Proprioception Exercises for Dogs and Cats

What are proprioception exercises

Proprioception exercises for dogs and cats are specifically designed activities that aim to improve an animal’s body awareness, balance, and coordination. These exercises are beneficial for pets recovering from injuries, managing chronic conditions, or enhancing overall mobility and fitness. Some key aspects of proprioception exercises include:

  • Balance training: Exercises that challenge a pet’s balance help strengthen core muscles, improve stability, and enhance coordination.
  • Obstacle courses: Navigating obstacles, such as poles or cones, encourages pets to be more aware of their body positioning and movement.
  • Targeted limb movements: Practicing controlled movements with individual limbs improves a pet’s sense of joint position and muscle activation.
  • Uneven surfaces: Encouraging pets to walk on different surfaces, such as foam pads or air cushions, helps develop proprioceptive skills and adaptability.
  • Weight-shifting exercises: Guiding pets through weight-shifting activities promotes strength, balance, and proper body alignment.

At RehabVet Clinic, our experienced team incorporates proprioception exercises into comprehensive rehabilitation programs, ensuring optimal support for your pet’s recovery and overall well-being.

Dog exercising front and hind legs on balancing ball

Conditions and symptoms benefiting from proprioception exercises

Proprioception exercises offer numerous benefits for dogs and cats experiencing a range of symptoms and conditions. At RehabVet Clinic, our team uses these exercises to address the following issues:

  • Post-surgical recovery: Proprioception exercises aid in the healing process after surgery, helping pets regain mobility and strength.
  • Arthritis management: These exercises improve joint function, reduce pain, and enhance the quality of life for pets with arthritis.
  • Neurological conditions: Pets with conditions such as intervertebral disc disease or degenerative myelopathy can benefit from proprioception exercises to regain coordination and balance.
  • Muscle weakness or atrophy: Targeted exercises help to strengthen weakened muscles and prevent muscle loss due to disuse or injury.
  • Sports conditioning: Active pets participating in agility, flyball, or other sports can benefit from proprioception exercises to improve performance and prevent injuries.
  • Geriatric pets: Older pets experiencing age-related mobility issues can benefit from proprioception exercises to maintain strength, balance, and coordination.
dog balancing and exercising on ball with therapists

The Science of Proprioception Exercises

Therapeutic exercise is perhaps one of the most valuable modalities used in canine physical rehabilitation. Some of the common goals of therapeutic exercise are to improve active pain-free range of motion, muscle mass and muscle strength, balance, performance with daily function, aerobic capacity, help prevent further injury, and to reduce weight, and lameness.

Common activities include standing exercises, controlled leash activities, stair climbing, treadmill activity, “wheel barrowing” (for forelimb activity), and “dancing” (for rear limb activity). Other activities include jogging, sit-to-stand exercises, pulling or carrying weights, walking and trotting across cavaletti rails, playing ball, taping a bottle or syringe cap to the bottom of an unaffected foot to encourage weight bearing, slinging the contralateral good limb, and using balance balls or rolls. In addition to being an important method to assist an animal’s return to the best function possible, the equipment needed for therapeutic exercise is relatively inexpensive and similar principles apply to a variety of individuals and conditions. Therapeutic exercise programs designed for the home environment also provide an opportunity for owners to become actively involved in their pet’s rehabilitation.

The Benefits of Proprioception Exercises

Exercises that develop core muscle strength and proprioception are vital to maintain optimal fitness for all dogs, but especially for canine amputees. The best exercises to do with pets going through rehabilitation are using inflatables of different shapes and sizes, including unstable surface work and weight bearing activities. These fitness games help with core strengthening, increased range of motion and flexibility, sensory and perceptual stimulation, joint alignment, and balance control.

Remember, walking is great for endurance, but it does not build strength.

  • Non weight bearing exercise
  • Relief from pain, swelling and stiffness
  • Promotion of relaxation
  • Joint mobilization
  • Cardiovascular fitness (heart and lungs)
  • Muscle strengthening, maintenance & restoration
  • Increase in range of motion of affected joints
  • Improved circulation