As dogs age, as many as 65% of them will develop arthritis. Having inflamed joints can make many forms of exercise painful for your dog, so what can you do to help?
Walking your dog, even with arthritis, has benefits for your friend. As with us humans, walking is a healthy, low-impact form of exercise that helps with weight control. Walking can also help loosen stiff joints – joints that would stiffen even more with a sedentary lifestyle.
Here are some tips for you to continue to walk your dog so that he is as comfortable, happy, and healthy as possible.
Watch your dog’s weight
If your dog is overweight, the excess pounds put extra strain on his joints, making for increased pain while exercising. Increased pain can lead to decreased mobility, which leads to more weight gain, so that you end up with a vicious cycle. Speak with your vet about a nutrition plan for your dog to take care of any extra pounds.
Avoid extreme temperatures
Taking your arthritic dog on a walk on cold or wet days might be more painful for him, so make those walks shorter on those days. If you can, go out at a time of day with a more moderate temperature, rather than early mornings or late evenings.
Extreme heat also has its risks, as heat exhaustion can affect any dog, no matter what his health condition.
Bring water for your pet and your phone. If you sense that the walk is proving to be too much for your dog, you can always call for a ride home. You don’t want to push your dog to levels of added discomfort or stress.
Make his favorite spots easy to access
Where possible, make it easier for your dog to get around inside your home. If your dog likes to cuddle up with you on your bed or the sofa, get a dog ramp so that your friend doesn’t have to jump. Jumping puts added strain on his legs – this includes getting in and out of the car.
Provide mobility support if needed
Some arthritic dogs can benefit from mobility aids such as slings, dog wheelchairs, harnesses, or a rolled-up towel beneath their upper body for added support when walking.
It’s best to avoid collars for arthritic dogs, as collars put a strain on the neck. Retractable leashes are another thing to avoid since you can’t control the speed of your dog’s pace as easily as you can with a standard leash.
Warm his joints before going out
One way you can support your friend on cold days is to apply a moist compress or massage the joints to warm them up before walking. Both methods will also help improve the blood circulation to the muscles in older dogs.
You could also wrap a warm towel straight from the dryer (as long as it isn’t too hot to touch) around your dog’s legs. Heating pads work well, too, with a towel between the pad and your dog and making sure the pad isn’t too hot.
Take things slowly
You don’t want to rush your friend – walk at his pace. Rather than one long walk, take shorter walks – several short walks are just as effective for keeping up muscle strength.
If your dog gets tired or seems unable to go much further, don’t force him to keep going. You want walks with your friend to be as pleasurable as possible. Walks are part of your time together and are meant to be special times for your pet.
If your dog starts whining, sitting and refusing to move, or hanging back on the leash, he’s most likely had enough.
Add in other gentle exercises
Other activities that put minimal stress on the joints can help keep your dog flexible and help with weight control.
Swimming is the top choice for many dogs: you can go to a safe pool, pond, or lake. Make sure the water isn’t too cold and that your dog is a strong swimmer, however. In addition, ask your vet about local pet rehab facilities. Some of these locations have underwater treadmills that allow your pet to get a cardio workout without putting weight on his joints.
Look at treatment options
Although there isn’t a cure for arthritis, some forms of treatment are available to help ease your dog’s pain. Check with your vet for any supplements or medication that could help. Laser therapy, acupuncture, and other methods can help decrease inflammation and, therefore, joint pain.