Author: Tracy Reis, DVM
Exercising your senior dog is as beneficial to his health and quality of life as it is to you. If your dog has been active for most of his life, then you may just need to make some modifications to his activities, but it is never too late to start exercising even if he previously had no regular program.
Exercising doesn’t mean that you need to start your senior pet on an advanced agility course or throw a hundred tennis balls for fetch. Your senior can benefit from a couple of short walks a day, 20 minutes or less. Not only is this good for his body, but it helps to spark his aging mind by exposing him to a variety of stimuli. Maybe most importantly, this extra time strengthens your bond with your dog.
Walks are not the only form of exercise for seniors. Some may still be able to jog or swim, and now there are all types of classes, including yoga, that you can participate in with your senior companion. Activities like fetch, hide and seek and other canine games keep his mind active as well as his body, and may be fun for both of you. Try different games based on what you know about your best friend and his likes and dislikes.
Pay close attention to your dog’s needs. Some will start to slow down due to hip or other joint pain while others seem to be forever puppies with unlimited energy. If your senior is used to regular walks that take an hour or more, you may notice him slowing down, moving stiffly or walking with his head down. Begin to shorten the distance and/or frequency of his walks. You may also drive to a favorite spot that you used to walk to, and let him enjoy the place without you getting stuck having to carry him back home. Dogs will often lie down when they are done or quit participating in the activity. At this point, it is time to go, and it is much easier to get in the car and drive home rather than trying to carry your dog home, especially if he is a big dog.
Be aware of weather conditions as well with your senior. While excessive heat can be hard on all dogs, seniors are particularly sensitive to the heat. Cold and damp weather may also have a negative effect if he has arthritis, which is common in older dogs, especially larger breeds.
You may want to try some natural supplements to help with joint pain. Some of the ingredients can help with decreasing pain and increasing lubrication in aging joints as well as their ability to function. Glucosamine sulfate is probably the most widely known. It helps support cartilage and has been approved in over 70 countries. There are also several herbs and homeopathic remedies that can help such as Spirulina, Devil’s claw, Lecithin, Nat phos, Calc fluor and Nat sulphuricum.
Remember that every senior is different as they age, and what is most important to them is spending time with you regardless of the activity.