By Robyn Lowe of PPG corporate partner Canine Arthritis Management
Exercising and the Arthritic Dog
I would like everyone to meet Daisy, the apple of my eye. She’s a Chihuahua cross Jack Russell terrier and is extremely active for her size (2kg). Unfortunately Daisy has osteoarthritis (OA) in her hips; exercise has changed a little now. I now know how hard it is to get it right, not over do it so they are sore the next day but not to restrict exercise so much that you ruin their fun!
Exercise can be a bit daunting when you have an arthritic dog, every case is individual and every dog will have different triggers for their pain. Here are some pointers on how to manage and find out what works best for you.
- Complete a LOAD score with your local vet or veterinary nurse. This will give you an assessment of how mild or severe your dog’s OA is but may also highlight to you when your dog struggles the most.
Triggers could be cold and wet weather, rough terrain, distance of walk or perhaps lying down after excessive exercise. The results may surprise you! The LOAD questionnaire, created by The University of Liverpool, can be found here.
2. Try not to overdo it. In general little and often works better than one large walk a day. Irregular exercise, for instance a once weekly 1 hour dog walk, with 5 minutes a day the rest of the time, will also negatively impact your dog both physically and mentally.
Exercise isn’t just a physical activity; dogs get loads of mental stimulation from meeting other dogs (if they like them), sniffing smells and generally exploring a little.
3. If your dog is arthritic it may be worth getting some kind of warning to other dog owners to prevent other dogs being too rough and causing pain.
A lead or bandana can help with this and may even trigger a conversation with other dogs owners that could help them recognise changes in their own dog and act on them! Win-win!
4. If your dog needs help getting up, or you think that your walk may have uneven surfaces that you will need to help support them over, purchase some kind of support sling or harness and take on the walk with you. This will help avoid any nasty slips or falls that will further degenerate the arthritic joints.
5. Keep your dog warm on the walks. We know it’s important to get daily exercise, but some days seem so cold and bitter we know they will have a negative impact on our dogs with OA. Keep the walk on these days a little shorter, don’t allow them to get too cold and warm them up and dry them off afterwards. A quality coat that covers sensitive areas like the neck, back, hips and abdomen is well worth the money! Take a look at one of favourites.
6. Once home from your wet muddy walk you may need to bath them. Try to have something set up ready so they don’t need to wait outside in the cold while you prepare their pamper session! Don’t allow them to slip in the bottom of a bath or shower cubicle, use a towel or bath mat to avoid them slipping.
Slips and falls can cause micro-trauma to the joints that can ultimately lead to worsening condition. If your dog isn’t a fan of being bathed, a lick pad on the side of a bath or shower can help distract them, making it more fun for them and less stressful for you!
7. When drying them, try not to push or rub too vigorously on their painful joints as this could also be quite uncomfortable.
8. Consider other forms of exercise such as indoor retrieval and scent games, hydrotherapy, or even your local indoor agility.
You don’t have to go whizzing round an agility circuit at high speed – simply engaging them mentally and letting them trot over a few ground poles, around very wide weave poles (you don’t want to force them to curve their spines too much) and encouraging obedience will provide exercise and mental stimulation at the same time!
Well, I hope these pointers help. Just remember that your dog and your situation is individual to you. Some things may work for others that simply don’t work for you. The main thing is keep them moving, gently. Stimulate them in mind and body… It will help.
About the Author
Robyn Lowe of PPG corporate partner Canine Arthritis Management is a Registered Veterinary Nurse who qualified with a degree from Myerscough School of Veterinary Nursing in Preston, England, in 2016 and started her RCVS Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing in 2018. She has worked on a volunteer basis with animals since she was four and her passion for the profession has only grown since then. She spent years of her life at the Horse and Pony Protection Association (HAPPA) and later at a local rescue and rehabilitation yard. Here she met a veterinary surgeon who inspired her, and went for her first work experience in 2008 at their busy mixed practice. She has also travelled to Thailand to volunteer her knowledge and skills working with elephants, horses, goats, pigs, water buffalo, cats and dogs. She loves osteoarthritis clinics and using multimodal approaches to managing the condition, stating that it can be extremely rewarding seeing both owners and patients travel this extremely difficult journey together to improve quality of life for their pet.