As the weather gets colder our pets with arthritis seem to stiffen up and become less mobile. Why is this?
There is no conclusive evidence but it is suspected not to be due to the decrease in temperature but is more likely the change in barometric pressures associated with winter weather. This article will give you advice about maintaining joints during winter but I also advise you to check out the article living with arthritis which gives great tips for dogs with arthritis.
In winter we all tend to stay indoors especially when we have days and days of rain. Maintaining your pet’s exercise during winter can be difficult especially with shorter days and poor weather. If your pet doesn’t get the walks they usually get, you might need to find other ways of exercising them. Muscle strength is very important in assisting with joint health as it offers dynamic stabilisation for the joints. Exercise is also important in maintaining cartilage. Because blood vessels cannot carry nutrients deep into the cartilage, cartilage must get its nutrients and remove its waste by movement of the joint. Movement keeps the fluids flowing into the joint cartilage, keeping it alive. Hence the importance of exercise.
Hydrotherapy is a great way to exercise in an environment where there is decreased weight bearing. This spares the joint and works the muscles. The underwater treadmill is especially effective at activating those lazy muscles. This lasts for a period of time when they are outside the treadmill. For this reason regular maintenance in the underwater treadmill together with daily walks gets the best results for muscle building. All animal hydrotherapy centres have heated water and during winter it can be as warm as 28-32 degrees. They will also offer industrial hair dryers to get your pet dry and warm afterwards.
Below are some basic exercises to maintain your pet this winter. For a more extensive home therapeutic exercise programme, contact your local rehab vet. They will assess where your pet is weak and tailor-make an exercise programme ideally suited for your pet.
With more muscle we have more stable joints and thus less pain.
i) Bounces : 3 x daily (20 bounces)
Stand your pet with their feet hip-width apart and support your pet around his hips. Gently bounce your pet up and down so he has to bear weight on his hindlimbs. Your pet may tire very quickly and sit down. Allow your pet to rest and then continue the reps.
ii) Weight shifting: 3x daily (20 x from side to side)
Stand your pet with his feet hip width apart and support your pet around his hips. Shift his weight from side to side and then front to back.
iii) Sit-to-stands 3 x daily (5 reps)
Ask your pet to sit and then take a step back calling him so he stands up. If he sticks one leg out to a side make him sit with that side up against the wall. He will use his muscles properly when his legs are underneath him.
Make sure you provide your pet with a soft but firm bed. This will help support the bones and joints allowing your pet to rest comfortably. One can also try heated mats or pet pads that apply therapy while your pet sleeps e.g. magnetic therapy pet pad .
Make sure your pet is warm and lying in a draft-free area.
Raise the food and water bowls so it is easier for your pet to eat and drink.
Make sure the floor is not slippery where your pet eats and drinks.
Arthritis is more of a problem in pets that are overweight. Ask your vet about specific low calorie food for your pet or consider a specific joint diet with added Omega’s and joint supplements. Remember to decrease their calorie intake if you have shortened their walks in winter. Many pets and owners put on a few kg’s during winter and this can have serious effects on their joints and mobility.
Winter is the time to make sure you are providing all the precursors for healthy cartilage. There are many natural supplements that may help your pet ranging from chondroitin and glucosamine to natural pain killers and anti-inflammatories. Some examples of products:
Keep warm and keep moving!
© Dr. Megan Kelly 2013
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