How much exercise is too much?
A range of conditions, illnesses and injuries can leave your dog facing mobility issues, giving you, as their owner, a tricky decision to make. Every dog needs regular exercise. But when a health concern is present, how much exercise is too much? The answer is different in every case, based on a range of factors from the nature of the injury to the breed and age of your dog. General advice can give you a rough idea on what’s right or wrong, but for the best results we are here to help, with personalised plans designed to get your four-legged friend in the best shape to lead a happy life.
Think what you’d want for yourself
We’re often asked if the best reaction to an injury or condition is to stop our dogs from exercising altogether until they’re recovered. Equally, without obvious signs of discomfort or pain, the temptation for some owners can be to continue with their normal routine and hope their dog shakes off what’s ailing them. But neither approach is ideal, and to understand why we can think about what happens when we get injured ourselves.
If you suffer a twisted ankle, the idea of going out walking or running isn’t very pleasant – it’d hurt, and if you limp or favour your other leg to compensate, you may end up with aches and pains in other areas due to unaccustomed stresses. On the other hand if you lie in bed for a week and don’t leave the house, your muscles will weaken and your joints will be less supported. Not only that, but most of us would be miserable – and we know that walks are vital for our dogs’ wellbeing, to release stress, stimulate the senses and interact with the world.
Exercise plans designed for your dog
The idea is to find the ideal point for exercise where a condition can heal, or with chronic issues stop worsening, without your dog becoming inactive. Where this point lies will depend on your pet, as every mobility concern is unique. We will investigate your dog’s condition and draw up a plan that tells you how often to exercise, for how long, and even on what terrain. We’ll also give you advice on how to get your dog active around the home, and mental stimulation games to ensure they’re switched on and stimulated. The aim is to keep both you and your pet happy and fit while their condition is being treated or managed.
To find out more you can chat to our team on PetsApp, speak to us in your local branch or book an appointment to see your vet at the earliest opportunity.
The importance of maintaining a healthy weight
For all dogs – and pets in general – it is crucial that they maintain a healthy weight and eat an appropriate diet. But this gains even more importance if they are suffering from mobility issues, as excess weight can worsen discomfort and pain, and put extra stress on joints. Making changes to your dog’s diet will not provide an instant cure and will not result in dramatic improvement in your dog’s condition. But it can lead to slow and steady change and help them to live a happier and more comfortable life.
How do I decide what to feed my dog?
There are a wide range of mobility diets available online and in supermarkets which support weight management and include supplements shown to aid joint function. However, it is important to note that there is no regulation of claims that are put on packaging, so it is important to avoid any diets which cannot demonstrate clinical trials with verified benefits.
We follow the principles of ACCLAIM for our recommendations:
A company name or established firm that you recognise.
Clinical experience, such as companies that invest in clinical trials and who publish data for respected journals.
Content – all ingredients should be clearly indicated on the label.
Label claims should be taken with a pinch of salt – if they sound too good to be true, they probably are. Any label suggesting they treat, cure or prevent arthritis is likely to be suspect.
Administration – the dose recommendation should be accurate and easy to follow.
I – an identification number should be provided to show it is possible to monitor product quality
Manufacturer information and ideally a link to their website should be provided.
How to modify your home to keep your dog comfortable
It’s common for us to use mobility aids such as crutches, or modify homes for elderly relatives as their ability to move around the home decreases. Occupational therapy is a field of medicine dedicated to assisting people to live full lives in the face of health issues. So it’s only natural that we take the same considerations with our dogs, and simple, inexpensive modifications can be hugely beneficial for recovery from injuries or the enjoyment of their golden years. While your dog may hide their discomfort, with diseases such as arthritis that cause both pain and reduced mobility, stairs, floor surfaces and even the height at which you place their food bowl all may begin to make life difficult for them without adjustment, and could cause existing conditions to deteriorate.
Tips to help them to live their best lives.
Think about flooring
Many homes have wood, laminate or tile flooring, particularly in areas such as kitchens, where dogs spend much of their time. Your dog’s foot pads aren’t designed to deal with smooth surfaces and they may slip and slide around – especially when they’re in a rush! This isn’t ideal at the best of times, but for dogs with mobility issues it can be particularly dangerous, as their muscles and joints stiffen and weaken, and their ability to recover from falls reduces.
Think about the route your dog usually takes around the kitchen and consider laying down matts or rugs to help them maintain their balance. You can also consider moving their bed, food or water to encourage them to spend more time in rooms with more stable flooring.
Sorting out stairs and steps
For dogs, climbing and descending stairs requires strength, coordination and balance – all of which will begin to fade as mobility issues worsen. Remember that if your dog seems to be speeding up as they tackle obstacles, it likely means they are attempting to build momentum and may be out of control. In cases of serious mobility issues, such as severe arthritis, the best solution is to avoid stairs altogether. Consider restricting access using a stair gate. However, this is not always an option. And it isn’t always realistic for an owner to carry their dog up and down stairs, either.
You can consider solutions such as placing ramps over steps to help dogs in and out of gardens, and harnesses are available to assist them in navigating stairs, too.
Dealing with dinner time
Mobility issues, and especially arthritis, will inevitably affect other parts of your dog’s body, as they compensate and work harder to avoid pain and discomfort – we frequently see that dogs with hip arthritis become very stiff and uncomfortable through their neck and shoulders. With this in mind, adapting a dog’s access to food and water through raising their bowls to roughly elbow height can reduce the difficulty of these activities. Feeling stable and comfortable will ensure that they still enjoy dinner time!
It’s important to note that large and giant breed dogs can suffer from gastric dilation volvulus – a potentially life-threatening disorder where the stomach fills with gas – when they feed from raised bowls. Raising their water bowls or using slow feeders may be a better solution.
Outside the home
Dogs are creatures of habit and tend to use the same routes to get to their favourite areas of the garden, including where they toilet, so it’s important to keep these paths clear and hazard-free. Dogs can become distressed if they are struggling to reach their toileting area as quickly as they are used to, as mobility issues slow them down. Keep an eye out for any discomfort.
Socialising with other dogs can become a problem, as the body stops reacting as swiftly in the hustle and bustle of play. You should watch your dog carefully in these situations to ensure that they are comfortable, and remove them if you think it’s necessary. We don’t want to avoid travelling by car, depriving our dogs of their favourite walking spots, but to ensure comfortable travel we can make some adaptations. It may be necessary to lift them in and out of the car, and if this isn’t practical ramps or steps can be purchased. It’s also important to provide a comfortable, supportive bed, as the unpredictable movement of cars can put strain on sore or arthritic joints.
It is always sad to see our dogs struggling more than they used to with their movements, but with a little help and some careful planning we can ensure their life is as happy as ever!
If you have any concerns about your dog’s mobility, contact our team either via PetsApp or at your local branch.