The reader’s question: We have an 11-year-old Queensland Cattle dog that has numerous issues. Right now, we would like to strengthen his hind legs which have arthritis. Can you help us?
After 8 years of age a dog is considered geriatric, which means several things change both emotionally and physically. The most common age related condition that occurs in geriatric animals is arthritis, which can affect one or more joints. Several factors contribute to the severity of arthritis affecting animals, the most influential being body weight. The most important thing you can do to help a dog with arthritis is maintain an ideal body weight and get regular low impact exercise. Pain from arthritis can be alleviated nearly 10% by losing a few pounds and can be exacerbated to an unknown amount with excessive weight. Dogs normally bear 60% of their body weight on their front limbs and 40% on their rear limbs when standing in a neutral position. An animal with pain in the rear legs will often shift their bodyweight to the front legs altering the percentages and cause pain in multiple areas of the body, including those that do not have arthritis.
Another important thing you can do to help strengthen the rear legs is to think of the health of the entire body. The back, abdominal, and front leg muscles must also be strong to maintain proper body alignment. Walking for shorter, more frequent periods of time will help prevent overexertion during a walk. Start out slow on flat even surfaces and gradually begin to incorporate inclines and declines and small sets of stairs as tolerated. You and your pet should never need to stop in the middle of a walk, if this happens, you have gone too far. A walk should always start and stop strong. Once walking goals are accomplished, basic exercises such as performing a sit-stand, turning in a circle, weaving around objects, stepping over low ladder rungs, walking on a mattress, and swimming can help strengthen the entire body. Swimming does help a small amount to strengthen the rear legs, but unless the dog is walking in an underwater treadmill (typically at a rehabilitation facility) with adjustable water height, the rear legs are difficult to specifically target. General swimming is an excellent tool for cardiovascular health; just keep in mind the water temperature and underwater terrain. Colder water will be harsher on an arthritic joint and rocks can cause hazards. Before embarking on any new exercise progr am, it is strongly recommended to seek the advice of a professional trained in animal physical rehabilitation. This will ensure a safe and effective exercise plan for you and your pet.
Lastly, simple home modifications can be done to help weak rear legs. Elevating the food and water bowel slightly will help alleviate excess stress on the spine and front legs. If you have hardwood floors, purchasing booties for the rear legs will help to gain traction. In homes with a many stairs, purchasing a soft belly sling to aid in getting up and down the stairs will help avoid exhaustion and always have a soft padded bed available in a few areas of the home for your beloved companion to rest in.
For the other panelists’ answers, read more at Experts Weigh-In: Aging Dogs and Arthritis.
More information: canine rehab at SFVS (including recent “graduates”!)