In humans, a regular exercise routine helps keep our joints working well and our muscles strong. We don't always want to exercise, but doctors recommend it because it staves off muscle weakness and has so many other benefits. In dogs, daily exercise works just the same way. And exercising a senior dog can help them keep their weight gain down and maintain strength as long as possible, which helps their quality of life in their later years.
Senior dogs and mobility
It's natural that as a dog ages their mobility will decline. But the American Kennel Club says that exercise is even more important for a senior dog because keeping your dog active will help delay the onset of such age-related issues as arthritis and muscle loss. Your senior dog likely won't want to walk as far or as fast as she used to, or catch the ball as many times as she used to, but they still need the physical activity.
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Walking a senior dog
Going on walks is something that just about every dog loves, no matter how old they get. A daily walk is a great low-impact way for a dog to get fresh air, fresh experiences, and get some healthy exercise. When walking your senior dog, pay attention to a few things that could impact their wellbeing that might not matter so much when your dog is younger.
The first thing to pay attention to is the temperature. If the weather is very hot or very cold, your senior dog could become uncomfortable much sooner than they would when they were young. If it is very hot or very cold, consider getting your dog booties to protect his paws from either frostbite or hot surfaces such as sidewalks.
Slow down, and let your best friend walk at her own pace. She will likely not be able to keep up the pace of a younger dog. When walking outdoors, try to find grass or sand, which is more forgiving for older joints and muscles.
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Length of activity
The AKC says that if you notice your dog is very stiff or tired after her walk, consider cutting back to a shorter distance. The goal is to keep them enjoying the activity and spending time with you, so keep the distance to a length that they can manage.
If your dog has always been active, chances are good you can keep up with the same activities you've been doing throughout the dog's life, but perhaps slow them down or go for more frequent short walks. If your routine has changed or you're starting a new exercise program, the Whole Dog Journal recommends starting slow. Get your dog used to exercise by gradually introducing it. Watch for any sign that what they are doing is too much, like signs of over-exertion or limping.
Plan to take frequent breaks. And make sure you can give your dog access to water as often as they want it. Getting a treat or two may motivate your dog to keep going a little longer. When you're sure they are enjoying it and it isn't hurting them, you can gradually add more exercise.
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Swimming with senior dogs
Cesar's Way says that swimming is an excellent activity for dogs of all ages, but it is particularly suited for an old dog. Swimming is a low-impact exercise that is easy on their joints and muscles, whereas walking can put pressure on them with each step. Many dogs enjoy being in water. The challenge is to find water that is a comfortable temperature, year-round.
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Check with a vet
Before you change your dog's exercise plan or start a new one, check with a veterinarian who knows your dog to be sure you're doing the right things. If they have certain issues, it would be best to select exercises that minimize their stress while maximizing their benefits.
The Whole Dog Journal recommends choosing an appointment time that allows the vet to check your dog's weight, overall condition, energy level, and range of motion. They also recommend letting the vet know that you want a little extra time at this check-up appointment to do a more in-depth wellness examination, so your vet can then help you plan an effective exercise strategy for your dog's senior years.
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Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.