Exercise is the single most important—and easiest—thing owners can do to help maintain their dogs’ joint health. Exercise does several things. Movement helps pump synovial fluid—think of that as biological grease—into the joint to lubricate and help keep the cartilage healthy. That has some pain-reduction properties, too, so dogs will be more willing to exercise. Regular exercise also helps keep dogs at a healthy weight, or even better, slightly under the ideal which takes the pressure off the joints.
Exercise for Senior Dogs
Aged athletes may not be able to run as fast, jump as high, or play as long as in their youth, but they still enjoy these activities in a modified version. Instead of a marathon walk, stroll for ten minutes at the dog’s pace. Roll the ball or drag the tug toy so the older animal can chase without needing to leap. Some dogs enjoy playing a type of canine soccer with exercise balls created just for that purpose.
Swimming is an ideal exercise for joint-challenged canines. The water’s buoyancy relieves stress on the joints so dogs can still exercise their muscles and joints without doing further damage. Body temperature water—about 102 degrees—helps loosen the body and relieves pain, too. Many retriever-type dogs adore the water, so a hot tub or swimming pool works well in good weather. Small dogs can paddle in the bathtub. Simply fill the tub with warm water that allows just their toes to touch and encourage them to paddle about for 5 to 10 minutes every other day until they build up stamina. Eventually a twenty-minute daily session works wonders for joint issues in dogs.
For owners who don’t have swimming facilities or dogs that hate the water, a gentle walk can also be helpful. Again, start slow and encourage dogs to walk short distances at first while slowly increasing the length and the speed of the walk. You might start with a trek down the driveway to the mailbox and back, and then extend it to a tour through the back yard. A canine hike around the block also gives sniffing opportunities that can reward reluctant dogs who like to practice couch potato technique. Start with 5 to 10 minute outings once or twice a day, and build up to a twenty minute walk at least once a day—twice daily would be better.
Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, consultant to the pet care industry and the award winning author of 23 pet care books.