Modifying exercise routines
Managing your dog's exercise levels is essential to the management of arthritis. We must remember that our dogs don’t have the forethought that hours of boisterous play, ball chasing or running off the lead is likely to cause them pain later. At the time they will be under the influence of endorphins and other pain relieving neurochemicals. The pain is likely to come later and will not be associated with the activity due to the time delay. This is well illustrated through clicker training theory. A click is an effective reward if done at the time of wanted behaviour. It will not be effective an hour after the wanted behaviour has occurred because it will not be associated.
With their inability to link activity with deterioration in pain later, we have to influence what they do.
As mentioned previously, there are countless presentations of arthritis, from very mild undetectable arthritis that does not affect their capabilities, to severe arthritis that debilitates their every move and their quality of life. Offering advice that can support such a wide spectrum of disease presentation is nigh on impossible, but there are some crucial points to understand when making an exercise plan.
MAKING AN EXERCISE PLAN
Every dog has different requirements but there are some crucial points to understand when making an exercise plan.
Dogs that like to chase balls will run through discomfort and moderate pain. Just because they can still chase balls doesn’t mean they should.
Consider what you do on your walks and be prepared to change. Stopping high-intensity games and replacing them with more mentally stimulating challenges, like hide-and-seek the ball may reduce the forces aggravating their vulnerable joints which may reduce their reliance on other pain relieving interventions like medications.
Dogs do not plan ahead and conserve energy for the journey home. They will walk until it is too painful or they are too weak.
Watch your dog on your walk and observe how fast or slow they are, are they dragging behind, have they become a bit wobbly, are they beginning to intermittently stumble or scuff their feet? If you see changes that indicate they are tired, starting to fatigue or beginning to have difficulties, turn around and head home sooner rather than later.
Dogs are loyal, and in their older years they are more so. They will walk where you walk and for as long as they can.
Be observant on walks not distracted by your mobile phone, your friends and everything else that is going on. Watch them walking with you, take note of stumbles, trips, trembles, distraction which may indicate they are fatiguing which is likely to lead to further harm. Take a break or head back home or to the car sooner than planned to prevent overdoing it.
Dogs have four legs and are very agile, but like us certain terrains can be harder to walk on than others, such as sand, stones, hills.
Be considerate when choosing where to walk; the surface and terrain could be too hard for your dog and is best avoided. Replacing a shingle beach with firm, predictable flat short grass will reduce the forces being placed through and aggravating arthritic joints and surrounding supportive muscle.
Understanding what terrains and surfaces negatively affect your dog can be trial and error. Be observant with how they cope with it and the effect it has on them later, i.e. are they more stiff later in the day and the day after. If so it is best avoided.
As a dog’s arthritis progresses they will lose strength, power, endurance and coordination and with this they lose the ability to negotiate obstacles like stairs, jump distances such as over ditches or small streams, and other activities that they once found easy. Negotiating steps, drops and leaps can be hazardous and lead to injuries on top of their arthritis.
If you have noticed a reduced capability and are in doubt whether they can manage a physical activity you would like to do together then best avoid it and not risk them injuring themselves further.
Dogs rarely vocalise, and generally tolerate moderate pain. As they get older, like us, ‘they don’t bounce’. So a trip, stumble or fall is likely to be painful even if they don’t show it. These painful events lead to a greater pain experience, and thus harder to control.
Ideally avoid obstacles, routes, activities that will be hazardous and that could lead to stumbles and falls. This will reduce the pressures placed on your dog and should lead to less acute flares (deterioration in their pain).