Old age sucks. My 14 year old Golden Retriever, Krug, is not able to run as fast and jump as high as he once did. His once golden face is now gray and he sleeps so deeply that I sometimes worry that he might stop breathing. It is hard to admit our dog is aging. But the best thing we can do for our senior dogs is to confront aging right in the face. When we become in-tuned to our dog’s needs, we improve his quality of life.
Krug is slower but still loves his twice daily walks, to be outside and experience nature. I let him choose where he wants to go, how far and how fast he wants to walk. He knows his limits and never goes further than he can handle. Despite his physical limitations, I still aim to provide an environment that is physically and mentally stimulating for him.
A body that doesn't move isn't healthy. Exercising older dogs is an important part of their daily care, but it can be difficult to know how much is enough, or too much. Exercisehelps maintain muscle tone, healthy weight, joint flexibility, improve circulation, boost mood and improve quality of life. But it is important that you understand their dog's limits and create an exercise routine that you will both enjoy.
How can you help your senior dog resume an active lifestyle? Here are 12 tips:
1. Weight management
Being overweight increases the risks of all sorts of diseases including osteoarthritis, diabetes and heart problems. Keeping your senior dog at a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to help him stay mobile.
2. Indoor Exercise
If you don’t feel like venturing outdoors in the winter rain, provide mental and physical stimulation indoors. But only exercise on flooring where the dog has good traction. The seemingly minor slips and slides on slippery floors can cause injury to your dog. If you have slippery floors at home, consider putting down rugs or non-slip mats.
1. Use treat dispensing toys.
2. Encourage them to move around the home to keep their joints moving. If your dog is clearly having problems negotiating stairs, invest in ramps.
3. Play games to keep him active and interested such as hide and seek. Nose work and sniffing games are also fun for seniors as they are kept mentally stimulated without strenuous activity.
3. Outdoor exercise
Ideally your senior dog should be receiving daily outings. Keep the walks short or go to dog friendly cafes. Limit strenuous activities such as games of fetch, swimming for long periods and walking in deep grass or sand for long periods. These activities are fatiguing for a senior dog after a short time.
If your dog enjoys a game of fetch he can still enjoy his favourite game as long as you're careful. His old joints will not support him the way they used to and jumping to catch a ball is a bad idea. Throw a ball at a very low trajectory and a short distance away so that he can catch whatever you throw easily and without sliding and turning too quickly.
Remember to ensure that the area where you play is level and has good, non-slip footing for your dog. Watch for holes, kerbs and hills.
4. Protect your dog from extreme temperatures
Even if your senior dog has never had a problem with heat or cold before, he may now have more difficulty regulating his temperature. If it's hot outside it can strain an older heart and he will tire more quickly. If it's cold, he'll likely feel the chill more than he used to. A warm sweater or jacket can help keep old bones warm and comfortable. Choose a jacket that covers all the major muscle groups and allows freedom of movement. I like the Chillydog and Pomppa jackets.
For long haired dogs, trim the long hair under the paws. Furry paws can cause injury when dogs slip on smooth surfaces like timber flooring and tiles. The long hair will also attract grass seeds and prickles.
If your dog comes in from relieving himself with debris remaining on his behind, consider giving him a closer haircut on his behind.
The most important part of a grooming session is keeping those nails short! Long nails can cause much discomfort to your dog. They will not be able to balance, walk and run comfortably with long nails. Your senior dog may also need to have his nails clipped more regularly because the nails get less wear with his lower level of activity.
Do a lump-and-bump check when you groom your dog. The incidence of growths increases as your dog ages.
6. Muscle therapy
Dogs thrive when they are touched. And when touch is applied in a therapeutic way such as in a session of massage or muscle therapy it can help senior dogs enormously. Muscle therapy or massage can deepen the bond between pets and people and as a bonus it will also:
Reduce muscle stiffness and joint discomfort
Stimulate weak muscles
Stimulate the immune system
Promote physical and mental relaxation
Increase flexibility and range of motion
Reduce pain for aging joints
Help to detect medical issues such as swelling, tender areas, lumps, skin conditions
There are some simple and effective massage techniques that you can use on your senior dog at home. Ask your canine muscle therapist to show you how to massage your dog.
7. Start exercising your dog gradually
Don’t be a weekend warrior. If your dog has been a couch potato, start with short, low-impact walks on flat non-slip surfaces. Much like humans embarking on new exercise programs, soreness the next day indicates that you have pushed your dog too far. Keep walks and games short and stop as soon as you notice your dog’s energy levels flagging, he slows down or is panting heavily.
8. Stick to familiar routes
With age often comes deterioration of senses such as sight and hearing. This can make senior dogs anxious and confused in new surroundings. Seniors generally feel more relaxed and happy on routes that are familiar to them. When in a different environment such as a new park, stay close to him so that he is reassured by your presence.
9.Listen to your dog
When exercising older dogs always use common sense and follow his lead. Watch him closely for signs of pain, distress, overheating or chill. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and get your golden oldie back home for a drink and a nap. If he walks comfortably for half a block and then starts to lag, turn around and head home. If he seems happier to walk in the morning rather than the evening, walk in the morning.
The most important thing to remember is that to your senior dog you are his whole life and he will try as hard as he can to be with you, to keep up with you! So walk at his pace. Don’t keep exercising past the point where his body is tired.
Swimming is great exercise for senior dogs. But ONLY if your dog is a good swimmer. More damage can be done when dogs are flailing around trying to stay afloat. Never force a dog to get into water if he doesn't want to. And supervise him closely just in case he tires and needs help getting out.
Swimming helps arthritic dogs exercise without stressing their joints. But only allow swimming outdoors in warm weather and dry him off so he doesn't get chilled. If you have access to an indoor heated pool it can be a year-round activity but again, make sure you dry him off quickly after a swim. A quick and effective way of drying your dog quickly is with a power dryer. These can be purchased quite cheaply (less than AUD$100 on eBay).
For some older dogs even the more routine forms of exercise such as walking, playing or swimming may just be too much for their bodies to cope. This is where physical therapy can help. See a muscle therapist to design an exercise programs for your dog to help him safely improve his strength, balance, and range of motion.
11. Don’t be a weekend warrior.
Be consistent with your dog's exercise. Dogs who exercise occasionally are more likely to injure themselves than those who do a small amount everyday. Short daily exercises will produce greater benefits than longer sessions once or twice a week.
So how Much Exercise is Too Much?
Signs that your older dog has had enough activity/exercise include:
• Excessive panting or drooling. These are signs your dog’s body is under stress.
• Slowing down, lying down or reluctance to continue to walk or play.
• Limping or weakness in any limb.
12. Products & Accessories That Can Help
Your older dog may need a little extra help or support during his daily exercise or to negotiate stairs and entering and exiting the car. There is a wide range of products for almost every dog - boots, strollers, slings, harnesses and wheelchairs. You will need to experiment to see which ones fit your purpose, budget and dog's body shape best.
We have a few products we can loan to regular clients. Ask at your next appointment.