The Senior Pet

Getting old CAN be fun! Engaging your senior dog is important both mentally and physically. Simple, regular exercises can help slow down common physical signs of aging (stiff joints, reluctance to play, generalized weakness, trouble jumping).

A general exercise guide for senior dogs or dogs nearing the senior years can help preserve strength in addition to regular veterinary care. Exercise programs should always be monitored even in healthy pets and if your pet is recovering from a major surgery, a more specialized therapeutic plan may help reduce further injury and promote recovery.

Health Tips

  • Keep lean – 70% of pet owners underestimate ideal body condition scores. Overweight and obese pets live on average 1.8 years less!
  • Trim nails – long nails can break or cause abnormal twisting of the toes, causing pain. Think about when your toe nails are a tad long and press against your shoes.
  • Avoid the heat – heat tolerance decreases with age.
  • Exercise regularly – older dogs cannot physically recover as quickly than younger dogs, sometimes needing 2-3 days longer than average to recover from hard activity.

Environment

  • Slippery floors – Animals can have trouble navigating slippery floors like hardwood and linoleum, and they could slip or trip, causing muscle strain. Yoga mats or area rugs over these types of floors will enable your pet to move around your home more comfortably and will lessen the risk of injury from slipping.
  • Cars – Jumping in and out of vehicles can be particularly challenging for older dogs, especially if the vehicle is tall, like a truck or an SUV. Using a ramp or set of stairs makes a big difference for dogs, especially if they seem hesitant or even refuse to get in or out of a vehicle.
  • Stairs – Oftentimes stairs are too difficult or even dangerous for an older animal to walk up or down alone. Baby gates are a great way to prevent falls down the stairs.
  • Eating – Feeding time is a great way to get just a little bit of exercise in and is also an important place to think about repetitive motion. When dogs eat from the floor, a lot of strain is place on their necks and backs which can lead to discomfort or even pain and neck problems. Elevated food and water bowls are a wonderful tool to alleviate neck and back soreness associated with eating posture, and they can stand while they eat, which will also help improve strength.
  • Walks – Senior pets sometimes need help when walking. If your pet has trouble getting up, a harness or sling will allow you to safely help your pet stand or ease down to the floor instead of having the sudden impact of dropping down. If your pet drags his or her feet, the nails can wear down and bleed. Using protective shoes prevents injury as well as provides sensory input to encourage proper foot placement.
  • Bedding – Your pet should have easy access to soft bedding to ease pressure on the bones and joints while they sleep. A variety of styles, sizes and materials are available in a wide price range.
  • Other pets/kids – Older animals tend to like quiet environments, or at least need to have access to a quiet room when daily activity becomes too rambunctious for them. Provide a retreat area for rest.

Strength to Stamina

Strength, stamina and balance can prevent injury and improve recovery time.

Stance-to-Shift: Gentle pressure placed simultaneously at the shoulders and hips causing slight off balance promotes joint awareness. Placing the front feet up on a step higher than the wrists increases weight-bearing on the rear legs.

Stand-to-Sit: Repeating this common obedience command promotes hip flexor muscle strength, keeping joints strong.

Stretching for Strength

Flexibility prevents abnormal use of the body (compensation) and prepares the body for exercise. Stretching is best after a 3 minute warm-up of continuous average paced walking. Hold each position for 15-30 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.

up Cookie stretching (9)
Sky Stretch

side Cookie stretching
Side stretch – both sides

sniff Cookie stretching (7)
Sniff Stretch

Exercise Principles

High frequency
Low duration
Consistently participate
Low impact
Avoid weekend warrior syndrome