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The Importance of Exercising Your Older Dog

Is your dog over 7 years old?

Is he over weight?

Is he moving more slowly than he used to?

Exercise in moderation is essential for your senior dog.

Just like with humans, as dogs age, their bodies begin to change.

Their metabolism slows and their activity level decreases, so their need for the same calorie count decreases. One of the reasons why older dogs develop weight problems is because they continue to be fed the same amount and type of food as they age, despite the fact that their needs change.

Their hair, especially around their muzzle begins to gray, and their coat may become more thin and dull.

Joints become stiffer and arthritis may begin to develop, causing discomfort and possible varying levels of pain. When this happens, dogs don’t want to move the way they used to. The more inactive they become, the more muscle mass and tone they lose, making it increasingly difficult for them to move. This begins a vicious downward spiral of decreased muscle tone, movement, and overall health and quality of life.

As dogs age and become more inactive, food moves through their digestive tracts more slowly. This can cause constipation, and resulting pain as the dog tries to defecate.

Dogs lose some heart functionality, so it can’t pump as much blood as it used to in the same amount of time. The lungs as well lose some of their elasticity, reducing the ability to oxygenate the blood.

Dental problems, decreased kidney function, urinary incontinence, hearing and vision loss, behavior changes and more are also things that can happen as a dog ages.

Some of these may be more pronounced than others, and some may occur at a younger age. Some may not occur at all.

What can exercise do to help minimize the effects of aging?

Regular, appropriate exercise helps to keep joints, ligaments and muscles strong, including the heart and lungs, improves blood flow, helps to reduce pain and inflammation, improves mood and overall quality of life. 

For example, the Rocky’s Retreat house dogs, Yankee (a golden retriever) and Beau (a flat coat retriever/English shepherd mix) will respectfully be 10 and 12 years old in early October. This is considered “senior” for both breeds. Yet both are in excellent health and physical condition, something we attribute to a great diet, regular weekly swimming in our indoor pool and other consistent, appropriate physical activity. They feel, look, and act much younger than their years.

So what are some ideas for exercising older dogs?

By far, the best exercise for older dogs is swimming.

Swimming is a non-weight bearing exercise, so there’s no pressure placed on joints that may be arthritic and painful. It’s also a complete full body exercise, and is great for maintaining muscle mass and tone, and cardiovascular and respiratory health.canine hydrotherapy

Be sure not to overdo it when swimming your dog, and stay away from cold water. Generally 20 to 30 minutes of swimming is plenty of exercise.

Daily walks.

If your dog can manage it, short duration daily walks done more frequently are a good option for exercise. Walking is relatively low impact and can provide an aerobic component depending on your dog and how quickly you can walk. The important thing is to not overdo it. Let your dog dictate how far you walk and how often you stop. Pay attention to surfaces – flat, even ground is easier to navigate than uneven surfaces.

Training reinforcement.

Working with your dog to reinforce his basic commands, such as “sit to stand” and “down to stand” can be both physically and mentally energizing. If your dog can manage, teaching new tricks such as weaving through your legs, sitting pretty, and high fives can also be good exercise.

Physical conditioning exercises.Dayzee on the balance disk and bone

These are exercises using tools such as balance disks, pads, balls and platforms. These types of exercises can be very effective in conditioning an older dog, you just have to be careful to make sure you’re not either overdoing it or doing the exercises incorrectly so you don’t hurt your dog. If in doubt, consult with a canine fitness practitioner. Barking Dog Fitness offers consultations should you want to learn more.

Final thoughts on exercising your senior dog.

Exercise for seniors is critical, but you need to take care that you’re not doing too much. Always consult with your veterinarian if you’re just starting or changing/increasing an exercise program for your dog, or if you have any concerns about his ability to exercise.

Be aware of the signs that your dog has had enough and stop the exercise. These include:

  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Red or dark red tongue
  • Reluctance to continue
  • Limping or any sign of weakness in one or more limbs
  • Coughing

Regular exercise for your senior dog will work wonders for maintaining and/or improving the quality of his life. The Rocky’s house dogs are a perfect example. Make the time to give him the exercise he needs and you’ll be rewarded with a healthy, happy companion.


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