We all know that walks are good for our pets, and ourselves. Did you know that with some adjustments to how and where we walk, we can help increase muscle strength in our pets? The following are some ideas on how to tweak our walks to yield a bigger benefit, especially to our aging, arthritic pets.

To make sure you’re set up for success when initiating a therapeutic exercise program, a few things to keep in mind:

Shorter duration, multiple sessions are better than an extended session

It is generally reasonable to be able to increase the length of activity by 10-15% each week

Consult with your veterinarian to make sure your pet isn’t in pain before starting

Leash Walking

  • A slow walk encourages the use of all limbs, preventing any non-weight bearing.
  • Walking through grass or tall fields can increase strength by providing some resistance. Pets also tend to flex their joints more as they navigate this kind of terrain. Coordination is also improved due to the varying nature of the terrain.
  • Sand and snow reduces concussive forces and allows increase strength and coordination due to the resistance and varying nature of the terrain.
  • Fast walking increases the challenge for balance and coordination, along with increasing cardiovascular fitness.
Inclines/declines

  • Promotes strengthening of the limbs and core muscles.
  • Promotes increase stretching, coordination and balance.
  • Since most arthritis and weakness occur in hind limbs, inclines are the best activity to help strengthen these areas.
  • Seek out the small, grassy hills in your neighborhood that would be great for this.
Stairs/steps

  • This is a more advanced version of the incline/decline
  • Make sure this is done at a pace where the front and back legs are being used independently – no hopping up the stairs (eg. using both hind legs at one time.)
  • Make sure its a non-slick surface your pet is on.
Sit to Stand

  • This exercise helps strengthen the hips and hind limbs.
  • For optimal benefit, make sure your pet is sitting and standing straight/symmetrically, with no leaning to one side or the other.
  • These exercises are great to incorporate on your walks.
  • Perform multiple repetitions at a time.
  • Down to Stand is a variation that focuses more on the front legs vs the hind.
By adding these variations to your daily walks, not only are you promoting physical fitness, your are also making your walks more interesting and mentally stimulating for you and your pet.