With this cold weather here, you may start to notice your older pets becoming stiff and sore as the signs of set in. Just like us, as we get older ( and the dreaded cooler weather hits), arthritis can sneak up on our pets. You may not have realised – just like with us, pets can have physical therapy to help relieve the pain and prevent the progression of arthritis.
One of our lovely nurses Amy has studied physical therapy and has come up with some simple exercises you can do with your pet at home to help to prevent the progression of arthritis. And with the help of Amy’s beautiful Labrador Zara, we have created some videos to help demonstrate these easy techniques. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09jb7ELxJL8
Leash walking – A small and sometimes assisted walk a few times a day can help strengthen your pet’s muscles. It is important that you encourage your pet to walk and weight bear on all limbs evenly. This can be done by offering treats every time they use their sore leg/s.
Have your pet on a short lead so that you are in control of the speed. Make sure they do not get over excited by going for a walk. If that is the case, small walks in your yard or house may be better than walks outside of your yard to begin with.
Slopes, Stairs and Surfaces – if your pet is making progress with their leash walking slopes, stairs and new surfaces can be added to increase their muscle strength. It is important that you encourage your pet to walk in a slow and controlled manner. At first start with very small inclines as your pets strength and endurance improves, you can then increase the inclines and lengthen your treatment sessions.
For slopes: To strengthen the hind legs- walk straight up and zig zag down.
To strengthen front legs - zig zag up and walk straight down.
For stairs: You can encourage them to walk both up and down a few sets of stairs and slowly increase as they get stronger.
For surfaces: Different surfaces and textures can make walking more difficult for your pet. As your pet’s muscle strength improves you can start walking them on different surfaces, for example gravel/tiles/floorboards. This will add more of a challenge to your basic leash walk.
Sit to stand - Sitting to standing helps strengthen the stifle and muscles associated with the back legs. This exercise is generally very easy, especially with those fur babies that already sit on command. However, there are a few things you must focus on when practicing the sit to stand with your pet. Firstly, ensure your pet sits in a square position; this means both back legs must be tucked under their body. You can help position both legs under by asking your dog to sit and then put their legs into the correct position or ask them to sit along side a wall or into a corner. Once your pet is in the sit position, use a treat to lure/encourage them to push off using their back legs into a standing position. Repeat this move several times.
Stroking- Can be used to help calm and soothe your pet prior to and at the end of all treatment sessions. Animals that are anxious or not used to being touched will also benefit from stroking. Make sure you choose a quiet and comfortable area to begin.
To perform the stroking technique, use a gliding motion with your hands over any part of your pet’s body. Start from the head to the tail, top of the leg to the bottom of the leg, front leg, then back leg. Use slow and even strokes.
Effleurage- Is very similar to stroking however it is used to help reduce swelling. Start with some stroking before moving on to effleurage and ensure you are positioned in a quiet and comfortable area.To perform effleurage start stroking from the bottom of the limb/paw up to the top of the leg or area that is swollen. This will help push excess fluid up to lymphatics drainage points. Make sure you use even pressure and mold your hands to the limb. For small areas such as the face or a paw use your fingers/thumb.
Kneading - is a technique used to help relieve muscle fatigue, tightness and soreness. This is a great technique to use prior to further physical therapy exercises. To perform kneading use your thumbs/and or fingers and in a circular, rhythmic motion pushing the muscles inward and upward. Work clockwise with your right hand and anti clockwise with the left hand. Pressure should be applied and released as you go. Depth and speed can be adjusted according to your pet’s tolerance and needs.
Hot & cold therapy
Hot Therapy - The use of heat helps relieve pain, and is great to use where stiffness is apparent. Using heat packs before stretches and exercises and in-between sessions when your pet is stiff and sore is very beneficial.
At home you can use a wheat bag or something similar to carry out heat therapy. Apply the hot pack to the effected area for 15-20 minutes. Always make sure the hot pack does not come in direct contact with your pet’s skin. Use a towel wrapped around the hot pack and test it on yourself before applying to your pet. Always make sure you supervise your pet while the hot pack is being used to avoid them getting too hot or eating the packs.
Cold Therapy- Cold therapy helps reduce pain and inflammation and is great to use post treatment sessions if your pet is particularly sore.
An icepack or freezer bag filled with crushed ice is the simplest way for you to treat your pet at home. Apply the cold pack to the effected area for 10-15 minutes after Physical Therapy treatment sessions. Always make sure the cold pack does not come in direct contact with your pet’s skin. Use a towel wrapped around the icepack. Always make sure you supervise your pet while the cold pack is being used to avoid them getting too cold or eating the packs.
We really hope these simple exercises help to keep your senior pet comfortable over the winter months! However, if you are worried your pet is suffering from arthritis, please don’t hesitate to call us to arrange a check up with our team of lovely veterinarians.