Rehabilitation of Chronic Osteoarthritis
Chronic osteoarthritis of one or multiple joints is unfortunately a common malady of dogs and cats, especially as they are
living longer lives. Once osteoarthritis begins the process cannot be stopped or reversed; the best we can do is slow the
progression of the disease or replace the joint surgically. Rehabilitation of these patients focuses on controlled exercise
that has minimal impact on the joints since osteoarthritic joints cannot withstand compressive forces. Exercise should, however,
be encouraged since muscle mass helps absorb the impact of weightbearing and protects joints from abnormal forces. PROM exercises
were not found in humans to slow the progression of osteoarthritis however strength training did slow the progression of degenerative
joint disease.5 The OA patient should be exercised daily on flat surfaces such as grass or soft earth that is not slippery but never on
asphalt or concrete. Any jumping or leaping should be prohibited, therefore, they cannot play Frisbee or catch a flying ball.
Stretching all four legs prior to these exercises with PROM can help them exercise safely. The best exercise is swimming,
especially in dogs that have muscle atrophy and have not yet returned to moderate activity. Pain control is important but
overzealous administration of antiinflammatories may lead to further joint deterioration.
Chronic disease in small animals is definitely problematic to treat and owner compliance is very important; however, with
consistent rehabilitation, recovery or an acceptable lifestyle for the patient and the owners can be achieved.
1. Millis DL, Levine D, Taylor RA. Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy. First ed. St. Louis, Missouri: Saunders, 2004.
2. Kathmann I, Cizinauskas S, Doherr MG, et al. Daily controlled physiotherapy increases survival time in dogs with suspected
degenerative myelopathy. J Vet Intern Med 2006;20:927-932.
3. Goff L, Stubbs N. Animal Physiotherapy. First ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2007.
4. Edge-Hughes L, Nicholson H. Canine Treatment and Rehabilitation In: McGowan C, Goff L,Stubbs N, eds. Animal Physiotherapy Assessment, Treatment, and Rehabilitaiton of Animals. First ed. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2007.
5. Mikesky AE, Mazzuca SA, Brandt KD, et al. Effects of strength training on the incidence and progression of knee osteoarthritis.
Arthritis Rheum 2006;55:690-699.