How to give arthritic dogs a great workout (and what to avoid!)

Did you know that while dogs might love chasing after balls, throwing a ball for older dogs (especially those with arthritis) can do more harm than good?

Dog running with ball, Dog playing fetchDogs with arthritis and other joint or musculoskeletal conditions need to reduce stress on their joints to prevent further damage.

Why it can be harmful to throw balls

Unfortunately, chasing balls has the opposite effect. The quick acceleration and braking, stopping sharply, twisting and jumping – all activities that happen frequently in fetch – can cause a lot of undo stress on your dog’s joints. Not to mention the poor alignment and high impact on joints when they crane their head around and throw their weight forward to reach for the ball.

These sharp movements amplify stress on your dog’s joints, causing micro-trauma to muscles and cartilage. This damage only gets worse with age and repetition.

We recommend avoiding throwing the ball for any dogs with arthritis and toning it down for most dogs, especially as they age.

 If you do decide to throw a ball, follow these tips:

  • Only throw a ball once the dog is warmed up
  • Never throw balls indoors, particularly on slippery floors
  • Do not throw balls on wet surfaces or unstable surfaces such as gravel
  • Throw straight and low down
  • Do not throw downhill
  • Do not throw repeatedly
  • Do not throw for more than one dog at the same time

In general, if your dog has arthritis or other joint pain, we recommend avoiding these strenuous activities:

  • Going for jogs/runs
  • Playing fetch (throwing balls or sticks repeatedly)
  • Flyball
  • Agility courses
  • Frisbee (Disc dog) or jumping up to catch a ball

Basically, anything that involves a lot of jumping, running, and explosive activity isn’t going to be joint-friendly.

Don’t worry, it’s not all bad news! As much as your pet probably loves catching the ball, there are alternatives they will love just as much. Dogs with arthritis still need exercise, and there are many low-impact options that are better for them.

Here’s What to Do Instead:

  • Take your pup on leash walks with varying terrain, such as trails
  • Go for a swim! (Be careful with entry and exit from the water, especially if there are rocks or uneven terrain.)
  • Therapeutic exercise and underwater treadmill therapy
  • Noseworks/ scent detection
  • Going on outings to the store/ coffee shop, etc.
  • Musical canine freestyle (or in other words, dancing with your dog. Go ahead, YouTube it, you’ll be amazed!)

In general, these activities are low-impact, controlled, and good ways to help your dog stay active. But be sure to be consistent! Dogs with arthritis who get more than 60 minutes of this kind of exercise a day have lower levels of lameness (Greene et. al – J Am Vet Med Assoc 20213;242:1528-1533).

Also consider modifying the stress on your dog’s joints by using a water treadmill. Our rehab center SOUND offers a variety of programs to assist your dog in joint recovery and building muscle. Give them a call at (206) 773-2262 to schedule an appointment!

In short: Less fetch, more swims! Your dog deserves a happy, active lifestyle. Just be sure you’re keeping them active with activities that are low-stress, low-impact, and controlled.


Not sure if a planned activity is right for your dog? Let us know in the comments and we’ll let you know!

Posted March 12, 2020 by Animal Surgical in Joint pain management, Pet Health with No Comments

Return to Blog