Why do old dogs still need regular exercise?
As our dogs become older they become sedentary. They may not hear as well, see as well and just aren’t as stimulated to be active. They can’t run as fast, jump as high or have the endurance they may once have had.
Inactivity makes dogs more prone to weight gain. Obesity increases their risk of health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. It is important that they do receive a certain amount of exercise to help with weight management. Also to keep the muscles and joints strong and supple. You may also need to review your dog diet to ensure they aren’t getting too many calories for their needs. They may need to go on a senior formula which will have the nutrient mix more suitable for older dogs and extras for joint mobility.
Consult with your vet as to what they would recommend and have a full checkup done for your dog to identify any issues. If your dog has not been very active and you are wanting to increase their exercise, start slowly. Build up over time monitoring how they are dealing with the change in routine.
Conditions old dogs may be prone to.
The most common and chronic issue seen in old dogs that limit their mobility and activity level is arthritis due to degeneration of the joints. This is from a lifetime of wear and tear especially if they have become overweight. Read “How to exercise an arthritic dog” for more information
Genetic issues can affect some breeds such as hip dysplasia in German Shepherds or elbow dysplasia in Labradors. These may not show themselves until they reach their senior years. Read “How to exercise a dog with hip dysplasia” for more information
Many old dogs that may have received an injury or had surgery at some stage, for example, knee surgery, will also be prone to developing arthritis in those joints.
A reduction in your old dogs’ tolerance for exercise may be due to heart or lung issues. If your old dog is showing shortness of breath or struggling to keep up with a casual walk have your vet check for these things. Or they seem to have become more lethargic, or they are avoiding human contact they may be in pain. If your old dog starts to cough during exercise consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.
What exercise to give your old dog.
Daily walks – continue with their daily walks as before but keep them short and end them if your old dog is showing signs of struggling. Ideally, try to walk on a softer surface such as grass to keep the activity as low impact as possible and with relatively few hills.
Swimming – this is a good exercise as it removes the weight off the bones and joints making it a low impact activity. Use a lifejacket with your old dog even if they are a competent swimmer to give extra buoyancy. Swimming is a fairly strenuous exercise with 10 minutes of swimming being equivalent to a 1-hour walk. Keep the session short with plenty of breaks.
Hydrotherapy – has become very popular and there are hydrotherapy centers in most cities. The therapist will either swim your dog or walk them on a water treadmill. From personal experience, this is a highly effective activity and your old dog will find a new lease on life. In addition, some therapists may offer other services for pain management such as laser therapy or acupuncture. Read this article learn more about Hydrotherapy
Mental stimulation – it is important to also to provide mental stimulation to your old dog to keep them mentally active. This can be achieved by giving them a puzzle or interactive toys. Read “Top 7 puzzle toys” for more on this. In addition, scenting games like hiding treats around the house. Read “12 Scenting and nose tracking games“. Or give them something to chew on. Chewing is a very relaxing and calming activity for dogs as they often can hold stress in their jaw. Or try teaching them some new tricks, yes old dogs can learn new tricks. Being social with other dogs or humans is also good for their spirits and mind. Read “mental enrichment and mind stimulation” for more on this.
For a guide to mental stimulation and enrichment for senior older dogs see here.
Muscle-strengthening exercises – as many dogs get older they start to show signs of muscle wastage. It is important to keep their muscles strong to support the bones and joints and ward off arthritis. This may include exercises like doggy squats where you have your dog sit and then stand again. Refer “Muscle building and strengthening exercise for dogs“
Reassess your old dog’s health and mobility.
Tailor and adapt any exercise program to your dog’s individual situation and changing abilities. If they appear to be stronger and fitter you can slowly add more exercise or if they appear to be becoming frailer they may need to do less. If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian.
As your old dog becomes more sedentary it is important to maintain exercise and activity to keep them supple and to maintain a healthy weight in addition to keeping their muscles strong to support their bones and joints. Tailor their exercise to a level they can comfortably achieve and if you have any concerns or questions, consult your vet. Most of all enjoy your dog as they go through their twilight years.
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