If your dog has recently been diagnosed with arthritis and has a little trouble getting around, you may worry about how to keep him entertained and active. He probably moves a little more slowly than he used to and may avoid certain activities such as running up and down the stairs. Or he may need extra support or special equipment to help with his mobility.
If you have a dog with arthritis, it is not a death sentence by any means. He can still have fun and be active with a little support. There are many ways you can keep your arthritic dog entertained by modifying his daily exercise routine. And, you can substitute some of his activities with games and puzzles that are easier for him and will engage his mind. Make sure he gets plenty of rest, especially in between activities. He may also benefit from supportive equipment, which will allow him to move more freely.
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Modified Exercise That Your Arthritic Dog Can Do and Enjoy
Ensuring that your arthritic dog continues to engage in daily activities not only adds to his entertainment and enrichment, but will also help improve his condition. The key to keeping your dog moving is to engage in low-impact exercise and movement. Monitor his pain level and consider creating a journal to document how he responds to different forms of exercise and duration. If your dog seems to resist doing something or clearly is struggling or limping more, stop and let him rest. Resting is the best remedy when your dog’s pain flares up.
To keep your arthritic dog entertained, mix up his exercise routine but be consistent with the duration and frequency. As an example, don’t go for three short walks during the week and then a long hike on the weekend. This will be very hard on his joints. Shorter periods of activity done several times a week are best. Be sure to check with your dog’s vet for recommendations regarding daily exercise. But in most cases, your dog should be able to continue his normal routine with modifications.
Walking is the Best Basic Exercise for an Arthritic Dog
If you have ever experienced a pulled back muscle or painful sciatica, your doctor probably gave you instructions for both rest and gentle walking once you moved past the acute stage. The same advice is great for arthritis. According to Mayoclinic.org, walking keeps the joints flexible, improves bone density, and reduces tiredness. We all know that sleepy, lazy feeling we can get from lying around too much. Our dogs are no different.
If your dog has been used to daily walks, you should be able to continue. But keep the time a little shorter and go for gentle walks around your neighborhood. To make it more interesting, take different routes each time, or drive your dog to a different neighborhood or small park.
Stay on flat, smooth surfaces that don’t have rocks or large ruts as this can really throw your dog’s gait off and cause pain. Pay attention to your dog’s energy and pain level. If daily seems too much, you may need to walk every other day to give him a day of rest in between walks.
Gentle Games of Fetch Can Still be Fun
You can still entertain your arthritic dog with a game of fetch but with some modifications. Fetch usually requires a lot of sprinting and jumping and can be really hard on joints. Minimize the jumping as much as possible and keep the distances short. Try to play on a soft surface such as grass or inside on a carpeted area.
One of my dogs is a Cattle Dog mix and she loves to jump up and catch tennis balls in her mouth. But she is beginning to develop some arthritis in her shoulders. She threw her right shoulder out of joint a couple of times after some brisk games of fetch, so I had to take it easier with her.
After a chiropractor adjusted her, we avoided playing fetch on hard, concrete surfaces (we had been playing in a local enclosed tennis court.) I found ways to play a more gentle game of fetch by rolling the ball a few feet on our carpeted living room floor. I also tossed it to her just above her head, so she could easily catch it without jumping. She was still entertained but without the hard impact on her shoulder joints.
Swimming is Probably the Best Exercise for Dogs with Arthritis
If your dog likes water, swimming is a great non-impact sport in the summer. Just make sure your dog knows how to step in and out of the pool at the shallow end and always stay with him! Getting him a dog life jacket with a top handle is a great way to help him in and out and ensure you can quickly grab him if he gets into trouble. If you don’t have a pool in your yard, check with local doggie daycare facilities which often have pools for dogs. You can also get a large portable pool that he can either swim or walk and splash around in.
According to a research study that was done in 2014 by ISRN Veterinary Science (see full article here on the NIH.gov website). The study was conducted by a team of veterinarians and scientific researchers who worked with 55 arthritic dogs over a period of 8 weeks. The dogs were allowed to swim two days a week during this period. The researchers commented in the introduction, “One of the most prevalent musculoskeletal disorders in canines is osteoarthritis (OA). Dogs with OA show clinical signs including lameness, increasing immobility, and muscle weakness, which can lead to a reduction in quality of life.” However, at the end of the study, they measured significant improvement for the group of dogs. They concluded, “These results show the beneficial effect that exercise has on patients with OA. Swimming appears to be a useful strategy for regaining movement and function in the OA joint.”
Games and Puzzles to Stimulate Your Dog’s Mind
Mental stimulation can be just as tiring and entertaining for an arthritic dog as physical exercise, especially if your dog is experiencing pain. Puzzle games that require pawing and thinking to get to the hidden treats are a great form of entertainment.
Sometimes I just give my dog her entire dinner by placing her kibble in a large plastic Kong with a heavy base. As she paws at it, the Kong will roll around and dispense the kibble from a couple of openings. She has fun with it and it takes about 10 minutes or more to get to her entire dinner.
You can also play the “hide the treats” game for mid-day snacks and scatter some dog cookies around the house. Be sure to see more about indoor games in my post, How to Keep Dogs Entertained in Winter and Prevent Boredom for more tips about keeping your dog stimulated.
Make sure your dog gets plenty of rest and a good nights sleep. Arthritis can be exhausting due to pain and the extra effort needed to run, walk, and move around. Your dog may want to keep going when he is out for a walk. Adrenaline will mask the pain, so he won’t notice. But when he comes back home, he may start to feel very sore or begin limping.
So, don’t let him overdo it. And make sure he has a really comfy, orthopedic bed so he can get a good night’s sleep. See this great L-shaped orthopedic suede bed by Furhaven at Amazon. It has easy entry and a washable cover. Furhaven beds and dog furniture have a good reputation for comfort and durability. An orthopedic bed will let your arthritic dog sleep in comfort and have sweet dreams!
Supportive Equipment to Extend Your Arthritic Dog’s Ability to Exercise
Everyday Items to Make Life Easier
There are many pieces of equipment that you can get for your dog to help reduce his fatigue so he will have more energy for the fun things in life. Simple, everyday items can include an elevated dinner and water bowl to reduce the need to bend over to eat and drink. Additionally, you can get non-skid rugs for slippery floors to help him maintain stability.
Carts and Stollers to Extend Outings
If you want to take your pooch on longer walks or when you go running, there are some amazing dog strollers and carts to enable you to do this. I love the Dog Stroller by Wooce featured on Amazon. This cart has very stable wheels that are doubled on the front. I especially like that it is low to the ground. This makes it easier for a large or medium sized dog to step in and out of the cart. The cart has screens all around for visibility and an opening at the top so your dog can stick his head out. It can be easily folded and placed in your car.
Ramps and Steps to Reduce Jumping
You may also need a ramp for your car or SUV if your dog is used to jumping into the cargo area or back seat. Both of my dogs still jump into the car, but lately, my smaller dog waits for me to assist her. She is 10 years old and needs a boost-up to get in. So, I plan to buy a ramp pretty soon since my dog seems to need it. I will probably purchase the Petsafe Happy Ride Folding Dog Ramp from Amazon. I have other Petsafe products such as their patio doggie door and think it is a good brand. The ramp can be folded up and placed into the back seat of your car.
There are also steps and shorter ramps to assist dogs to get on household furniture. I recently bought a bench for my bedroom and placed it at the end of the bed to help my dogs jump onto the bed. They love it and started to use it as soon as I set it up.
Summing it Up
Just because your dog has arthritis does not mean he or she cannot be entertained and have fun. You can easily modify your dog’s exercise routine. Additionally, you can offer more games and puzzles to stimulate his mind, ensure that he has plenty of rest, and extend his ability with supportive equipment.
Despite having some limited mobility, your sweet, furry pal can still have fun and play with you for many years to come!