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Physical Therapy for Dogs with Arthritis


If you have arthritis, you know how painful it can be, and you also have many therapy options. Dogs also suffer with arthritis, and a new report from experts at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, offer some new insights into physical therapy for dogs that have this painful disease.

Dogs and Arthritis: Pet owner must watch for signs

Because dogs cannot express how they feel, pet owners need to be alert to signs and symptoms of arthritis. Dogs that have arthritis may favor a limb, have difficulty sitting or standing, sleep more than normal, hesitate when jumping or running, gain weight, engage in less activity or seem less interested in playing, be less alert, and seem to have stiff or sore joints.

Dogs that display any of these symptoms for more than two weeks should be checked by a veterinarian for an evaluation. Similar to humans, treating arthritis early in the course of the disease is recommended for best results, and treatment generally mimics that of humans, including the use of painkiller drugs.

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Physical Therapy for Dogs
At the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Peter Holler and his colleagues evaluated the movements of dogs with arthritis as they performed three different types of exercise: walking uphill, walking downhill, and walking over low obstacles. The experiment involved the use of a specially designed treadmill and computer programs.

The researchers found that when the dogs walked uphill, they experienced significantly more bending at the hip and less extension of the knee (stifle joint). Walking downhill caused the hip to be less bent and the tarsal joint to be less extended. The most significant impact was seen when the dogs walked over low obstacles, which caused increased bending of all joints except the hip and shoulder.

Using the results of these experiments, the scientists determined that walking downhill did not offer much therapeutic benefit, but that walking uphill and over obstacles could be effective therapies. They also noted, however, that any dog that has recently undergone surgery to the tibia should not walk over obstacles as part of its therapy.

Walking uphill and over obstacles are inexpensive forms of physical therapy that offer real benefit and easily supervised by dogs’ owners, noted the report’s authors. They recommend these forms of exercise for dogs that have arthritis.

Arthritis Foundation
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, news release Aug. 25, 2010