“The dog ate my homework” may not work as a viable excuse with teachers, but “this weather is killing me” definitely resounds with physical therapists!
Yes, weather affects arthritis and other inflammatory conditions in human beings as well as animals!
What aspects of weather play a role?
I’m not a meteorologist, but having spent summers on a farm as a kid, I understand a bit about ‘dew points’ (the temperature at which the sir cools for saturation to occur), and humidity (the amount of water in the air compared to how much it can hold).
As a sailor, I am always aware of wind direction and current speed. But the most significant weather factor by far for a physical therapist treating patients having inflammatory conditions is the atmospheric pressure of surface air: barometric pressure.
The barometric pressure
Remember when your grandmother claimed she could predict when rain was coming? She was pretty wise, after all!
Folks and dogs having inflammatory conditions affecting the joints and soft tissues can feel symptoms when the barometric pressure drops before the actual precipitation occurs.
When the barometer falls, water molecules in the air spread out and start to rise, escaping the earth’s surface. Low pressure causes their expansion; they become heavier which eventually causes precipitation to fall. The time between this rise and fall is precisely when patients feel their symptoms increase due to tissue swelling and tell you “wet weather is ahead”. Of course, your dog can’t tell you this verbally, so you must be on the lookout for subtle signs of pain or discomfort and take proactive steps to help when the barometer starts to fall!
In contrast, when the barometric pressure is high on fair weather days, molecules in the air compress and actually (unperceptively) push against our bodies, providing natural, external support for swollen joints and tissues. We know from studies on bone loss with osteoporosis, that external stimulation via gravity, weight-bearing and resistance training helps bone growth. The pressure is good for bones and joints.
What’s a dawg mamma or daddy to do when their dogs are hurting due to changes in the weather?
Top 10 tips to counter the effects of barometric pressure on your dog’s arthritis.
1. Understanding inflammatory conditions
Inflammatory conditions are all those with the -itis suffix. For example, arthritis or spondylitis. Degenerative myelopathy is not inflammatory. Have your veterinarian help you differentiate.
2. Watch the weather
Watch the weather, stay alert to changes in barometric pressure. Know that within an hour or 2 of a large drop, pain symptoms will occur. If you can start making preparations (per the following list) ahead of the rain or other precipitation, your dog will benefit greatly.
Not meaning total crate rest, but a reduction or modification in function. For your dog this may mean shorter, slower leash walks for a few days. For another, it may mean restricting their space to move about in the home, blocking stairways and reducing activity sufficient to cover the time of acute inflammation until the weather changes to dryer condition.
4. Hot or cold compresses
When in doubt, use cold rather than heat, for inflamed joints.
Think about what feels good when a joint is swollen and painful: usually some type of wrap or corset to provide compression and support. If your dog uses a brace or external support to provide relief, now is the time to put it on your pup.
Let gravity help to drain swelling and inflammation away from the farthest part of the dog’s limbs and toward the heart, to eliminate it naturally from the body. Use a pillow, rolled towel or folded blanket under the limb to for support while the dog rests. If the dog is on their side, place support between their thighs.
Anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed by your vet such as Rimadyl, Carprofen, Deramaxx, Adequan injections, and others should be continued during these weather changes.
If the medications are on an ‘as needed’ basis, start them at the first sign of barometric pressure drop, before your dog starts to show outward symptoms.
Joint protectants like Dasuquin, Cosequin, and others should be continued daily and considered as maintenance supplements, regardless of the weather!
9. Physical therapy
Modalities which help to reduce inflammation include Cold Laser, Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy, pulsed Ultrasound, and effleurage Massage.
10. Simple exercises
Exercises can be done during this time to help decrease pain, such as Range of Motion for the affected joints and active open-chain movements (using a toy or other prompt to encourage the dog to lift a limb, turn their head, etc.)
Avoid resistance and weight-bearing, functional exercises.
How to Alleviate Arthritic Pain During the Winter