Friday, August 15, 2014

Winter Exercises for the Stiff and Sore Pet

Why is it a surprise that each year, there is a winter, it is cold and our pet's joints end up unhappy.  It's the same each year at Christmas time too - when suddenly we have to go out and buy (or if you are creative, make) your gifts for the ones you love. Why are we unprepared for these seasons?  Human nature, is my guess!

So it is now winter here in Wollongong - the morning and nights are cold (well down to 8 degrees Celsius, which is cold for us), and the days are either chilly or nice.  Even with the short days, and early darkness,  it is important to remember that joints are meant to be moving, not lying still.

Keeping joints mobile is extremely important.  

Up and Over - keep the muscles and joints moving

Protecting them with non impact exercises and joint protectants is vital to long term pain free joints. 

Check ups isn't always child's play.
Sometimes a real vet needs to play too.

A winter check up for your best friend (whether cat or dog) is vital, especially if they are getting on a bit in years.  It is estimated that one in five dogs, and as many as one in three cats will have some signs of degenerative joint disease when examined.

 Animals will not cry or whimper with joint pain, so DO NOT wait for this sign. 

At Russell Vale Animal Clinic, our "arthritis checks" not only includes a discussion of the supportive medications that are available, we also  discuss with you the combination of physical therapy exercises that are best suited to your pet.

Yes, this does involve the "E" word. 

Exercise is the most important thing that all arthritis management programs at Russell Vale Animal Clinic  revolve around, NOT medication. Of course, we do use medication, but to rely on this alone is not in the best interest of your pet.

As a vet, I try to formulate the right program for each individual dog, as what may suit one (increased walking and aerobic conditioning), may not suit the other ( low impact movement of joints).

I also try to remember that it isn't just the joints we are needing to protect, but the muscles and ligaments around them - when one fails, the others soon follow. If your joints aren't as mobile as they should be, then your gait will be shortened, and your muscles that used to cope with the full stride, will waste away. 

It is also important to remember that not all limping pets are in pain, but all painful pets limp. But would you know the difference? 

 It is only with a full veterinary check up that we can tell.  Again,  using my own dog Piper as an example - she was limping on her right hind leg because she had hip dysplasia with no osteoarthritis, and pain relief did not improve her gait (it made us feel better though). 

Another example would be the dog with cruciate ligament rupture - these guys need surgery to reconstruct the joint, not pain medications.

To find the videos on some of the exercises I list below , you can visit my All About Joints page. 

Thanks to Piper (our dog) and Tegan (our vet nurse) for showing off some of these exercises.  If you need to know more, you can book your pet in for a FREE arthritis check, which we offer from 1st July to 30th of September each year.

A nice massage

Never underestimate the benefit of massaging the tired muscles of the shoulders and the back legs.  Warming up the muscles with warm towels is essential BEFORE you start. 

Gentle fingers rubbing in a circular motion the muscles will improve blood flow and muscle mass.

The garbage bin lid!

You could invest in a proper wobble board, but an upside garbage bin lid is also suitable for short term treatments.  These help improve balance, and awareness of limb position.

For us, we would call it strengthening the "core". 

You place your pet's front feet on the lid, and gently rotate the lid, forcing your pet to contract and relax muscles to remain "balanced".  Support your pet through out this.  Twenty repetitions and then you can go onto the back legs if needed.

Another similar exercise you can do is "hip tapping", which is tapping your pet's hip forcing them to place weigh on one leg, then other leg (similar to us changing our main standing leg).

Ice packs or warm packs?

Which one depends on your pet.  Some pets find the ice cold packs soothing, whereas others love the warmth.  Either way, make sure you do not burn your pet.

Always make sure that there is fabric between the ice/heat pack and the skin, and try it on yourself first so you know whether it is going to burn or freeze. If there is any sign of discomfort in your pet, then stop.

Primary Floor exercises and Passive Range of Motion

I have to admit, that these are the most common types of exercises I recommend.

Standing Resistance - These are great for those who are weak in the front or back legs.  Taking it slow, whilst your pet is standing, apply light pressure either between the shoulder blades or hips. Ideally, your pet should be trying to push back or "resist" your pressure.
Standing Resistance - front legs
Standing Resistance - Pelvis

One leg standing - Lifting the leg opposite to the one you are wanting to strengthen, inand holding it for 10 seconds.  Stop after 2-3 repetitions.  This will increase the pet's range of motion.

One leg standing -

Sit to stand - As it says, you are asking your pet to stand from a sitting position (similar to our lunges). This will help build back muscle mass.

Cavaletti Rails - Having rails placed a set distance apart on the ground, will help increase the range of motion in your pet's joints.  Start off with rails on the ground, with the distance the same as height of your pet's elbow. A couple of repetitions, and each day, adjust the poles to get the stride you are looking for.

The scrunchie - Something as simple as a young girls hair scrunchie can get your pet's legs moving. I am sure you have all seen the dog with a bandage on their foot, and they busily shake and shake their leg to get the thing off!  Or hold their foot up at a funny angle?  This is movement which is what we are looking for.

Swimming - is often talked about for great low or non impact exercise, but it isn't just letting it go free in a swimming pool. The height of the water is dependant on what you wanting to achieve.

 If it is to improve their proprioception (or how they place their feet), then the water should be foot deep. If you want them to work the entire leg, then it should be knee deep.  The water should be a hip depth, if you are aiming for weight support during walking.

Finally, many of our pets do need medications to help them cope with their arthritis.... like us.  In many pets, exercises are not enough to keep the pain away. Visit us (or your local vet) for what is best for your pet.

Do you love our photos?  They are of our dog Piper, who is still recovering from her pelvis surgery.  For her, our goal is to prevent her from developing osteoarthritis, but doesn't she make a beautiful model?

Dr Liz Bellambi vet Russell Vale Animal Clinic
I am the mad Dr Liz from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.  We are for happy, healthy pets, always. 

Thank you for caring about your pet.  Vets like me need pet owners like you.

PS Thanks to Tegan and Piper for posing for the photos.

Keep an eye out for the next post or two as I will share some exciting new information that I heard about at a seminar at the University of Sydney vet school. 

Exciting times ahead for combatting the pain our pets feel in their joints - will there be a better way of doing it?  We hope so!