Use it or lose it! Cartilage needs exercise | Companion Animal Veterinary Hospital

Use it or lose it! Cartilage needs exercise

Matt Young's picture
walking the dog

The role of cartilage

Cartilage is a critical part of joints. It is flexible and is able to stretch and deform when load is applied to the joints. If cartilage doesn't get used it thins out. Thin cartilage can't deform as much and so more load is transferred to the bone. If the joint is arthritic this is particularly painful. 

The importance of exercise

Just like other organs such as muscle if cartilage is not used it wastes away ie. the cartilage becomes thin. Regular gentle exercise is extremely important for maintaining the health of cartilage especially when there are arthritic joints. 

Types of Exercise

The types of exercise I'm talking about need to be low impact exercises. Some ideas are:

  • a slow leash walk
  • swimming (but not running into the water)

If your dog becomes painful after exercise or pulls up sore the next day then you are doing too much and need to cut back. It's also not a good idea to exercise during acute flare-ups of arthritis. 

The key is to really make sure it is low impact exercise. Chasing balls, frisbees etc can be fun for the dogs but they usually have so much fun that they don't realise the damage they are doing to themselves until it's all over and they calm down. We have to have the foresight to decide an activity is not good for them and should be avoided. 

Having said that, if your dog is obsessed with ball chasing it may be necessary to make a compromise and still throw the ball but limit the activity. It's a matter of knowing what's important for your dog's quality of life.  

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