If your dog is suffering from arthritis, you’re certainly not alone. Arthritis is one of the most common degenerative diseases I see in my canine patients. In fact, by the time a dog reaches 8 years of age, they have an 80% chance of having arthritis.
So the burning questions I hear from my patient’s parents is always this: What can I do about it? None of us like to see our beloved pets suffer, but luckily there is a simple (and free!) practice you can do with your pet right in the comfort of your own home to help minimize their joint pain and increase their mobility: stretching.
Tips for Stretch Success
Before we get into the actual exercises, here are my top tips to keep in mind for a successful stretching session with your dog:
- Consistency (rather than intensity) is key. Better a few minutes of stretching every day than a marathon session once a week.
- Always keep two words in mind: slowly and gently. Never stretch your dog too quickly or use jerking motions.
- Follow your dog’s lead. If they show any signs of discomfort or uneasiness, adjust your method accordingly.
- Always perform these stretches on your dog in a quiet place in which they feel comfortable.
The 3 Key Stretches: Hips, Shoulders, and Back
There are 3 areas of the body for which stretching is especially beneficial in arthritic dogs: the hips, shoulders, and back. The following are 3 of my favorite simple stretches you can do in just a few minutes each day, one for each key area.
#1: Hip Flexor Stretch for Arthritic Dogs
- With your dog standing, grasp one of their back legs just above the knee.
- Slowly move the leg back so it is positioned out behind your dog’s body.
- When you reach the point of resistance (where moving the leg back further would require pressure), stop and hold the leg in position for 15-30 seconds.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times for each back leg.
Consistent practice of this stretch will assist with increased mobility of the hips and spine, improved condition of the lower back, and decreased pain associated with arthritis.
#2: Shoulder Flexor Stretch for Arthritic Dogs
- With your dog standing, grasp one of their front legs just above the elbow with one of your hands.
- Place your other hand under the elbow to stabilize it.
- Slowly move the front leg so it is positioned out in front of your dog’s body.
- When you reach the point of resistance (where moving the leg further forward would require pressure), stop and hold the leg in position for 15-30 seconds.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times for each front leg.
Consistent practice of this stretch will improve range of motion in the shoulders, chest, and upper back, increase breathing capacity, and decrease pain associated with arthritis.
#3: Back Stretch for Arthritic Dogs
- Grab a handful of your dog’s favorite training treats.
- With your dog standing, move to one side of their body.
- With the treat in your hand where they can see it, move your hand slowly along their body from their face towards the direction of their tail.
- Encourage your dog to follow the treat with their eyes, turning only their head, which will require them to bend their body into a C shape.
- Hold in this position for 15-30 seconds, then reward them with the treat.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times on each side.
Consistent practice of this stretch will help improve mobility of the spine and decrease pain associated with arthritis.
Bonus Treat: Back and Sacrum Massage for Arthritic Dog
- For an extra treat your dog will love that also helps manage arthritis, perform a quick back and sacrum massage.
- Start at the sacrum – located at the base of the tail, between the hipbones. Using light pressure, move your hands in a gentle circular motion over this hard, flat surface.
- Proceed slowly and gently with the same motion up the length of your dog’s spine, using very little pressure when in direct contact with the spinal vertebrae.
Consistent practice of this massage will help improve the flow of spinal fluid, increase mobility of the spine and hips, and decrease anxiety.
Remember: when it comes to stretching for your dog, consistency is key. As I tell all my clients, you are the biggest advocate for your pet’s health. In just a few minutes each day, you have the power to decrease your dog’s arthritis pain and greatly increase their quality of life.