What is arthritis?
Arthritis is not solely a human disease. Both dogs and cats can suffer from arthritis. Arthritis or degenerative joint disease is generally defined as “inflammation of the joints”. There are several different types and causes of arthritis and it has become to be used as kind of a catch-all phrases to signify painful joints.
What causes arthritis in my pet?
Many different factors may allow arthritis to develop in your pet:
- Trauma to the joint through prior injuries, breaks or sprains to the bone or ligaments
- Developmental conditions such as elbow or hip dysplasia
- Congenital disorders such as luxated patella
- Inflammatory joint disease such as Lyme disease
What can be done to relieve the pain of arthritis?
There are many prescription and over-the-counter medications for dogs and cats that can help alleviate the pain of arthritis. If you think your pet is showing signs of arthritis, you should discuss a treatment plan with your veterinarian.
You can also help address the chronic inflammation that is the root cause of arthritis in their diet in several ways:
- Reducing inflammatory foods (processed foods, grains, wheat, sugars) and replacing them with whole foods.
- Add Omega-3 oils which have been found to help balance the fats in your pet’s diet and reduce inflammation
- Add foods high in anti-oxidants such as blueberries, goji berries and turmeric that can help prevent cell damage.
How does exercise help arthritis?
While arthritis affects senior pets most often, it can strike younger pets, so it’s important to keep to a regular exercise routine from the start. Exercise helps keep the muscles, tendons and ligaments around your pet’s joints healthy and strong. Exercise also promotes a normal range of motion, helping to prevent stiffness in the joint. It stimulates the production of high-quality joint fluid to lubricate the joint and keep the cartilage healthy, but most importantly, exercise helps keep your pet slim and fight off obesity. That extra weight puts added stress on the inflamed joints, making it even more painful. Lastly, exercise can induce the body to release “feel good hormones” like endocannabinoids (endorphins) that can help with pain.
What exercises are safe for arthritic pets?
Any low-impact exercise that helps strengthen the muscles is beneficial. Just like humans, walking is probably the best overall exercise, but you can mix in swimming, walking up and down stairs or slow jogging. The exercise should be geared to your pet’s physical condition, don’t start out to fast and injure them.
Try to put a little added focus on the weak spots. For instance, if your dog has arthritis in the rear hips, try to do some exercises to strengthen those joints such as hill work or squats (yes dogs can do squats by walking under a low fence). Water treadmill therapy can also be beneficial in strengthening a weaker joint as it allows them to exercise but alleviates some of the joint stress.
Most importantly, the exercise program you design for your pet must be consistent in order for them to reap the full benefits. That means every day, not just weekends.
As with any exercise program, double check with your pet’s veterinarian before you start.