5 Exercise Tips for Arthritic Pets


PetMD Editorial

Published Oct. 4, 2012
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The Cure for Achy Joints

Just because your pet has arthritis doesn't mean they are necessarily incapable of exercising. Staying active actually helps many arthritic pets that suffer from achy bones and joints. It is, however, vital you follow these five exercise tips before you begin an exercise routine with your pet.

1. Consult Your Veterinarian First

A veterinarian will be better able to assist you in combining of exercise, diet, and medications or therapies which are targeted for your pet's individual needs. A veterinarian can also help monitor your pet's progress and identify any serious changes in health.

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2. Go Low-impact

Light activities such as walking and swimming help strengthen muscles, keep ligaments and tendons flexible, prevent obesity and circulate blood to stiff joints. Keep them short but regular — 15-30 minutes of activities five days a week is a great start. Swimming is especially great for dogs with arthritis because the water supports much of the bodyweight and inhibits sudden excessive movements. Cats with arthritis, meanwhile, may not be as keen to get in the water but can participate in short sessions of gentle play. Just remember to avoid activities in which your dog or cat has to leap, jump, turn quickly or run. They can cause damage to your pet's joints.

3. Warm Up

A minute or two of walking or gentle playing before initiating low-impact exercise activities will help pets with arthritis move easier. It also helps reduce sprains, cramps, and muscle injuries as well as gradually increases their heart rate. If your pet is reluctant to start moving because of aching joints, try a little incentive like a small healthy treat or positive affection (petting, hugging, etc.). A positive exercise experience is a happy one.

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4. Cool Down

Cool down periods are just as important as warming up for exercise. As your pet completes the exercise routine, they may be all wound up — jumping, running, or rough-housing. This is not good and can in fact be harmful. Try to calm them down and gradually reduce their heart rate to an optimal resting place. Cooling down also reduces stiffness and soreness by assisting the removal of lactic acids in the body. Massaging during "cool downs" improves the stiffness and muscle pain associated with arthritis too.

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5. Watch for Signs of Exertion

Be sure to watch for heavy panting, pain or other signs of overexertion. If they do occur stop the activity immediately and consult a veterinarian. Pushing forward with the exercising can cause injury, especially if your pet isn't accustomed to a lot of activity.