Dog walking with frisbee

How does exercise help with weight loss and managing arthritis?

Exercise is a great way to manage arthritis

When dogs are overweight or obese, they are significantly more likely to develop symptoms of arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight and lean body condition are the most important things you can do to manage your dog’s arthritis or to delay the onset of symptoms.

The best way to control weight is by putting your dog on a calorie-restricted diet (read more from CARE here). But adding in regular exercise is also important and can help improve how your dog feels overall!

One myth around canine arthritis is that dogs shouldn’t exercise as it will cause them more pain. However, many studies prove how beneficial exercise is as part of an overall arthritis management plan.

Below are some examples of how restricting calories and adding in regular exercise can help your dog lose weight and feel better.

Benefits of exercise for dogs with arthritis

Exercise plus accountability = Success

Exercise can help your dog lose weight, but staying accountable with it helps even more. One study of overweight dogs with arthritis put them on a weight loss diet and gave the owners a home exercise program to follow for their dogs. It included walking for 20 minutes, three times per day, as well as massage and passive range of motion exercises. Half of the dogs in the study visited the clinic twice a week for the first 2 months for weigh-ins, review of the home program, and TENS treatment to the affected joint (this is a passive therapy and does not burn calories).

After 6 months, all the dogs in the study lost weight, but the ones that came into the clinic regularly lost significantly more weight (13.6 vs 9.3%).  While all the dogs demonstrated reduced pain and lameness throughout the study, those that lost more weight showed less lameness overall. The extra accountability may explain the difference between the two groups. Mlacnik E, et al JAVMA 2006

Underwater treadmills can help with weight loss

Underwater treadmill therapy may help dogs lose weight. Another study of obese dogs placed them on a calorie restricted diet and had the owners participate in an exercise program that included leash walking at home at least once a day, obedience class, and underwater treadmill (no set schedule or protocol, but an average of 13 sessions). After 3 months, the average amount of weight loss was 18.9% of starting body weight (1.5%/ week). The dogs’ body condition as measured by thoracic and abdominal girth also improved. Chauvet A et al. Can Vet J 2011.

Exercise + calorie restriction = less muscle loss

Exercise helps dogs maintain their muscles when you combine it with losing weight by cutting calories. In one study, two groups of overweight, sedentary dogs were put on a diet. One group didn’t change their exercise level, while the other group participated in a fitness training program using underwater and land treadmills for 1 hour, three times per week.

After 12 weeks, dogs in both groups had lost weight, but those in the fitness training group lost a larger amount of weight (13.9 vs. 12.9%) and more importantly, maintained a lean body mass (more muscle) compared to the dogs who only lost weight by eating fewer calories. The sedentary group lost muscle mass. Vitger AD JAVMA 2016