The Pet PT Pit Stop: Blame it on the Weather, Really!

by Susan E. Davis, PT “pull in for a helpful refuel!”  

It’s all about guiding and empowering you to help your dog avoid injury, provide practical solutions and achieve rapid restoration of health and function!   

“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!

I’m not a meteorologist, but having spent summers on a farm as a kid, I understand a bit about ‘dew points’ (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.
Remember when your grandmother claimed she could predict when rain was coming? She was pretty wise, after all!

Folks and pets 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 a 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.  Pressure is good for bones and joints.

What’s a dawg mamma or daddy to do when their pets are hurting due to changes in the weather? 

Here are my top 10 tips:

Know which conditions in your dog are considered to be inflammatory and which are not. 
For example, those ending with ‘itis”, such as arthritis, spondylitis, are. Degenerative Myelopathy is not. Your veterinary professional can help you differentiate.

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.

Ice 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!

Physical Therapy.
Modalities which help to reduce inflammation include: Cold Laser, Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy, pulsed Ultrasound, and effleurage Massage.

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.


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ideas to Chew on - Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Problems?
Wrap It Up: Using Soft Supports For Your Dog
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part I) 
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part II) 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Safe Summer Boating Tips for your Dog 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Hip Dysplasia - What’s a Dawg Mama to Do?
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part I)
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part II)
Staying in the Loop with Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy
Addressing Frailty Syndrome in Geriatric Dogs 
The Pet PT Pit Stop: "Where's The Evidence?"
Physical Therapy is Great, Except When It Isn’t 
Top Dogs and their Toplines at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Part I)
Top Dogs and their Toplines at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Part II) 
What's in a Dog's Gait? 
A Practical Method to manage your Dog’s Care Plan 
Wound Care 101 (Part I The Basics) 
Wound Care 101 (Part II Wound Management)
Prevention and Management of Hip Dysplasia in Puppies: Attention all Breeders!
Support and Braces
Vaccinosis - A Vexing Conundrum