pet will comfortably allow. Passive range of motion exercises should be done for 10-15 repetitions two to three times per day. The following video demonstrates these exercises on the rear leg.
Once your pet has had an adequate warm up period, then you can start the actual exercises. For our arthritic pets, we recommend to start off slow. Over time, we want to work our way up to longer duration of exercise. Slow, controlled leash walks are a very good exercise to begin with. Try to avoid any sudden spurts of speed or high impact exercises. Initially start out with 5 to 10 minute controlled leash walks. Your pet may only be able to walk for 2 to 3 minutes at a time, but that is ok. As your pet gets more comfortable and stronger, increase the duration of the leash walks every other week.
Other types of exercises that are very effective include swimming, stairs, and sit and stand exercises. Walking on different types of surfaces, such as sand, soft soil, or on inclines also helps increase muscle strength. Start out with low repetitions for each exercise, and perform these twice daily initially. As your pet gains strength and comfort, slowly increase the number of repetitions performed each time.
Finally, a “cool down” period of stretching helps keep your pets limber and more comfortable. This can be accomplished by doing the passive range of motion exercises. Flex or extend the joint to the point when your pet starts to show very mild discomfort, and then hold the joint in that position for 5 to 10 seconds. When the stretching is finished, apply an ice pack to any sore joint. If your pet is excessively stiff or sore the following day, then decrease either the duration of the exercise or the number of repetitions. Exercise should never be performed to the extent that it is painful to your pet.