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It's not uncommon for members of the family to experience the pain and stiffness of arthritis -- and that goes for your non-human family members as well. Up to 30 percent of pets may experience arthritis symptoms that limit their ability to move comfortably. If your pet hobbles instead of walks, prefers sitting to standing, and has become a spectator instead of a participant, he may need some help getting his quality of life back. Fortunately, exercise can go a long way toward getting your pet back on his feet again.
What is arthritis? Arthritis isn't one particular disease; instead, it's a blanket term for joint pain -- joint pain which may stem from a wide range of health problems. Some pets develop rheumatoid arthritis due to autoimmune conditions, for instance, while certain breeds of dogs are particularly prone to a form of arthritis called hip dysplasia. But for most older dogs, "arthritis" means osteoarthritis. In this condition, the protective layer of cartilage within the joints wears out and breaks up. This degeneration allows the bone ends to rub together painfully.
How can you recognize the telltale signs of arthritis? You may notice that your dog:
Arthritis doesn't just cause pain for your dog. The enforced lack of motion can allow his muscles to deteriorate and his weight to climb to unhealthy levels.
If your dog is limping around the house (when he moves at all), you might assume that making him move those painful joints will only make his discomfort worse. But the truth is that gentle, light exercises can help preserve or even improve his long-term joint function. It can also help your pet maintain his muscle mass, weight, and sense of balance. Best of all, the time your dog spends with you will lift his spirits even as it improves his health.
Of course there's a right way and wrong way to exercise a dog suffering from arthritis. Make your first step a consultation with your veterinarian, who will examine your dog and recommend specific kinds of exercises. Many arthritic dogs can benefit from low-impact exercises such as:
Swimming can offer huge benefits even for arthritic dogs. The water supports the body, taking the weight off of the joints and allowing your pet to get the most out of his exercise session. Ask your vet whether the clinic offers hydrotherapy, a form of supervised exercise therapy which combines a water-filled tank with a treadmill.
Short, easy walks can help your dog stay mobile. Start with brief ventures around the yard or neighborhood-- whatever your pet seems to tolerate. As your pet moves on to more demanding exercises, you'll want to keep up these daily walks as a gentle warm-up for the joints.
If your dog is doing well with gentle walking, try taking him out on an easy, level trail for a more extended hike. Let's your pet's comfort level be your guide. Keep an eye on your pet's symptoms following the hike so you'll know whether to try a less ambitious journey next time.
Once your dog's joints are properly warmed up, try playing some simple games of fetch or tug-of-war with him. Even elderly dogs may still be puppies at heart.
Exercise can complement other techniques for managing your dog's arthritis. With your vet's blessing, try supplements containing fish oils, glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, or other dog-friendly anti-inflammatory agents. You might even look into advanced techniques such as acupuncture or cold laser therapy depending on the severity of your dog’s arthritis. Whatever steps you take, you're likely to find that your dog is taking those steps more easily!
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